UFC President Dana White made a new title fight announcement this week that has fans feeling mixed emotions.
UFC 267 is currently headlined by Jan Blachowicz defending his light heavyweight title against Glover Teixeira. The card was also scheduled to have a second title fight accompanying it with Aljamain Sterling defending his bantamweight title against Petr Yan in a rematch from UFC 259 in March.
However, the UFC had to scramble to look for a new fight after Sterling was forced to pull out due to not being medically cleared by the UFC’s doctors.
UFC 259: Where the Controversy Began
The controversy surrounding this matchup begins with the first matchup between Yan and Sterling at UFC 259 in March 2021. This was Yan’s first title defense of the belt, and going into it fans thought Sterling was the best matchup for him. The fight lead to Yan controlling most of the rounds, however the ending is where things became extremely controversial.
Yan would deliver an illegal knee to Sterling, who was a downed opponent at the time of the knee, at the 4:29 minute mark of the 4th round. After moments of agony on the ground, Sterling could not continue the fight, leading to Yan losing his belt due to DQ and Sterling walking away the new bantamweight champion on a DQ win.
Fans widely criticized Sterling for exaggerating and claimed that he was “acting” and that he purposely took the DQ win so that he could walk away with the belt. Take a look at his reaction below and judge for yourself if you think he was exaggerating:
UFC 259 Aftermath
Sterling then took even more heat from fans when it was discovered that he was celebrating with the belt the night of the fight. Fans, along with former champ Yan, were quick to point out that he didn’t seem so injured anymore…
Glad to see champ is fine now… https://t.co/0PgQS1dYdy
— Petr “No Mercy” Yan (@PetrYanUFC) March 7, 2021
This lead to a long back and forth between Yan and Sterling on Twitter…
— Petr “No Mercy” Yan (@PetrYanUFC) March 8, 2021
Shortly after, Sterling would receive a very serious surgery to repair nerve damage in his neck. After it was made clear that this injury was not directly caused by the Yan fight and instead had been a lingering injury, fans continued to give Sterling flack for deciding to get the surgery only after he had won the belt via DQ. Naturally, he was immediately accused of “ducking” the rematch with Yan.
Sterling Forced to Pull Out
Earlier this week, it was leaked that Sterling would in fact not be competing in the rematch at UFC 267 on October 30 and that he would have to pull out of the fight. However, it was made clear that this was not his decision to pull out of the fight, but instead he was not medically cleared to fight by the UFC’s doctors.
UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling has been pulled from his title defense against Petr Yan at UFC 267, sources tell @bokamotoESPN.
Sterling was denied medical clearance by doctors and UFC is discussing the creation of an interim title in Sterling’s absence, per sources. pic.twitter.com/WpZJHAmIeF
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) September 27, 2021
Who Is Stepping Up?
As stated in the previous tweet, immediately after Sterling was forced out of the rematch, the UFC began the search for a new opponent for Yan and exploring the possibility of an interim title fight in Sterling’s absence. It wouldn’t take long for them to figure out who would be stepping up for the chance to fight for interim bantamweight gold…
UFC is moving forward with an interim bantamweight title fight between Petr Yan and Cory Sandhagen at UFC 267 on Oct. 30, Dana White told @bokamotoESPN.
Reigning champion Aljamain Sterling was scheduled to defend his title against Yan, but failed to receive medical clearance. pic.twitter.com/MDxVv2hN9p
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) September 28, 2021
Rising bantamweight star Cory Sandhagen answered the call to fight Yan for the interim bantamweight championship in Abu Dhabi on only a month’s notice.
The Controversy Continues…
While Sandhagen is a rising star and widely beloved by most MMA fans, some fans took issue with this choice in opponent for a title fight, albeit an interim title fight.
The problem is Sandhagen is coming off of a loss. Sandhagen’s last fight was against returning former bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw, where Sandhagen would ultimately lose in a razor close split decision. Many fans thought it was a fight of the year contender, with many scoring the fight for Sandhagen instead of Dillashaw.
The problem is Dillashaw suffered multiple injuries in their fight and is not yet ready for a comeback, which left the UFC to call the next guy up, which happened to be Sandhagen. So now Sandhagen will get a rare title shot coming off of a loss.
Sterling would join Ariel Helwani’s show later in the week to talk all about the controversy, saying that all of this could have been avoided if Yan would’ve just “known the rules.”
UFC 267 is set to take place in Abu Dhabi on October 30 and will be an extremely rare free PPV airing on ESPN+.