The recent news that Aljamain Sterling is medically unable to defend his UFC bantamweight title against Petr Yan this month has led to the UFC creating another interim title to tide the division over until his return — but the Cory Sandhagen, who will meet Yan for interim gold, says that the upcoming scrap is the division’s true title fight.
Sterling won the title in controversial circumstances earlier this year after it was judged he was unable to continue after absorbing a blatantly illegal strike from the Russian former champ, something that Yan has vocally called into question in the months that followed, even going so far as to refer to Sterling as a “sneaky coward” for pulling out of the rematch.
But with Sandhagen (who Sterling has beaten) and Yan set to clash, the American says that this fight will show the division’s true standout fighter.
“I think everyone sees Yan as the champ of the division, the best in the division, so I think in this case it will,” said Sandhagen on The MMA Hour.
“I think it will mean a lot. It never feels real until it actually is real, and now that I’m fighting for a UFC belt, even though it’s an interim one, it would feel like I was the champ. I would definitely know that I have some quieting of the voices maybe about the Sterling loss I’ve had and then the T.J. (Dillashaw) loss that I had, but those will be very exciting rematches in the division. I’m excited, and it would feel like I was the champ if I do win against Yan.
“I sat long and hard with it because I was feeling like I needed a little bit of a rest after the last one. It was kind of a tough one to take a little bit, so I kind of wanted to rest my mind a little bit and then I got to thinking as the fight got closer and closer.
“About nine, eight weeks away, I was like I’m just gonna train hard for this one because if something does go wrong and they ask me to do it, I don’t want to be caught with my pants down. I don’t really want to be the guy that has to say no because he can’t make weight or miss out on a huge opportunity like that. So I had been planning on getting ready for this for about eight or nine weeks now.”
Yan and Sandhagen will meet on the UFC 267 card on October 30.