JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Aljamain Sterling thinks he’s earned a short break. But when he returns, he knows whom he wants to fight.
Sterling (21-3 MMA, 13-3 UFC) took a split decision from Petr Yan (16-3 MMA, 8-2 UFC) in their UFC 273 co-main event rematch Saturday at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. Sterling got a pair of 48-47 scores; a dissenting judge had it 48-47 for Yan.
The fight was Sterling’s first title defense after he won the bantamweight title in 2021 against Yan by disqualification. In the months since that controversial win, Sterling had to recover from a surgery, and Yan won an interim belt. Sterling’s win at UFC 273 at least didn’t come with a controversial ending – though UFC president Dana White seemed to disagree with the outcome.
Yan called for a third fight with Sterling, but Sterling seems to have his eyes on former champion T.J. Dillashaw, who has been vocal about wanting to fight him. Dillashaw was cageside for the bout and jaw-jacked back at Sterling when Sterling name-dropped him in his post-fight interview.
“Oh yeah – he’s been a big critic,” Sterling told MMA Junkie at the post-fight news conference. “The guy’s just been nonstop talking about me, talking about my heart, and this, that – the spirit of a fighter. The spirit of a fighter is someone who’s never going to give up, if you ask me. I think I showed that this time. I think I showed that even in my worst night, which was my first performance against Yan. That was a shell of myself, and he couldn’t get me out of there that night, and he wasn’t going to get me out of there this night, either.”
When Dillashaw was bantamweight champion, he dropped to flyweight in January 2019 to fight then-champ Henry Cejudo. He lost the fight in 32 seconds by TKO, then tested positive for recombinant human erythropoietin (EPO) and was suspended for two years. Prior to his suspension, Dillashaw voluntarily relinquished the 135-pound belt.
When he returned from suspension in 2021, he took a split decision from Cory Sandhagen back at bantamweight – a division in which he’s won five straight fights, including two knockout title bouts against Cody Garbrandt.
But Sterling said Dillashaw calling him mentally weak is a mistake.
“If anyone’s mentally weak, it’s that guy,” Sterling said. “The guy needed steroids and EPO to catapult his career and even win as many fights as he did in the UFC. His whole UFC tenure is tainted. I can’t wait to punch him in the face. That would be someone I’d enjoy punching. He’s got good skills, but the guy’s a cheat. He’s dirty, and I’d like an opportunity to slap him up and we can figure out who’s No. 1 again.”
Sterling also thinks from a competition standpoint once they get in the cage, he’ll have the edge.
“He wants to stand and trade the whole time, and I think anyone realizes I can stand up and strike, but I don’t need to,” he said. “It’s kind of a silly game to do that the whole time if I have an expertise and I’m so much better in another area over my opponent. If I can exploit that, why not? … It’s an interesting fight. I think it’s a fun fight – the fans are going to have a good time watching that one.
“I think he’s a little small for the weight, and I think I get on his back like that, I think that guy gets out of there. But if I drop those shots on T.J.’s little head, though, I don’t think he’s taking it the way Yan did tonight in that second round. I do that to T.J., I think I get a finish and stop that fight.”