Considering the fight we witnessed play out last year, I suspect that most of us can agree that there are more potential adjustments on the Sterling side of the equation.
Even though wrestling seemed to be an obvious objective in their last outing, Sterling ended up finding more success in the striking the department. Sterling’s kick-heavy style seemingly only further encouraged Yan’s shelling sensibilities, subsequently opening up body assaults and flying knees up the middle.
Yan smartly kept a more disciplined posture in his last outing to avoid the knees of Cory Sandhagen, but Sandhagen is not a fighter who possesses the same level of threat for takedowns and grappling as Sterling. So, with that in mind, takedown attempts from Sterling may still be very necessary for the big picture this Saturday.
Moreover, failed takedown attempts can also lead to top position if you play your cards right—just ask Damian Maia or Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who made their MMA careers off of failed shots:
His brother, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, also had a good half-guard game, getting to it in a very clever way.
Big Nog would shoot poor shots to encourage sprawls, which, in turn, allowed him the contact necessary to slide into his half-guard — a page that Demian Maia took note of. pic.twitter.com/2mHdcFhokv
— Dan Tom (@DanTomMMA) March 30, 2020
Now, obviously, this isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison. I just bring it up because it’s a reminder that grappling – no matter who the successor or initiator is – only begets more grappling. In fact, we saw an example of this in their first fight where Sterling was able to briefly reverse Yan’s takedown and back-take attempt into a single-leg crackdown.
“Sorry, Will” #UFC273 pic.twitter.com/Zj6QAb5Quk
— Dan Tom (@DanTomMMA) April 6, 2022
Sterling wasn’t able to get anything meaningfully done with the sample above, but it serves as a reminder that there are still ways for Sterling to get to his game (as Yan will grapple with him).
That said, I suspect that Sterling’s major adjustments lie within the pacing department.
Between how hard Sterling was forcing his output early to his reported preparation problems on fight day, I suspect that we see a more measured pace from the American this weekend. Nevertheless, Sterling will still likely need to mix in takedown threats in hopes of breaking Yan’s countering beats and building rhythms.
At the very least, failed shots may lead to familiar positions that cause flashbacks from the first fight for Yan, perhaps allowing for hesitancy that has subsequent rest and opportunity attached.