The UFC are reportedly working on an interim title fight for the promotion’s return to Abu Dhabi next month, after bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling was forced to withdraw because of injury.
The championship bout was one of two title match-ups set for UFC 267, which takes place at Etihad Arena on October 30. Sterling, 32, was scheduled for an immediate rematch with Petr Yan having captured the belt from the Russian in controversial fashion in March.
The UFC have yet to confirm officially Sterling’s withdrawal, however numerous reports in the United States cite No 3-ranked Cory Sandhagen as the current frontrunner to replace him. Early on Sunday, MMA Junkie reported that, although no bout agreements had been issued to Yan or Sandhagen, both sides were open to the fight. MMA Fighting were the first to report the news of Sterling’s withdrawal.
UFC 267, the promotion’s first event back in Abu Dhabi since January, is topped by Jan Blachowicz’s light-heavyweight title defence against Glover Teixeira, the division’s No 1-ranked contender. Other prominent names to feature on the Saturday card include Islam Makhachev, Khamzat Chimaev and Amanda Ribas.
Still, the loss of the Sterling-Yan rematch with be viewed as a blow, considering the pair’s initial meeting at UFC 259 left fans largely unfulfilled. Seeking to end Yan’s 10-fight win streak, Sterling prevailed in Las Vegas after his opponent was disqualified for an intentional illegal knee strike in the fourth round. Sterling became the first athlete to win a UFC belt by disqualification.
The victory lifted his professional mixed martial arts record to 20-3 (12-3 UFC), while Yan’s career reads 15-2 (7-2 UFC). The defeat to Sterling was his first in five years. Yan, 28, was crowned bantamweight champion in July last year at UFC 251, the kick-start event to the inaugural Fight Island series in Abu Dhabi.
Should Sandhagen be booked to take on Yan, the American would come into the bout off the back of July’s split decision loss to compatriot TJ Dillashaw.
Meanwhile, UFC 266 concluded in Las Vegas on Sunday with Alexander Volkanovski retaining his featherweight belt in a thrilling encounter with Brian Ortega. The Australian, who also competed at UFC 251 in the UAE capital, survived a huge scare in the third round to triumph convincingly on points, 49-46, 50-45, 50-44. Volkanovski’s win streak now extends to 20.
In the co-main event, flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko dominated Lauren Murphy to seal a fourth-round TKO. With a sixth successive title defence, the Kyrgyzstan athlete equalled Ronda Rousey's record for a female fighter in the UFC.