UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling has clarified his withdrawal from UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi next month, saying he is still not fully recovered from a recent neck injury.
The American, 20-3 in professional mixed martial arts, was expected to defend his title at Etihad Arena on October 30 against the man from whom he captured the belt, but news broke at the weekend that he would not be able to compete. The UFC are understood to be currently looking for a replacement to face Yan in an interim title fight.
Taking to Instagram on Monday, Sterling wrote: “Let’s clear the air today. I am not injured for my real fans, family, and friends that are asking/wondering. As always, I like to share the truth and be transparent with my fan base that actually [care] about fighter’s health.
“Training has been going well but I’ve been struggling to get my body to push past two rounds in sparring sessions. The fatigue that sets in and the cramping still lingers, which my surgeon said is due to the nerves still recovering from the long-term trauma, and surgery I just had.
“Nothing I can do about that, other than show up in another shell of myself and risk wasting the surgery and maybe getting severely hurt!!”
Sterling, 32, secured the bantamweight crown in controversial circumstances at UFC 259 in March, when Yan was disqualified for an intentional illegal knee in the fourth round in Las Vegas. It meant Sterling became the first athlete to win a UFC belt by disqualification.
On Sunday, Yan accused Sterling of running scared from the rematch, with the Russian imploring the UFC to give him a high-quality opponent instead for the Abu Dhabi card. At present, No 3-ranked contender Cory Sandhagen appears the frontrunner to step in.
Predictably, Sterling bit back on suggestions he did not want to take on Yan, whose record stands at 15-2, adding on Instagram: “I originally wanted to fight in December but the plans were pushed up earlier. Unfortunately, my body isn’t agreeing with me and I asked for an extension and asked for Petr Yan to wait, so that I will be the first man in the UFC to beat [him].
“My situation is complicated. It’s the neck that we’re talking about. This is the best I’ve ever felt, waking up in the morning and being able to live life pain-free from nerve issues that’s I’ve had for 10 plus years now.
“Thankfully the UFC team understands how serious spine surgery can be and are allowing me the extra time to get my body right so that there are no excuses when I fight again.”
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.