An interim bantamweight title fight is expected to take place at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi next month between former champion Petr Yan and Cory Sandhagen.
Yan, 15-1 in professional mixed martial arts, was originally set to face current belt-holder Aljamain Sterling at Etihad Arena on October 30. However, the American failed to receive medical clearance for the bout following recent neck surgery.
UFC president Dana White told ESPN late on Tuesday that the promotion was moving forward with the Yan-Sandhagen clash, which will form the co-main event in the capital. The card is headlined by light-heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz’s title defence against No 1-ranked contender Glover Teixeira.
Yan, from Russia, lost his bantamweight crown to Sterling at UFC 259 in March, when he was disqualified in the fourth round in Las Vegas for an intentional illegal knee. Sandhagen, meanwhile, was defeated on his most recent outing in the UFC, losing via split decision to TJ Dillashsaw, another former champion, in July. Sandhagen, 14-3, sits currently as the division’s No 3-ranked contender. Dillashaw would surely have been considered the frontrunner to step in for Sterling but is recovering from knee surgery.
Taking to social media on Wednesday, Yan tweeted a mocked-up fight poster posing alongside Sandhagen and wrote: “New opponent, same goal.” The Russian had earlier labelled Sterling a “sneaky coward” for not being able to compete in Abu Dhabi.
Although there is no timeframe for Sterling’s return to the octagon, the interim championship match-up at UFC 267 is understood to serve as a title eliminator, with a unification bout anticipated next.
Meanwhile, the UFC are thought to be still working on a possible opponent for Islam Makhachev as Rafael dos Anjos continues his recovery from knee surgery. The former lightweight champion, though, has not yet confirmed if he is definitely out of the Abu Dhabi card.