Aljamain Sterling ponders before UFC 273: ‘What are people going to say if and when I smoke’ Petr Yan?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – What goes around, comes around.

If you’re someone who has talked trash about Aljamain Sterling over the past 13 months, expect that old adage to hold true – and to hear it from the champion after it all plays out Saturday at UFC 273.

Since he won the title by disqualification at UFC 259 in March 2021, Sterling (20-3 MMA, 12-3 UFC) has heard it from the masses. Whether fair criticism or mocking insults, Sterling has leaned into the villain role at times in an effort to play along. But at the end of the day, there are some real feelings expressed toward the negative comments, messages and posts that continue to flow his way.

“In the beginning, I was trying to get people to understand,” Sterling told reporters, including MMA Junkie, at UFC 273 media day on Wednesday. “They were asking me why I looked like that. As I tell them, they sh*t on me. I’m like, ‘All right, at this point, if you guys are going to make fun of me, I’m going to take this and run with this.’ People were saying they didn’t like the way I handled it. I’m like, ‘Let’s be straight here. I handled it this way because of the people. If it wasn’t for that, the way I let the belt go in the octagon, that shows exactly how I felt about it.”

Sterling didn’t want to officially win the title that way, but he’s comfortable in his belief that he already proved he’s the best in the world. At a time in which there was not a champion, Sterling fought Cory Sandhagen. Meanwhile, Petr Yan fought Jose Aldo for the vacant title.

In Sterling’s mind, his matchup was much more difficult for both men than Yan vs. Aldo was for those two competitors. Sterling reiterated his thought the belt’s association to that fight was nothing more than a popularity contest token.

“I felt I was the champ when I beat Cory Sandhagen,” Sterling said. “The media said the same thing. We were the highest-ranked guys. We should’ve been fighting for the belt, not a guy coming off a loss and not a guy who just beat a retired Urijah Faber. Urijah Faber is great, but he did his work back in the day, not currently. For him to get a title shot, both of those guys, they did not belong in that title-shot situation. We know how the UFC operates. At the end of the day, it’s ‘What have you done for me lately?’ I felt like a champ going into that fight, so no one could ever tell me, ‘You’re the most unqualified champion.’”

Regardless of the how, Sterling is champion. He has a chance Saturday to erase all the controversy. If he does what he predicts, Sterling won’t hold back from letting the negative heads hear about it.

“I smoke him, what are people going to say?” Sterling said. “What are people going to say if and when I smoke this guy? … It’s a little sweet to stick it to people a little bit, kind of rub it in their faces. People did it to me. When I do it back, I hope people can take it the same way I had to take it for 13 months. I’m ready to just end this chapter and move on to the next one.”

UFC 273 takes place Saturday at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and early prelims on ESPN+.

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Author: Nolan King
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