UFC 273 breakdown: Aljamain Sterling can keep it close vs. Petr Yan, but will he win?

MMA Junkie analyst Dan Tom breaks down the UFC’s top bouts. Today, we look at the co-main event for UFC 273.

UFC 273 takes place Saturday, April 9 from VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and early prelims on ESPN+.

Aljamain Sterling (20-3 MMA, 12-3 UFC)

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 05: Aljamain Sterling poses on the scale during the UFC 259 weigh-in at UFC APEX on March 05, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’7″ Age: 32 Weight: 135 lbs. Reach: 71″

  • Last fight: Disqualification win over Petr Yan(March 6, 2021)

  • Camp: Serra-Longo Fight Team (Long Island, NY)

  • Stance/striking style: Switch-stance/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:

+ UFC bantamweight champion

+ Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt

+ 2x All-American wrestler

+ 2 KO victories

+ 8 submission wins

+ 4 first-round finishes

+ Tricky feints and footwork

^ Variates looks and levels

+ Improved boxing

+ Dynamic kicking attacks

^ Functional from both sides

+ Diverse takedown ability

^ Chains well to and from bodylock

+ Crafty transitional grappler

^ Combines funk and submission stylings

+ Dangerous from back mount

Petr Yan (16-2 MMA, 8-1 UFC)

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 05: Petr Yan of Russia poses on the scale during the UFC 259 weigh-in at UFC APEX on March 05, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Staple info:

  • Height: 5’7″ Age: 29 Weight: 135 lbs. Reach: 69″

  • Last fight: Knockout loss to Kamaru Usman(Oct. 30, 2021)

  • Camp: Tiger Muay Thai (Thailand)

  • Stance/striking style: Switch-stance/kickboxing

  • Risk management: Good

Supplemental info:

+ UFC interim titleholder (former bantamweight champion)

+ ACB bantamweight title

+ Master of sports in boxing

+ 7 KO victories

+ 1 submission win

+ 3 first-round finishes

+ KO Power

+ Building pace and pressure

+ Excellent footwork

^ Shifts stances, takes angles

+ Accurate left hand

^ Jabs, hooks and crosses

+ Strong inside of the clinch

^ Defense, trips, strikes off the breaks

+ Solid wrestling ability

^ Superb scrambling and hand fighting

Point of interest: The first fight

The co-main event at UFC 273 features a long-awaited rematch between [autotag]Aljamain Sterling[/autotag] and [autotag]Petr Yan[/autotag].

In their first meeting, Sterling was able to get off to a strong start by stringing together everything from elbows to dynamic kicking offense. Although Sterling wasn’t able to land any conscious-altering shots, he found success when either going to the body or coming up the middle with flying knees due to Yan’s propensity to rely on a high, shelling guard.

To Yan’s credit, he kept his usual composure amid Sterling’s assaults, patiently waiting for his spots to counter. However, to the surprise of some, Yan was able to do a lot of his best work within the wrestling department, despite Sterling coming in with an on-paper edge.

Accompanying his impeccable proprioception with superb hand-fighting skills, Yan stymied Sterling’s attempts to get sticky within his preferred realm of the bodylock. And by the third round, Sterling appeared to lose steam while Yan, akin to his building nature, only got stronger.

Nevertheless, it was ultimately Yan’s decision-making (which ironically is typically a point of praise for the Russian fighter) that cost him the title via a blatantly illegal knee to a downed Sterling.

Despite many narratives getting woven from the fallout of this event, each competitor will have ample opportunity to make adjustments and put a stamp on things this Saturday.

Point of interest: Potential adjustments

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 06: (R-L) Aljamain Sterling punches Petr Yan of Russia in their UFC bantamweight championship fight during the UFC 259 event at UFC APEX on March 06, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

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:

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.

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.

Point of interest: Odds and opinions

The oddsmakers and public are heavily favoring the Russian fighter, listing Yan -520 and Sterling +350 via Tipico Sportsbook.

Although seeing the sitting champion as this big of an underdog can feel a bit disrespectful to some, I can totally understand the public sentiment here.

Despite Sterling’s early success, it’s ultimately hard to forget how the fight played out up until the illegal knee. I also find it hard to take a flier on Sterling this time around given the difference in the environment.

With the first meeting between these two taking place in the smaller cage, I suspected that it would be advantageous for the better on-paper wrestler and submission threat in Sterling. However, with the rematch going down in the full-sized octagon, I believe that the fighting terrain now favors Yan.

Some may criticize the Russian’s seemingly slower starts, but most have come to the realization that Yan is smartly making reads as he calmly rolls with a lot of the offense thrown his way. Couple this with his building nature and prioritization of things like hand fighting, and what we have is arguable stylistic kryptonite for a fighter like Sterling (or for most over five rounds, for that matter).

Hand fighting or wrist controls are the unsung heroes in all forms of fighting, and Yan may be the best applicator of this inside of the octagon. I don’t mean to discount Sterling’s chances by talking so highly about Yan, but there’s a reason why “No Mercy” hangs up around the top of many people’s “pound-for-pound” lists.

That said, I think that Sterling makes a much better account for himself this time around, creating an even more competitive contest in the process. But if Sterling can’t get anything meaningful done within the first ten minutes, then I expect Yan to start pulling away down the stretch, possibly making the American’s corner ask themselves some tough questions come round five.

Prediction: Yan by decision