Petr Yan gave away his championship on March 6 with a senseless foul late in a fight he was winning against Aljamain Sterling.
On Saturday at UFC 267 inside Etihad Arena, he took the first big step toward righting that wrong. He outboxed and outfought Cory Sandhagen over five thrilling rounds Saturday, sweeping the last four to win a unanimous decision and win the interim bantamweight championship.
“We knew he’d be moving a lot, but our plan was to pressure him and beat him to the punch,” Yan said.
Sandhagen had a strong opening frame. He used his length and his footwork to control the round, kicking Yan repeatedly to the body and keeping the shorter Yan at the end of his punches.
In the second, Yan figured out his distance and took over the fight. He began to work over Sandhagen’s body, and his boxing was allowing him to land hard shots to Sandhagen’s face.
He dropped Sandhagen after connecting with a spinning back fist and a left hook, but Sandhagen gamely popped up.
But despite his best effort, Sandhagen couldn’t mount enough offense after the first. He took a lot of kicks to the body and his ribs were covered with bruises. His face also told the story of the battle.
He had a good fifth round, but he needed a finish and never was able to put Yan in trouble. He knew that as hard as he fought, it wasn’t enough.
“Not really,” Sandhagen said when asked if he felt he’d won. “He’s a hell of a fighter, man. The dude was better tonight. I have nothing else to say.”
Yan indeed was better and now is 16-2 after the impressive win. He’ll likely face Sterling next, though he also mentioned former champion T.J. Dillashaw as a possible opponent.
Yan has hard feelings for Sterling, who was supposed to fight him Saturday but had to pull out when he wasn’t recovered enough from a surgery to train properly.
“Everyone knows I am the real champion,” Yan said. “I am here to fight anyone. It will be either Dillashaw or that punk, Sterling.”
Yan made a statement in the deep and talented bantamweight division on Saturday. It’s not going to be easy to get that belt from him at this point.