UFC title challenger Aljamain Sterling says he will try to implement his own version of Khabib Nurmagomedov’s suffocating style of grappling as he attempts to win the £ 135 world title from Petr Yan’s grip at UFC 259.
After seven wins in his last eight games, the New Yorker Sterling will finally get his chance at UFC Gold in less than a week, where he will be tasked with taking down bantamweight champion Yan’s impressive winning streak while realizing his own championship goals.
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Few could deny Sterling – a 14-fight UFC veteran – the opportunity, but the man he faces in the cage in Las Vegas this coming weekend appears to have all but turned down the American’s chances.
Yan, whose only career defeat was in 2016, has been running a social media back and forth with Sterling in which, along with several other predictions, he predicted that he would end the fight in the distance.
For Yan, however, these are just empty promises.
“I think he’s just trying to intimidate everyone,” Sterling told RT Sport of the man he faces at UFC 259. “I always find it weird when fighters try to intimidate fighters. We fight for a living so you do all the antics outside the cage I don’t really get. If you don’t actually swing for the person, it becomes a whole different game, then it will be defended at all costs. “
As the worn cliché dictates, the time to talk is almost over, and Sterling says he has no illusions about the job that awaits him in the Nevada desert.
“He’s tough, he has serious skills, he hits hard, he’s a tough guy, he’s been around for a while, he’s had a lot of fights, he’s had some boxing matches,” said Sterling. “I’m just excited to get in there with him and see who is the best.
“I always have to find my place of intensity,” he says of his own approach to the fight. “I used to step up like this, just angry all the time. But now I’m more stepped up, it’s still intense but not with the same amount of anger … it’s a little bit of controlled anger, more controlled chaos.
If there is any other fighter whose style could be described similarly, it could be Khabib Nurmagomedov. The (still reigning) UFC lightweight champion is as depressing a grappler as mixed martial arts has ever seen, and Sterling, whose own style rests on a similar foundation, says Yan’s compatriot has been an inspiration to him.
“Oh yes, I look up to Chabib,” he said. “Khabib is a great inspiration for my style and helps me understand that a fight can be on my feet, but when you are good at something stick with what you are good at.
“I look at Khabib and that style is relentless pressure. It’s really hard to stop a guy like that. Wrestling is a grinding mentality. If you don’t know how to deal with this grind, it can be a burden to you, it’s uncomfortable and it leaves you guessing and setting the pace of the fight and the pace.
“If he doesn’t put you away, you’ll eventually jerk this guy down. Especially if you’re a good grappler, like Khabib or me. I’m proud of that.”
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But whatever the method he uses to get there, Sterling says the goal will be the same – and it involves lifting UFC gold late at the Octagon late next Saturday night. While the irony of taking a leaf out of Khabib’s book to defeat the fellow Russian UFC champion would be significant, he plans to tread the path to victory that comes first.
“I’m not looking for style points,” he explained. “I bend him in the corner, he throws something, leaves open, allows me to come in for an attack, I pull him down, he defends him, that’s fine, pull him back down, get on his back and end the fight. “