A UFC Bantamweight Championship rematch will serve as this weekend’s UFC 273 co-main event at in Jacksonville, Florida.
Champion Aljamain Sterling will defend his title after winning by disqualification at UFC 259 in March last year. Then-champion Petr Yan was disqualified from the but following an illegal knee strike in the fourth round. Sterling and Yan were initially expected to fight late last year but persistent injuries delayed the champion’s return until now.
Read on for our full Sterling vs. Yan staff predictions, picks, preview, and the latest betting odds before UFC 273.
Sterling vs. Yan betting odds
Aljamain Sterling, the champion, will step in as a significant underdog against Petr Yan at UFC 273.
- Aljamain Sterling: +350
- Petr Yan: -475
With all the drama surrounding this rematch, it’s hard to imagine a more exciting fight. However, we can take a look at the first fight to highlight some key elements that materialize when these two’s styles are pitted against one another. First and at the forefront, the initial fight demonstrated what happens when two elite athletes compete, one leaning on conditioning and pace and the other, efficiency. Aljamain Sterling went into the fight with the intention of throwing everything and anything, everywhere and got off to a lead early by simply putting Yan on the defensive and building combinations on him. Yan, with his high guard and tight stance was able to make the most glance off of his guard while also checking many kicks but simply couldn’t keep up with the number of strikes that did get through. However, exerting little energy, he was able to calculate when he did want to throw back at 100% and dropped Sterling. Yan landed less but by being more efficient and patient, the strikes he did land arguably mattered just as much as he took. Sterling has the advantage on the outside with his rangy kicks, Yan also has a great kicking game but doesn’t go to the longest techniques such as Sterling’s stomps and sidekicks. In the pocket, the wideness that Sterling fights with sometimes leaves him off balance which is what opened up the opportunities for Yan’s osoto gari, outside leg trip.
For Sterling going into the second fight, the major change he needs to make is being more conservative with his energy expenditure. He showed great technique early on but it wasn’t sustainable, and simply selecting his techniques better would be far more effective. One of the ways in doing so would largely be by choosing when to throw spinning attacks carefully, as this became a key factor in when Yan was able to take his back and exploit Sterling. By minimizing these gaps, Sterling takes away many of the opportunities afforded to Yan the first time.
However, he does also still need to lead. Both Sterling and Yan work best moving forward, in Yan’s case, when he can’t, he sits back and shells up but doesn’t really retreat. Sterling still has the potential to get ahead early but it’s a balancing act that makes all the difference. For Yan, getting a hold of Sterling early may be a great tactic, he was able to capitalize on the back clinch, and doing so may be able to sap Sterling quicker and allow Yan to pick up the pace earlier. Leg kicks are also an important tool in doing this, which Yan can set up by angling off of his overhands. He often throws two or three punches, stepping through to maintain rear hand dominance and power, but the same footwork can translate to setting up his leg attacks.
Ultimately, barring the finish to the first fight, the holes in Sterling’s game were more highlighted the first time. It was really up to him to show improvement come around the rematch, but unfortunate surgeries and such has left Sterling sidelined even longer, after a year prior to the first fight of being relatively inactive. This may once again manifest some nervous energy, and Yan, having since won the interim title against Sandhagen in another long and drawn out title clash, will likely be once again the more comfortable party.
Prediction: Petr Yan to win
If Petr Yan is not the best boxer in the UFC, he is one of the best. Yan keeps a high and intelligent guard, throws in un-telegraphed combinations, fights behind a range-dictating jab, and is equally skilled from either stance. His technique is fundamentally flawless, and his striking variety is destructive. Typically, in the first round, Yan acts like a computer downloading information. Yan has been criticized as a slow starter for implementing this strategy; however, it only further illustrates how intelligent he is as a fighter. Yan recognizes that fighters evolve and game plans change; so, rather than anticipating what his opponent will do, Yan uses feints, footwork, and exploratory striking in the first round to get a complete read of his opponent so he can find holes and dissect him later in the fight. Beyond using feints, footwork, and snapping legs kicks to download and dictate the fight, Yan is also a fundamentally sound and aggressive wrestler. Yan averages 1.75 takedown attempts per fight and secures them at a 61% clip. While his wrestling is an important and reliable tool in his box, Yan also uses the threat of a takedown to create openings on the feet. Ultimately, Yan is a complete mixed martial artist who combines all aspects of his game in such a complete way that he can win in nearly every aspect of the sport.
Sterling, although not represented by the odds, is a dangerous and talented bantamweight himself. Sterling entered the UFC with a high-level wrestling background. Then, growing as a fighter at Serra-Longo gym, Sterling added slick jiu-jitsu to his technically sound wrestling game and fundamentals to his fluid and athletic striking. Of his 20 professional wins, he has an even split between 10 finishes and 10 decisions. That split illustrates the type of fighter Sterling is, one who can adapt to the challenge inside the octagon and win in a variety of ways. If his opponent wants to strike, Sterling can often outwrestle him. If his opponent wants to wrestle, Sterling’s athletic striking and defensive grappling often stunt that approach. Finally, if his opponent makes a mistake, Sterling can capitalize with a finish; but, if not, “Funk Master” has the skills and cardio to win in a 5-round war. The only hiccup to the champion’s game is that he can sometimes fight too reactionary, relying too heavily on his excellent defensive movement, and lose close rounds.
These two are fighting for the belt for a reason, they are at the top of one of the deepest and most competitive divisions in the UFC. Neither man has a clear weakness which means neither man has a clear path to victory either. Therefore, there is some credence to “value betters” who see the fight as closer than the wide odds suggest. While I respect that perspective, I disagree with it. Rather than betting value, I advise betting the fighter I predict will win. And, in this fight, I predict Yan to combine a masterclass of boxing and defensive wrestling en route to a volume-heavy but methodical decision win.
Prediction: Yan by Decision
Similar to the main event, the co-main event has an individual who is arguably the pound-for-pound number one fighter in the UFC. Interestingly, the arguable fighter is not the current bantamweight champion, but rather, the former champion of the division, Petr Yan.
Leading the way for him to be possibly considered as being the best pound-for-pound fighter in the promotion is his elite boxing. Beyond Max Holloway, I have not seen someone use boxing combinations as effectively as Yan. Moreover, I have not seen anyone, including Holloway, fluidly blend speed, precision, and power within their striking combinations the way Yan is able to do.
Although Yan’s elite boxing is the cornerstone of what makes him so dangerous when in the octagon, he does have a well-rounded game with a variety of alternate strikes. Notably, Yan has impressive takedown defense and is elite in scramble situations. When the scrambles occur, Yan does well in securing the more advantageous position, and once there, often against the cage, he utilizes his Muay Thai background to land damaging elbows and knees. Fluid transitions coupled with being the better fighter in each facet of MMA justifies him being viewed as potential pound-for-pound number one. The only identifiable issue of note is him taking round 1 mostly off, thus allowing his opponent to earn a 10-9. This concern is warranted, however, the information Yan ascertains during the round he “gives up” creates the edge needed for him to turn the tables and dominate the rest of the fight.
Sterling, the current champion of the division, is a battle-tested, well-rounded fighter who understands how to take advantage of his elite athleticism in the octagon. The movement he employs when in the octagon is inherently beneficial to him chain wrestling his way to victory. More specifically, Sterling throws solid, straight down the barrel punches with continual defensive movement, and then, when the opportunity arises, shoots a takedown if he feels he is beginning to lose the striking exchanges. This ability, to quickly change the direction of the fight, is perhaps the most underrated aspect of Sterling’s game.
Although the change of direction is indeed underrated, Sterling’s ability to do so in his previous fight against Yan in 2021 proved ineffective – he secured just 1 of 17 takedowns. Although this is indeed a problem, particularly when knowing the historical success Yan has had in combating takedowns, Sterling and his team are on record with stating he had by far the worst performance of his career in that fight. This statement is not surprising given Sterling looked behind in skill when compared to Yan, however, if Sterling simply had a mere off night, the attributes he has in his fight arsenal justifies the belief that the fight between Yan could look far different than it did in 2021.
Beyond the “choice” in taking round 1 off, Yan has no identifiable weaknesses. This, parlayed with having seen Yan significantly outperform Sterling in their previous fight – albeit Yan threw an illegal knee that prevented him from winning – I see no rationale in believing the direction of the second fight will be significantly different from the first. Because of this, I am electing to back the “challenger” in this fight as he has shown the ability to combat takedown after takedown of Sterling; and on the feet, Yan’s boxing proved far more damaging than the straight down the barrel attack of Sterling.
Prediction: Yan by late-round KO