UFC 238 was a bantamweight showcase of sorts, and while Henry Cejudo become a two-division champion by claiming the vacant 135-pound belt with a stoppage of Marlon Moraes in the evening’s main event, the Olympic gold medalist already has a couple worthy contenders waiting in the wings.
Earlier that night, Aljamain Sterling put together perhaps the most complete performance of his career to date, earning a unanimous decision victory over Pedro Munhoz in a preliminary bantamweight affair.
“Pedro Munhoz is a tough dude, he is non-stop pressure, I saw that coming in,” Sterling said. “I knew he was going to slow down from the volume we were both throwing, but he just kept walking forward. I was hoping one of those punches were going to put him down, but he’s got a chin on him.”
The “Funk Master” has rebounded nicely since suffering a knockout loss to Moraes at UFC Fight Night 123, compiling a four-bout winning streak that also includes victories over Jimmie Rivera, Cody Stamann and Brett Johns. He believes he should be next in line to challenge Cejudo for bantamweight gold.
“I think it was an amazing fight and I hope it was good enough to let the UFC know I’m the next guy in line to challenge for world title. I’m ready,” Sterling said. “I feel I redeemed myself after such a terrible knockout loss. A lot of guys don’t bounce back like that and I think it’s my time to shine. I need some time off to heal up, break down the fight, see where I can improve and I’m always learning in this game. I’m just excited for the future.”
On the pay-per-view portion of the card, Russian prospect Petr Yan earned a signature victory with a hard-fought decision over Rivera. In a competitive bout, “No Mercy” put his stamp on the contest by flooring his opponent in the first and second rounds.
“I was already expecting a very tough fight, everything that Jimmie threw, the pressure, the kicks, the left hooks – I was prepared for,” Yan said. “In the end of the rounds, it was just important to be in control and finish strong.”
Unlike most observers, Yan didn’t see anything remarkable about Sterling’s performance earlier that night. The 26-year-old Russian, who has compiled a five-bout winning streak in the Octagon, is quite confident about his ability to be the division’s best.
“I watched Sterling’s fight and with all due respect, I was not impressed at all,” Yan said. “I would beat him and the champion in one night.”
Interestingly enough, neither Sterling nor Yan made Cejudo’s post-fight callout list. Instead, the newly crowned champion targeted fights with the likes of Cody Garbrandt, Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz. It is currently unclear if Cejudo will defend the bantamweight or flyweight title next.