Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC
“The guy’s just been nonstop talking about me, talking about my heart and … the spirit of a fighter,” Sterling told reporters after the event. “The spirit of a fighter is someone who’s never going to give up, if you ask me, and I think I showed that this time. I think I showed that even in my worst night, which was my first performance against Yan. That was a shell of myself and he couldn’t get me out of there that night, and he wasn’t going to get me out of there this night, either. I showed what I’m capable of, and where my mental fortitude is at. You’re going to need a lot more than that to break me and make me quit in there.
“So I don’t know if that’s what he’s thinking. I don’t know. If anyone’s mentally weak, it’s that guy. The guy needed steroids and [performance-enhancing drug erythropoietin] to catapult his career, to even win as many fights as he did in the UFC. So his whole UFC tenure is tainted. So I can’t wait to punch him in the face. That would be somebody I would enjoy punching. He’s got good skill, but the guy’s a cheat, he’s dirty, and I’d like an opportunity to slap him up, and we can figure out who’s No. 1 again.”
Dillashaw underwent surgery this past August to repair knee damage he suffered in a win one month earlier against top contender Cory Sandhagen. It was his first fight since a failed bid for the UFC flyweight title led to a two-year suspension for the performance-enhancer EPO.
Dillashaw picked Yan to beat Sterling at UFC 273 and doubted the “Funk Master” would return to the octagon with a lingering neck injury that required surgery. Sterling reacted angrily when asked about the possibility of Dillashaw cutting the line to fight Yan before a rematch.
Dillashaw quickly cut his own promo octagon-side after Sterling’s fiery post-fight callout, telling the champ, “thanks for the callout, my little b****. Hope you had fun pretending to be the champ. Like I’ve always been saying, daddy’s home. I’m getting that belt.”
Sterling said of the matchup with Dillashaw,” he wants to stand and trade the whole time, and I think anyone realizes, I can stand up and strike, but I don’t need to. It’s kind of a silly game to do that the whole time if I have an expertise and I’m so much better in another area than my opponents. So if I can exploit that, why not? If I can level change and have you respecting the takedown instead of just trading punches with you, I’m going to do that.
“So it’s an interesting. I think he’s a little small for the weight, and I get on his back like that, I think that guy gets out of there. I drop those shots on T.J.’s little head, though, I don’t think he’s taking the way Yan did in the second round.”
Sterling regularly used the threat of the takedown to keep the striking savant Yan off-balance in exchanges, and he controlled the Russian on the canvas for the majority of Rounds 2 and 3 with glue-like back control.
As soon as the champ recovers from a long training camp broken up by neck surgery and the rescheduling of the fight with Yan, he said Dillashaw is next on his list. Like the former undisputed champ, Yan had also accused him of pretending in the octagon when he was unable to continue after taking an illegal knee to the head in their first fight at UFC 259. Having gotten the last word, he had fun with that one, and the next step was to enjoy his spoils.
“Thirteen long months, I think I earned a little bit of a break,” Sterling said. “Starting a training camp, stopping a training camp, I kind of want to pursue my acting career a little bit further. … I think I’m going to take off three or four weeks, just take a vacation with the lady once she finishes her final semester at nursing school. We deserve a bit of a break.”