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Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan mix in a few last quick jabs before UFC 259

Aljamain Sterling talks at  the UFC 259

Aljamain Sterling talks at  the UFC 259 press conference at UFC Apex on Thursday in Las Vegas. Credit: Zuffa LLC via Getty Images/Handout

In terms of qualitative and memorable pre-fight banter between Uniondale's Aljamain Sterling and bantamweight champion Petr Yan, Thursday’s UFC 259 news conference did not match their work on social media.

But it’s a different setting and a different situation, so forgive the top two bantamweights for dialing it down a bit. Besides, the most grueling parts of their week-long weigh cut still were to come Thursday night.

Sitting in the back row on stage — with main-event fighters Jan Blachowicz and Israel Adesanya and co-main eventers Amanda Nunes and Megan Anderson in the front — Sterling and Yan still managed to slip in a few quick jabs at one another.

"I don’t have any conflict with him, I just want to beat his curly hair," the Russian Yan said through a translator.

"I think Petr has very good grappling, I just don’t think it’s to the level of mine," Sterling said. "With the level of competition that I drill with on a daily basis at Serra BJJ, and some of the competition that he’s faced, I got to train with those guys as well, and I like to think that I'm one of the elite guys out there. And if I get his back like those guys have got his back in the past, it’s going to be a problem and it’s going to be a short night."

And then this quick exchange as Yan answered a question about training at American Top Team in Florida instead of doing his whole camp at home in Russia.

Yan: "Every day I’m learning something new and I will try to show it in my fight."

Sterling: "I hope they teach you how to catch a mouse."

Yan: "I’m catching the mouse my whole life."

Sterling: "Mouse don’t strangle people, though."

The real jabs — and hooks and straights and kicks and takedowns and elbows and knees — come Saturday night on ESPN+ pay-per-view when Yan and Sterling meet in the first of three title fights on the main card.

Inside the smaller octagon at the UFC Apex (25 feet wide compared with the typical 30-foot canvas), Sterling will attempt to defeat Yan and become the third Long Islander to win UFC gold. East Meadow’s Matt Serra, under whom Sterling is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, was the first when he beat Georges St-Pierre for the welterweight title in 2007. Baldwin’s Chris Weidman, Sterling's Serra-Longo teammate, won the UFC middleweight title from Anderson Silva in 2013.

Yan (15-1, 7-0 UFC) doesn’t have the pedigree of St-Pierre or Silva. Few do. But he brings a 10-fight win streak into UFC 259. Still, Sterling has referred to Yan as "a paper champion" in the past since Yan won the vacant title against Jose Aldo, who had lost four of his previous six fights at that point, and before that knocked out a 40-year-old Urijah Faber in his second fight after a three-year retirement.

Here, Yan and Sterling agreed. Sort of.

"Of course, I need to beat the number-one contender to prove I’m real," Yan said.

Sterling (19-3, 11-3 UFC) is on a five-fight winning streak, most recently submitting the highly regarded Cory Sandhagen in 88 seconds last June at UFC 250. All five of those wins for Sterling have come against ranked opponents.

"I feel like this fight is one of those fights where it’s two guys in their prime," UFC president Dana White, "and that’s the perfect time for them to meet each other."

Yan and Sterling met for a brief second earlier this week. Sterling said they made eye contact and acknowledged each other in passing at the UFC Performance Institute.

"To be honest, I’m not really noticing him," Yan said when asked about it. "Even like here, it's like he's here or not, he doesn’t seem visible to me."

Sterling got the last word in Thursday during the staredowns after the news conference concluded. Sterling arrived at his spot on the stage first, then Yan came in and put his fists up for the posed shot for photographers but did not look at Sterling. It wasn't until Sterling began talking to him that Yan faced the Serra-Longo fighter.

"I’m going to break you on Saturday," Sterling said.

"We'll see. You’re only talk," Yan replied.

"Only talk? You think so? Why do you think so?" Sterling said. "You can’t hit what you can’t see."

New York Sports