The last 14 of 19 walks to cage for a fight for Aljamain Sterling have been directed toward the UFC’s octagon. For Petr Yan, it’s the past seven of his 16.
Their next walks will be toward the same octagon, minutes apart, as they face each other for the bantamweight title at UFC 259 on Saturday in Las Vegas.
Only one person knows what it’s like it to face both Sterling, the challenger, and Yan, the champion, inside the octagon: Jimmie Rivera.
"If Yan can keep it on the feet the whole time, I feel like Yan will win," Rivera said. "But if Sterling can get him down, I think Sterling’s going to win."
Rivera, then ranked No. 5, lost a unanimous decision to No. 7 Sterling in February 2019. Sterling outstruck Rivera in that bout, 129-36, but missed on seven takedown attempts, according to ufcstats.com.
Four months later, Rivera lost a unanimous decision to Yan. Rivera oustruck Yan, 76-58, but was knocked down twice in the bout. Yan also was 1-for-3 on takedowns.
"I think Sterling’s going to try to outwrestle him, just keep shooting, shooting, shooting," Rivera said. "I think Yan’s wrestling, people underate it a little bit. I think he has pretty decent wrestling. But Sterling makes a good point, it only takes that one time he has to get him down, and can he get back up from it?"
Rivera lost his bout last weekend by unanimous decision to Pedro Munhoz, who also lost by unanimous decision to Sterling in June 2019. Again, Sterling outstruck his opponent, 175-108, but missed on seven takedown attempts in a bout the Uniondale-raised "Funkmaster" has called the favorite fight of his career so far.
Munhoz trains at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida, where the Russian Yan moved his camp to for this fight to avoid any travel issues stemming from the coronavirus pandemic. So he has been in the cage for 15 minutes with Sterling and has seen some of Yan’s preparation for this fight.
"Aljo’s a very technical fighter," Munhoz said, "so that’s definitely a fight that’s going to be very interesting to watch."