UFC 267 has lost a champion – but an interim title fight could be made in his absence.
Two people with knowledge of the situation confirmed the news Saturday to MMA Junkie after an initial report from MMA Fighting. The people asked to remain anonymous as the promotion has yet to make an official announcement.
The current frontrunner to replace Sterling is Cory Sandhagen, who’s ranked No. 3 in the promotion’s official 135-pound rankings. Although no bout agreements have been issued to Yan or Sandhagen, both sides are open to the potential booking.
UFC 267 takes place Oct. 30 at Etihad Arena on Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. The main card is expected to air on ABC after prelims on ESPN networks.
Sterling (20-3 MMA, 12-3 UFC) won the 135-pound strap at UFC 259 in March when Yan (15-2 MMA, 7-2 UFC) was disqualified for an illegal knee to a grounded opponent. Although the promotion was eager to turn the fight around for a rematch as quickly as possible, Sterling was resistant to fighting Oct. 30 in Abu Dhabi because of neck surgery, but he ultimately gave in.
The disqualification was Yan’s first loss since a controversial March 2016 split decision defeat to Magomed Magomedov at ACB 32. Thus far in his promotional tenure, Yan owns wins over the likes of John Dodson, Jimmie Rivera, Urijah Faber, and Jose Aldo, whom he defeated for the vacant title in 2020, among others.
If booked, Sandhagen (14-3 MMA, 7-2 UFC) would enters his first UFC title shot off a split decision loss to T.J. Dillashaw in July, which snapped a two-fight winning streak that included quick knockout wins over Marlon Moraes and Frankie Edgar. Besides the defeat to Dillashaw, Sandhagen’s only other promotional loss came against Sterling via first-round submission.