UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling to have neck surgery

UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling will undergo neck surgery on Thursday in Los Angeles to address a medical issue he has dealt with for nearly 10 years.

Sterling (20-3) won the UFC's 135-pound bantamweight championship on March 6, when former champion Petr Yan was disqualified in the fourth round of their title fight in Las Vegas for an illegal knee. The UFC wants to book a rematch between Sterling and Yan as soon as possible. Sterling said he is looking at a possible return from the surgery before the end of the year.

"They told me I will heal in three months, and can start doing cardio to get myself ready," Sterling told ESPN. "They wouldn't want to see me take a fight until they see everything has fused in my neck correctly. Five months would be ideal, if I heal up really quick. I'm excited. The faster I heal up, the faster I can fight. We'll find out in the next three months, and get something on schedule."

Sterling, of New York, said physicians have diagnosed him with a herniated disc and will operate on his C6-C7 vertebrae. He also has a partially torn bicep on his left side, as well as a left shoulder injury, but neither will require surgery at this time.

Sterling, 31, said he should be ready to defend his title by October or early November. He said he's been putting off neck surgery for years, but the illegal knee, as well as a physical grappling exchange in the first round of his title fight against Yan, was the "final straw on the camel's back."

The UFC has not indicated what it will do with the bantamweight division, however Sterling said he does not believe there should be any interim title, as he'll be ready to fight Yan before the end of the year.

"I can't see a reason for an interim title fight when Yan won the belt in July [2020], was scheduled to fight me in December, and then had to push it to March," Sterling said. "He had enough time to heal from whatever fake injury he had. If he got that luxury, I should have the luxury of addressing an injury I've put off for years. Why would they rush an interim title for the sake of it?"