According to sources, Sterling (20-3) was denied medical clearance by doctors for the five-round fight. The UFC has not announced an official change to the card, but is discussing the creation of an interim title in Sterling's absence, per sources. The UFC 267 event will still take place on Oct. 30 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Sterling (20-3) won the UFC title in March, when Yan was disqualified in the fourth round of their title fight for throwing an illegal knee. The 32-year-old underwent neck surgery in April to address a lingering injury he'd dealt with for years. Sterling's neck is still an issue and the reason he was pulled from the fight, he wrote on social media.
"As always, I like to share the truth and be transparent with my fan base that actually give a s--- about fighters health," Sterling posted on Instagram. "Training has been going well but I've been struggling to get my body to push pass 2 RDs in sparring sessions. The fatigue that sets in and the cramping still lingers, which my surgeon said is due to the nerves still recovering from the long-term trauma, and surgery I just had. Nothing I can do about that, other than show up in another shell of myself and risk wasting the surgery and maybe getting severely hurt!!"
Yan (15-2) surrendered the belt in his first attempted defense. The Russian bantamweight won the belt by defeating Jose Aldo in July 2020 and appeared to be on his way to beating Sterling when he landed the illegal knee. Prior to that disqualification loss, Yan had won 10 in a row.
A potential option to face Yan for an interim title is Cory Sandhagen. The Colorado native lost a split decision to TJ Dillashaw in July but was on the verge of title contention prior to that. Dillashaw would have been an obvious candidate to compete for an interim title as well, but he is still recovering from recent knee surgery.
There is no timetable for Sterling to defend his official bantamweight title.
"I originally wanted to fight in December but the plans were pushed up earlier," Sterling wrote on Instagram. "Unfortunately, my body isn't agreeing with me and I asked for an extension and asked for Petr Yan to wait, so that I will be the first man in the UFC to beat his a--."