ABU DHABI -- Petr Yan might not be the official champion of the UFC's bantamweight division -- but it sure feels like the weight class belongs to him.
Yan (16-2) claimed the interim bantamweight title at UFC 267 on Saturday by defeating Cory Sandhagen (14-4) via unanimous decision. The 135-pound title fight co-headlined the event, which took place inside Etihad Arena. All three judges scored the five-round title fight 49-46 for Yan.
Fighting out of Russia, Yan came into 2021 as the undisputed bantamweight champion. He appeared to be on his way to defending that title against Aljamain Sterling in March when he threw an illegal knee in the fourth round that cost him the bout and his championship. He lost via disqualification.
The two were supposed to fight at UFC 267, but Sterling withdrew due to injury. As long as Sterling's health returns, the two are expected to meet in a title unification bout.
"Everyone knows I am the real champion," Yan said. "I'm ready to fight anyone. Either [former champion T.J.] Dillashaw or the clown, Aljamain Sterling."
Yan, 28, certainly looked like a real champion on Saturday. He got off to a measured start in the opening round, as the taller, longer Sandhagen utilized his movement and put together combinations. Yan began investing heavily into Sandhagen's body with kicks, however, and eventually followed that success with punches.
He dropped Sandhagen with a spinning backfist in the third round and unloaded an extended flurry along the fence in the fourth. Sandhagen, of Colorado, refused to go away and continued looking for his own offense, but he was simply out-gunned as the fight played out.
"He's a hell of a fighter," Sandhagen said. "He was better tonight, man. I have nothing else to say. I want to fight the best in the world. I know that is what's going to make me the best martial artist I can be. I'm glad I got to do that tonight and I'll learn from it."
Yan's last actual loss -- that wasn't a disqualification -- happened in 2016. He is 8-1 in the UFC. Sterling, of New York, is still recovering from neck surgery earlier this year but is expected to return to the Octagon in early 2022.