LAS VEGAS – With the UFC’s bantamweight title currently vacant, Aljamain Sterling believes the promotion isn’t calling on the right people to fill that slot.

“It’s not my company,” Sterling told MMA Junkie. “It is what it is. The UFC is going to do what the UFC thinks is best for them, and all I can do is do what’s best for me, and that’s fight – beat another top contender, and hopefully that’s going to be enough to warrant my title shot, you know?”

Reigning champion Henry Cejudo gave up his belt in May, surprising the MMA community with a sudden retirement following UFC 249. In the interim, UFC president Dana White has announced plans to have former featherweight champ Jose Aldo and hard-hitting Russian contender Petr Yan compete for the vacant title.

Sterling (18-3 MMA, 10-3 UFC), who meets Cory Sandhagen (12-1 MMA, 5-0 UFC) at Saturday’s UFC 250, believes their fight was a better choice to crown a new titleholder.

“To me, this is a title fight, man,” Sterling said. “Let’s be honest, Petr Yan does not have a better resume than Cory Sandhagen. Urijah Faber, Jimmie Rivera – that’s the toughest wins he has. I mean, he beat Jon Dodson, who’s a ’25er. I mean, come on. What are we talking about? I don’t know who does the rankings, but it is always a joke. It’s more about your popularity and if you’ve got a huge following behind your country, maybe.

“I don’t know, but Cory Sandhagen deserves the recognition. He beat Raphael Assuncao, who’s been a mainstay in the top-5 of this division for I think the last four or five years. That says something, and he did it with style. He beat John Lineker. That might have been a little bit tougher of a fight because Lineker is a different type of puzzle. He’s out there finishing guys, and is a tougher test in my book.”

The UFC certainly has options at bantamweight, with the division full of hungry contenders. Timing always matters when it comes to UFC title shots, and Sterling has been sidelined since a June 219 win over Pedro Munhoz. “The Funkmaster” admits he may have made an error in deciding when to go under the knife to address a lingering injury but says he’s happy with the way he used his time away.

“It’s been good in terms of letting my body relax and recover,” Sterling said. “I took a complete month off. I didn’t do anything, and it was the best my neck has ever felt, my body overall. Not sore. Not run down. That was probably a couple months after the surgery. It was tough in the beginning because I was trying to figure out how I was going to make money; good thing my sponsors stuck by me, and that helped out a ton, but for the most part, I wish I did get the surgery a little but sooner, like right after the fight with Pedro so I could have been back a little faster. Just having more time to recover is always ideal.

“It was a major, major surgery that I had on my wrist – supposedly the biggest one that you can have on your hand. So I’m just glad to be back. It’s been a long time coming. This is a very, very exciting time for this bantamweight division, and I’m excited to be one of the guys that’s spearheading this, and all eyes are on Cory Sandhagen and I.”

For Sandhagen’s part, the 28-year-old contender is perfect through his first five UFC appearances. While he doesn’t have as much time invested in his UFC run thus far, Sandhagen does have Sterling’s respect.

“He did beat Assuncao; that and the win over John Lineker kind of put him up there in that category of top-5,” Sterling said. “I personally wanted to fight Petr Yan. I want to punch his face, but I don’t know. I’ve been calling him out since the last fight, when they were hyping him up. I’m like, ‘Dude, if this is the guy you guys want to give the title shot to, let me f-cking fight him and ruin that f-cking hype train,’ and we’ll figure it out from there. But it is what it is. Cory Sandhagen is a tough dude. I respect him a lot. He seems like a guy I can have a couple of beers with after the fight and we could bullsh-t and talk about how we punched each other and kicked each other, you know?

“I’m excited about this opportunity. Tough, tough dude. Not a lot of people know who he is, but I know who he is. I’ve been paying attention since his debut, and I’ve had my eyes on this guy for a while now, so I’m excited to go out there and end his hype train, as well. Right now, I think I’m the best guy in this division, and I think have all the skills in the world to become a world champ.”

Aldo vs. Yan hasn’t been made official just yet, so the winner of Sterling vs. Sandhagen could very well find themselves slipping into a future title fight. At the very least, you have to imagine the winner would be in a good position to challenge the winner of Aldo vs. Yan.

But Sterling isn’t allowing himself to get distracted by the semantics. He’s just focused on winning. After all, in his mind, he is fighting for a title on Saturday.

I’ve been Cory Sandhagen, been in this position where he’s on the cusp of a title shot, and I faltered. Unfortunately, in order to achieve my dreams, I have to crush his, and that’s what I’m looking to do June 6.

“Again, Petr Yan is tough, but I think this should have been the title fight right here, myself vs. Sandhagen. I’m looking to win that belt on June 6 – the imaginary belt.”

UFC 250 takes place Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and early prelims on UFC Fight Pass/ESPN+.

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