After claiming the belt from Petr Yan by disqualification in March 2021, Sterling (22-3 MMA, 14-3 UFC) has defended his title twice – edging out Yan in their rematch and winning by TKO over ex-champ T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 280.
Sterling is expected to defend his title against another former champion in Henry Cejudo (16-2 MMA, 10-2 UFC) on May 6 at UFC 288. While Vera thinks activity plays into Sterling’s favor, he puts a slight asterisk on his recent wins.
“I will say Sterling is more hot right now in the game,” Vera told MMA Junkie. “He’s been fighting a lot. He’s been having good competition in front of him. We will see what happens there. But when I say good competition, it’s big names, right? T.J. came hurt. The fights before that was a lot of drama with Yan. So, it’s almost like he hasn’t solidified himself yet.”
Vera is also skeptical of ex-dual champion Cejudo’s resume at bantamweight. Cejudo captured the vacant bantamweight title by finishing Marlon Moraes, then defended his title with a TKO of Dominick Cruz before relinquishing his belt and retiring. It will have been more than three years since Cejudo last competed when he returns against Sterling.
“Three years out of the game, you definitely will forget the feeling, the nerves, everything,” Vera said. “And then when you’re in there – but the guy is a good competitor. He won an Olympic medal. He won UFC titles. I believe his titles in 125 are legit. His title at 135 was out of the blue.”
He continued, “Is he really a contender at 135? He moves great, he closes the gap great, he has great striking, high-level wrestling.”
Vera (22-7-1 MMA, 14-6 UFC) will look to emerge as a title challenger when he faces Cory Sandhagen (15-4 MMA, 8-3 UFC) in the UFC on ESPN 43 headliner on March 25 at AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.