Controversy struck at UFC 259 in the Bantamweight title fight between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling when Yan blasted a downed Sterling in the face with an illegal knee, ending the fight and earning himself a disqualification. Sterling — who was down on two out of three judges’ scorecards at the time and losing the fourth round before getting horrendously fouled — wound up the new UFC Bantamweight champion (watch highlights here).
There’s been a lot of talk about why exactly Yan ended up throwing that ill-fated strike. Much was made of Khabib Nurmagomedov telling Daniel Cormier that Yan’s Russian corners had called for the knee (while Yan’s English-speaking corner can be heard yelling “grounded!” and “punches only”).
But, according to Yan himself, he wasn’t swayed by anything or anyone outside of the cage. The Russian former champ says he made a split-second determination regarding whether Sterling was legally down ... and he was wrong.
“I don’t know what to say, I know I made a mistake,” Yan said in Russian (translated by RT Sport). “In no way was that intentional. I was focused on his hands. The referee told us about hand position and how to tell when a fighter is grounded. I was focused on his hands and when he raised them, I hit him.
“Honestly, I didn’t understand what my cornermen were telling me,” he said later. “I was focused on his hands leaving the ground. The replay will likely show how he raised his hands. I didn’t see that his knees were down, I thought he was squatting.”
As for how he felt about losing his belt over a foul in a fight he was winning?
I apologize and wish speedy recovery to @funkmasterMMA I didn’t mean to throw an illegal strike, I just made a big mistake and paid for it.— Petr “No Mercy” Yan (@PetrYanUFC) March 7, 2021
“It sucks,” the short-spoken fighter said. “I don’t think Aljamain will accept the belt in a fight like that. If he’s healthy I’ll be happy to do a rematch.”
Is that something UFC President, Dana White, is interested in?
Not the way I ever want to win a fight. It was close, competitive and filled with action. I felt the knee was intentional, especially after the ref announced I was a downed opponent, so I didn’t expect to be hit.— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) March 7, 2021
Yan is a bad dude! WE WILL DO IT AGAIN!#UFC259
“Yep,” White said simply when asked at the post-fight press conference. As for when? “I have no f—king idea, it just happened an hour ago. Tuesday we’ll get together and figure out where that fight fits because Sterling wants that rematch, too. They both want the rematch, you gotta do the rematch. We’ll figure it out soon.”
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