The first fighter to win a UFC title via disqualification, Sterling has talked plenty about the illegal knee strike that Yan caught him with at UFC 259 that ended their fight in controversial fashion. Sterling appeared as a guest fighter to speak to the media this past Friday and he elaborated further on why he thinks it’s somewhat odd that Yan is in line for an immediate rematch given the circumstances.
“It’s fascinating because any other sport when you do something intentionally illegal, you get suspended, you get fined, you get ejected from the game,” Sterling said, when asked why he initially teased a potential title defense against retired former champion Henry Cejudo. “This guy’s getting rewarded with a rematch, which I get it’s a big fight, but it’s like, we can just break the rules and nothing’s ever gonna happen to us. I can just jump the octagon, nothing’s ever gonna happen to me. I can just go fight another corner or I can push him after the bell and nothing’s ever gonna happen. I feel like when you have rules for a reason, you’ve got to somewhat enforce them otherwise let’s just run amuck. I’m okay with that, let me run amuck, let me start smacking guys and let me start doing the crazy sh*t that I want to do instead of being professional about the way I handle my business.
“So that was the whole thing with Cejudo and that’s how I feel about Petr Yan. I feel like his ass should have been suspended or something. Pay me some money for an illegal foul that might take years off my career.”
Much of the controversy surrounding the UFC 260 finish swirled around Yan’s intent and whether his corner may have given him confusing instructions (Yan later insisted that he couldn’t hear his corner at all) during the sequence in which Yan connected with an illegal knee to a grounded Sterling’s head. Referee Mark Smith gave Sterling time to recover, but it was ultimately ruled that Sterling could not continue and Yan lost his UFC championship to Sterling via disqualification.
The way Sterling sees it, Yan was desperately searching for a technique that would put Sterling away, and the perceived dominance that Yan had through almost four rounds of action has been overstated.
“I look at it like it was an intentional foul,” Sterling said. “He was frustrated that he couldn’t get me out of there. I was eating his biggest shots and he was probably thinking, ‘What else am I supposed to do with this guy?’ You want to say he ragdolled me because he tripped me a couple of times on a slippery octagon, I don’t give a sh*t. I really don’t. Because the octagon was super slippery, I couldn’t get none of my takedowns, and those are facts.
“You could see all the other fighters that are slipping and sliding all over the cage—Kevin Holland throwing a head kick and then busting his ass—It’s like, I don’t know what they’re doing in terms of the COVID stuff spraying on the canvas, but this is something I think they’ve got to look into because it’s affecting the fights. You’ve got guys who pressure, put all their weight in, and it’s like you’re just sliding, so you can never get your footing underneath you to actually get your takedowns.”
Sterling went through concussion protocol after the fight, but said his real concern is lingering issues with his neck. However, pending a clean bill of health, he expects the rematch with Yan to happen “for sure” sometime in 2021.
In the meantime, he’s not letting any negative reaction to his championship win get to him, especially since he believes that fans didn’t see the best version of him at UFC 259.
“At the end of the day I’m happy,” Sterling said. “I put myself in position to fight for a world title. It’s eluded me for super long and unfortunately the fight went the way it went, we’re gonna do it again. If that’s the best Petr Yan versus a watered-down Sterling—People don’t even know, I had my morning shake-out, I ate at 10:30, I ate the food that the UFC PI gave me for breakfast, a very small portion of food. And that’s all I had until the fight. Normally I do the same thing, but I eat a bigger breakfast and I fight a lot earlier. So I felt very depleted going into the fight in the backroom.
“I don’t want to make any excuses, but my performance was hindered and I feel like if I perform like that, still ate his biggest shots, best shots, I like my chances in a rematch and I’m super excited.”
Sterling also defended Smith’s call, saying that the in-cage official was put into a position where he had no choice but to disqualify Yan. If anything, Sterling would like to see other referees be more willing to administer harsh punishments in the event of a foul.
“If you commit a foul intentionally, you should be disqualified,” Sterling said. “When else are we going to disqualify guys? Do I need to bite a ear? Do I need to headbutt somebody? And then you like, wag your finger at me, ‘Don’t you do that. That was illegal. That’s wrong. I’m gonna take a point, we’re gonna go to the judges.’ No, that’s silly. This is not a street fight. I came here for an organized fight. We know the rules, we’re playing by the same rules, so enforce the rules.
“No more of these eye pokes, these low blows, ‘Oh this is a warning, that’s a hard warning, I’m sorry that’s another warning. Ah, let’s bring the doctor in. That’s a hard warning, I’m gonna talk to you one more time, please don’t do that.’ Enforce the rules. Everyone knows what we signed up for. People want to say I’m complaining. You try getting in the octagon, putting in all this hard work and then getting poked in the eye like a Belal Muhammad and losing the opportunity of a lifetime. Getting kneed in the head, not having the chance to finish out the fight to see what the story would have been, like we would never know. But I’m just thankful that I get an opportunity to do it again and I can shut up all the Russian and all the other trolls that are talking sh*t. I’m laughing to the bank, so I’m happy.”