That’s according to UFC President Dana White, who could do little other than call for a do-over following the unfortunate ending to the bantamweight title fight on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
“It sucked,” White said at the post-event press conference. “It was a good fight. That was a fight that everybody was excited about. Everybody knew it was going to be good. That was a bad one.”
Yan had taken control of momentum as the fight went into deep waters and Sterling visibly tired. As the challenger rested on one knee after an exchange, the Russian paused for a moment before unloading a blatantly illegal knee to the head. Sterling immediately hit the canvas, badly hurt, and the fight was called off after the cageside doctor examined him.
Because the knee was clearly intentional, Sterling was ruled the winner via disqualifcation and declared the new UFC bantamweight champion.
Afterward, Yan said he didn’t realize Sterling was considered a downed opponent when he launched the knee.
“Before the fight, the referee was paying a lot of attention about the hand position when the fighter is grounded or not,” he told reporters backstage. “I was too focused on his hands, and I forgot about his legs. Obviously I didn’t mean to do an illegal shot.”
Sterling struggled to explain what happened in a post-fight interview after his win. He was later checked out at an area hospital and cleared by doctors of any immediate serious injuries.
On social media, Sterling apologized to fans and assured there would be a rematch.
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
White couldn’t provide an immediate timeline for a second fight but said one would be determined at a matchmaking meeting on Tuesday.
“Sterling wants the rematch, too,” he said. “We’ll figure it out.”