Yan was ahead on the scorecards going into championship round, but blew his chances in his first title defense by landing a knee to Sterling’s face while his opponent had one knee down on the ground.
American Top Team coach Marcos “Parrumpinha” da Matta, who worked with Yan for the first time ahead of UFC 259, revealed that the referee went to their locker room earlier that night to go over the rules and focused on that exact same situation.
“The referee spent a good time explaining that rule,” da Matta said in an interview with MMA Fighting. “I told [Yan it] didn’t matter where the hand was, he had to worry about the knee. If the knee is on the ground, you can’t do anything. One of the things we discussed was, if that happens, push his head down to the ground, because Aljamain has an injured neck, and keep punching.
“The video shows me saying, ‘Just punch, just punch.’ Only if someone else said something different. Since I don’t understand Russian, I don’t know what [the other cornermen] said, but they told me afterward they just said, ‘Hit him’ in Russian, they didn’t tell him to throw the knee.”
At the 19-second mark of the video, MMA Fighting confirmed with a native Russian speaker that one of the cornermen said, “Hit him, hit him.” UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, meanwhile, claimed one of Yan’s corners explicitly said “Yes, yes, kick him,” but that could not be independently verified.
Several fighters, Yan included, took on social media immediately after the event to criticize Sterling. “Parrumpinha,” an experienced coach and veteran MMA fighter himself, won’t judge Sterling for his decision of not coming back and walking away with the DQ win — and the UFC belt.
“That’s a question only he will be able to answer, and only he will know the truth,” da Matta said. “He can tell everyone, even his mother and his wife, that he couldn’t go back, but only he truly knows if he could or couldn’t. But he was losing the fight, he only won the second round, and he knows Yan was growing and he was fading.
“Everybody saw he was tired already, he pulled guard several times, something a wrestler doesn’t do. If he really had cardio he would have continued to do what he did in the second round, but he didn’t. And since Petr only gets better after every round, I was confident that Petr would KO or TKO him in the last round — in the very least a 10-8. The fight was won.”
“Many fighters in Aljamain’s position probably would have done the same thing,” he continued. “‘I won’t win the fight, I’ll stay down and maybe there’s a no-contest or something like that, and I’ll prepare better for another fight.’ If he could return, of course. If he couldn’t, he couldn’t. Only he knows if he could or not.”
“Parrumpinha” was happy with his work in Yan’s camp, which led to the champion avoiding all of Sterling’s takedown attempts according to the official UFC stats. The Russian has yet to decide whether or not he will do his next camp at American Top Team, da Matta said, and is awaiting a date for the immediate rematch.
According to da Matta, the UFC wanted Yan to stay in the United States instead of flying back to Russia so they can re-book this fight as soon as possible. But the bantamweight talent is expected to return to his home country later this week.
“He’s already done four rounds with Aljamain and pretty much knows what to expect in a rematch,” da Matta said. “The first hard punch Petr landed was a knockdown, an overhand right, so I think that will help in the rematch. I’d expect an even more dangerous Petr in the rematch.”