“It’s been a long time,” Sterling said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “Especially not having a light at the end of the tunnel and being able to have something that I’m working toward and not just doing rehab and training for a fight and having the fight pulled from underneath you, then training again for another fight, and then [Yan] pushing the fight back another month and you have to step off the gas again.”
The two men previously fought at UFC 259, where Sterling won the title when Yan was disqualified for throwing an illegal knee to the head of a downed opponent in the fourth round. They were then scheduled for a rematch at UFC 267, but Sterling was forced out due to lingering issues with a neck surgery, and so Yan instead faced Cory Sandhagen for an interim title. On April 9, the two will face off in a title unifier.
After waiting for more than a year, Sterling is tired of all the delays.
“That was the most frustrating part of this entire thing, and just hearing all the talking and people trying to blame me as if I was the reason why this happened as if Yan didn’t pull out of the first fight that we had,” he continued. “Literally, [he] pulled out of the fight for personal reasons, whatever that means, I have no idea. But I’m not ready because of a surgery that I wasn’t even cleared for to start training yet, and then I’m dubbed the bad guy. It’s weird how people can spin stuff super easily and the people that are so gullible could just fall for anything.”
Sterling, though, hasn’t just been catching flak for the delays to the rematch. The manner in which he took the title, winning by disqualification, has been a constant source of criticism. Yan has since spent much of the past year mocking his rival as a “fake champion” and “an actor.”
While Sterling mostly shakes off the criticism, as the rematch looms, “The Funk Master” is adamant that referee Mark Smith’s decision to disqualify Yan was justified, arguing the now-interim champ’s infamous knee was a deliberate dirty shot as a result of being frustrated.
“There’s rules that we get in the back room, there’s rules that we know going into the sport,” Sterling said. “We agree upon them. You’re in the fight, I’m down on my knees, you knee me in the head when I come up — legal. Then we get back to that same position, you wait six seconds, the ref tells you at the beginning of that six seconds that he’s a downed opponent, you speak English at the press conference, you speak English when we’re face to face, now all the sudden you don’t understand that “downed” means he’s a downed opponent and you can’t throw knees to the head.
The guy’s not looking, you throw an illegal knee six seconds later when you’re winning the fight at that point. Why not let the guy up? That’s all I want people to understand. Why not let the guy up and continue to do the damage and the carnage that you were doing, since you’re so great? Make that make sense. The guy was frustrated, he thought he was gonna get away with one, and that’s really what it comes down to. He thought he was gonna be able to do more damage and make it an illegal strike and get away with it, and thankfully the ref and the doctor saved me from myself.”
For many, the issue really boils down to the fact that Yan was winning the bout before landing the illegal knee, something Sterling even admits. But, Sterling believes that even though Yan was winning, he was getting frustrated as his inability to finish the fight, and that as a result, Smith did the right thing.
“Frustration,” Sterling said. “You’ve got this guy who’s a zombie, a guy who’s got no power on his punches ... . This guy’s not going anywhere. He lands two head kicks before he tries to shoot and get me down to the ground again. I think he’s annoyed. I think he’s frustrated. I think he thinks, ‘You know what, screw this guy. I’m gonna throw this strike because one of my cornermen told me to throw punches, the other guy tells me to throw a kick, and I’m too dumb to move my hands to see where his knees are, so I’m just gonna throw an illegal strike.’ You have to make it make sense, so which one is it? Am I the actor is is this guy a piece of s***? Or is it both? But whatever, at the end of the day, I’m just glad that the ref did the right thing.
“And all the other refs who claim that it was mishandled, or ex-refs that used to think that it was handled poorly, you guys are the reason that there’s problems in this sport, because you guys give a slap on the wrist for everything and you never want to deduct a point and you never want to call a disqualification for anything in this sport. Yeah we’re fighting, but if we’re gonna fight and abide by rules, let’s abide by the goddamn rules. Otherwise, let’s go f****** have a street fight and figure it out in the f****** bathroom! This s***’s so stupid. That’s the only thing that annoys the s*** out of me.”
Sterling won’t have to deal with all the talk much longer though. In less than two weeks he will finally get his chance to shut Yan up for good. And if he does win, he says everyone who has been trash talking him for the past year better be prepared to suffer in kind.
“It is what it is,” Sterling said. “People can say what they want to say, they can have their opinions, but we’re gonna figure this out in a couple days, and either I’m gonna eat a lot of s*** or I’m gonna be talking a lot of s***, and right now I feel like I’m the man that’s gonna be talking a lot of s*** and people are just gonna have to deal with it. The same way I had to deal with it for a whole year and I couldn’t do anything because I couldn’t train, alright, we’ll see how that feels.”