After their first fight ended in controversy following an illegal knee that led to a disqualification, Sterling ended the debate about his legitimacy as champion while showcasing a nasty grappling game that helped him overcome Yan’s striking arsenal. While Yan definitely had his moments, it was Sterling ground control and submission attempts that helped him sway the judges with two scorecards reading 48-47 in his favor to win the fight.
“I know I came in here very highly doubted,” Sterling said. “I had a tough ass opponent in Petr Yan. He brought out the best in me. This is what the fight game’s out about. Keep doubting me motherf******.”
Unlike their first encounter, Sterling was a little more reserved in the opening round as he targeted Yan with kicks while circling around the cage to try and avoid his opponent’s considerable power. Yan was patient with his offense while putting constant pressure on Sterling while picking and choosing his shots.
While Yan is typically a slower starter, he was headhunting as he came after Sterling very aggressively with his punches and forcing the New York native to fight at a fast pace.
Sterling was smart while staying away from anything connecting flush as he bided his time to set up his own combinations. As the second round got underway, Sterling seized on an opening to drag Yan to the ground where he immediately jumped on the back to start looking for a rear naked choke.
After locking on the body triangle, Sterling was methodical with his grappling as he just suffocated Yan on the ground, setting up submissions and then just hammering him with punches. Yan survived but Sterling was definitely surging after putting the Russian in serious trouble for several minutes on the canvas.
The grappling attacks kept coming from Sterling as he started to land the takedowns with greater ease as frustration started to creep across Yan’s face as he was just stuck playing defense without any real chance to escape.
As Yan went to his corner, his coaches shouted at him that they needed a stronger showing in the fourth round and he reacted appropriately upon the restart. Yan was throwing his punches with force behind them but also putting himself in a better position to avoid Sterling’s wrestling.
When Sterling did try to drag the fight back down to the ground, Yan countered and actually ended up on top but he wasn’t able to do a lot of damage while stuck inside the guard. At times where Yan was able to open up a bit more, he tagged Sterling with some nasty punches that helped him start to turn the tables.
Knowing the scores were undoubtedly razor close, Sterling continued to press forward as he kept a focus on his wrestling but Yan was able to continuously shrug him off as he launched big knees up the middle followed by looping punches. Yan wasn’t able to really hurt Sterling on the feet but his evasiveness allowed him to maintain control heading into the final seconds of the bout.
Still, Sterling never allowed Yan to really hurt him or put any significant combinations together and the strong start through the first three rounds helped him secure the victory. After the decision was announced, Yan only had one thing on his mind.
“I think I won this fight,” Yan said. “I think I won three rounds out of five. I want rematch.”
While it’s possible Yan could secure a third fight, Sterling was already turning his attention to an ex-champion who was sitting cageside at UFC 273 on Saturday night.
“T.J. Dillashaw, where the f*** you at?” Sterling shouted. “You’re next b****. You’re about to be one and done, motherf*****.”