Sterling and Yan will square off in a bantamweight title rematch over a year in the making at UFC 273. This comes after their first matchup at UFC 259 ended in controversy with Sterling walking away with the belt after a Yan disqualification.
Sterling and Yan went back-and-forth at UFC 259, with some believing that Yan was on his way to a successful title defense. But late in the fight, he landed a knee to a grounded Sterling that immediately stopped the bout.
After it was deemed Sterling was unfit to continue, the fight was called and Yan was given a disqualification loss after the knee was deemed intentional. If the knee had been referred to as unintentional, the fight would’ve been ruled a no-contest or gone to a technical decision.
During a recent interview with Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour, Sterling explained why he feels Yan’s illegal knee was an intentional attempt at cheating.
“You got this guy who’s a zombie, right?” Sterling said. “The guy who has no power in his punches. As the fans would say, ‘All his punches were ineffective, I don’t care how many of them he landed. They were just ineffective, they were just hitting his high guard. Even though he jabbed him in the face clearly and split his guard, it was still ineffective. Yan hit him and he moved all over the place’ yeah, because he had a zombie in front of him.
“Okay, so 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 going to throw this strike because one of my cornermen told me to throw punches and the other guy tells me to throw a kick. And I’m too dumb to move my hands to see where his knees are and I’m just going to throw an illegal strike.’
So, you have to make it make sense, which one is it? Am I the actor or is this guy a piece of shit? Or is it both?
Sterling hasn’t competed since the illegal knee, while Yan recently defeated Cory Sandhagen for the interim title at UFC 267. Sterling and Yan were supposed to fight on that same card before Sterling pulled out due to lingering health issues.
Tensions between Sterling and Yan have escalated in the lead-up to their rematch. They’ve traded a series of barbs on social media and Sterling has accused Yan of using performance-enhancing drugs.
While Sterling doesn’t believe his rematch with Yan is about legacy, it’s arguably one of the most important fights in recent bantamweight history. Both men will look to put it all on the line after their first matchup came to an abrupt halt.
What is your prediction for Aljamain Sterling vs. Petr Yan 2?