Controversy in the Octagon: Winning the Belt by Losing?
by Giovanni Bonilla, Form V
2 min. read — April 16, 2021
Number one contender Aljamain Sterling hoped to achieve his dream of becoming a UFC champion, but he never envisioned the way in which he would get it. On March 6, UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan was disqualified after landing a knee to Sterling’s head while he was grounded late in the fourth round (a move illegal in the UFC), therefore awarding him with the belt.
The fight started off strong for Sterling, as he was constantly pressing Yan and leaving no breathing room. However, as the fight continued, he began to fatigue, and this allowed Yan to pick him apart. Sterling constantly tried to take him down, but Yan was able to just about stuff all of them, as well as land hard shots in the clinch. By the fourth round, Sterling was visibly tired and Yan remained unfazed. Sterling threw a head kick and then went for a takedown, only for that to get stuffed as well. He ended up on the ground and was hit with the illegal knee, knocking him against the canvas. After being checked by the doctor, the referee called the fight.
The fight world had very mixed reactions, as some saw no issue in the stoppage, while others were outraged that Sterling was crowned champion despite Yan picking him apart. He was also accused of pretending to be hurt so that the referee would wave the bout off, as in this situation Yan would be disqualified if Sterling could not continue. UFC middleweight contender Darren Till expressed this sentiment in a post on Twitter, where he said “Nominated for an Oscar this year are: Robert de Niro, Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Aljamain Sterling. However, other fighters, such as lightweight superstar Justin Gaethje, thought “[t]his call should never be on the fighter. Plain and simple. With a shot like that it’s over. Doc does his job walks in and it’s over.”
There were also people that said that the bout should have been ruled as a no contest and that the belt should have become vacant. While people on Twitter continued to debate the result, new information came to light as Yan’s team claimed that he hit Sterling with the knee after a miscommunication with the cornermen. In an interview, Yan’s coach Marcos DaMatta told MMA Junkie:
And I was pretty vocal saying ‘just punch, just punch, just punch.’ I don’t know if the two cornermen behind me said to kick or to knee. I don’t believe so. We spoke about that after the fight, and they both said that they said ‘hit him’ in Russian. I don’t know who said they advised him to kick or to knee. I believe it was Khabib telling DC, but again, Khabib wasn’t in the commentating booth. He was just around.Marcos DaMatta, Yan's coach
While whether Sterling was genuine about not being able to continue still remains unclear, people wishing for the UFC to run this fight back can be excited, as they are in talks of a rematch soon.