Aljamain Sterling (20-3) won the UFC bantamweight title via disqualification after Petr Yan (15-2) landed an illegal knee strike at UFC APEX in Las Vegas Saturday night.
— Pat Egan (@Pat_Egan) March 7, 2021
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) March 7, 2021
— ESPN (@espn) March 7, 2021
Sterling came firing out of the gate, pushing back Yan and putting the pressure on with a mix of punches, kicks, and a flying knee for good measure. After trading takedowns, Yan sent Sterling sprawling back with a big right hand. The challenger got back to his feet and the champ sent him back down with a sweeping leg kick. Sterling earned a scissor takedown looking for a leg lock, but Yan made his way back to his feet. Yan took Sterling’s back, tossed him to the ground and looked fro a rear-choke before he bell sounded.
— UFC (@ufc) March 7, 2021
To open the second, Sterling settled into a more realistic championship-fight pace. Two slips early in the round gave Yan the advantage, but Sterling returned to his feet both times and kept pushing forward. Sterling spent much of the round looking for a takedown, but couldn’t capitalize before the end of the round.
In the third, it was Yan the aggressor, walking the challenger down with his own mix of shots. Yan sent Sterling to the ground with another back trip before allowing him back to his feet yet again. Yan threw the challenger to the ground another time late in the round, clearly fatigued from the pace of the first two rounds. Sterling opened up toward the end of the round, tossing an overhand left followed by snapping leg kicks.
The fourth was much of the same for Yan, picking apart Sterling with precision and power. Late in the round, Yan dropped Sterling while he was downed for an illegal knee strike.
After the fight, Sterling was emotional in an interview with Joe Rogan saying it wasn’t the way he wanted to win.
“I was in bad shape,” Sterling said. “The ref told me I was down. It’s f***ing bulls**t.”
Rogan went on to tell Sterling that Yan’s camp told him to strike, and that it was totally illegal. Sterling signed off with an apology to the fans with hopes of running it back in the future.
Yan’s first title defense came after handling devastating knockouts to UFC legends Uriah Faber and Jose Aldo in back-to-back tilts. Sterling earned his shot at UFC gold following five consecutive wins, including a submission in June 2020 over Corey Sandhagen.