LAS VEGAS (AP) – Aljamain Sterling won the UFC bantamweight title when Petr Yan was disqualified for an illegal fourth round knee strike on Saturday night in the first of three championship fights at UFC 259.
Sterling (20-3) looked disoriented and disappointed when the belt wrapped around his waist after a fight he appeared to be losing to Yan (15-2). Sterling threw the belt on the canvas before leaving the Octagon.
The fight was stopped 31 seconds from the end of the fourth when Yan dug his knee into Sterling’s face, who was kneeling on the canvas in front of him.
The rules of mixed martial arts strictly forbid such blows to a downed opponent, and the knee clearly injured Sterling, who struggled and failed to stand for several minutes. The fight was called off by referee Mark Smith, who had verbally warned Yan not to throw such a strike seconds earlier.
“Everything I’ve worked for so far, and to make the fight go like this …” a teary-eyed Sterling said. “I thought the fight was very close. I thought I had lost two rounds. That’s not how I wanted to win. That’s not how I envisioned it. took off the belt, man. I was trying to keep going, but I was in bad shape. “
Yan put on a masterful performance over three laps in the first defense of his 135-pound belt, overcoming his opponent’s strong start in high intensity before imposing his physical will from the third round.
Yan was largely able to stay upright while avoiding his opponent’s solid ground play, responding at one point with two obscene hand gestures when a lying Sterling invited him to fight.
Yan appeared to take control of the bout in the third round and early in the fourth against his tiring opponent, but his clearly illegal strike forced officials to make the unsavory decision of awarding a title belt through disqualification.
Sterling has won his title with five straight wins in the past three years. The Long Island native’s creative and athletic fighting style – his nickname is Funk Master – has made him a popular choice as a future UFC champion for several years.
But Sterling was beaten to the belt by Yan, who won the title vacated by Henry Cejudo by eliminating José Aldo last July. The victory has punctuated the Siberian power’s 7-0 run since joining the UFC nearly three years ago.
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