Aljamain Sterling won the bantamweight title on Saturday night at UFC 259, but not in the way he would have hoped, after an illegal knee from Petr Yan left him unable to continue, resulting in a disqualification.
Despite replays clearly showing that Sterling was caught cleanly by Yan’s illegal knee while he was on the mat, the new champion has come under fire in some quarters for overplaying the extent of his injury in order to win the belt.
Now Sterling has had a chance to respond to his critics and tell his side of the story on his own ‘Weekly Scraps’ podcast.
“I am now technically the new UFC champion of the world,” Sterling said. “Bittersweet, because it’s not the way I wanted to win, was a DQ by another man making an illegal move and being disqualified from the match. It’s not the way I wanted to win. Just so you guys know: I don’t feel like I am the champ because I obviously didn’t win this the way I wanted to win it. But rules are in place for a reason. It’s mind-boggling to me that a guy like Yan can get to his caliber, the highest of the highs to become a champion, and still make mistakes like that.”
According to Sterling, he genuinely was rocked by the knee and in the minutes that followed he felt woozy when he did anything other than lie on his back.
Meanwhile, Sterling admits his mind was already working overtime on all the potential ramifications of him continuing to fight on, despite the damage he had sustained from the illegal blow.
“I do remember asking, ‘How much time do I have?’ Because I wanted to continue,” Sterling said. “In this moment, I’m thinking a whole bunch of things in my head: Dana (White’s) not going to give me another shot at the title, the fight’s going to be a no contest, Dana’s going to say, ‘He was losing that fight in the fourth round, so why should we use him again? We already know the direction the fight was heading, so we’re going to move on from this.’ Then me, I’m never going to get the opportunity again. I’m going to have to win three or four more fights to get back in this position for a world title again.
“Those thoughts are going through my head. Not, ‘I’m going to become world champion.’ This, I did’t even think I was getting this. I didn’t even want this. Then all my friends and family see me. They knew I had this. They took it out of the bag for me. Put it on my shoulder and wanted me to be proud of my performance and how I carried myself. They all knew it wasn’t the way I wanted to win, but they said I’m still the champ. I did this. It’s hard to get in this position anyway to fight for a world title.”
Sterling also took time to fire back at some of his fellow fighters who had branded him as an ‘actor’ on Saturday night.
“For the fighters that said I milked it, good for you guys. Do you guys ever see me quit or look for a way out? Where a guy puts on a half-assed rear-naked choke, and it’s half on, and you look around and go, ‘OK, I can tap now. … I can quit now.’ You guys are the freaking softies. I fought my ass off the entire time, and I was not going to quit in that fight. I was going to take my licking or find a way to persevere or find a way to win like a man because that’s just what I do. I don’t have that quit in me. There’s no quit button whenever I’m in there. You guys might find it easy and talk about the Oscars and everything. You guys are the actors, and it might be a reflection or your own spirits.”
As things stand it appears as if Sterling and Yan will now head into a rematch, with Dana White making it clear he’s eager to see it happen as soon as possible.