The first of three blockbuster title fights at UFC 259 ended in disgrace when bantamweight champion Petr Yan was disqualified for a brutal illegal shot on Aljamain Sterling.
Yan was dominating the number one contender, before, with half a minute left in the fourth round, he kneed Sterling in the head while his opponent was already on the ground – a clearly illegal foul.
Jamaican 31-year-old Sterling was obviously concussed and could not even sit up unaided.
The fight was called off three minutes later and Sterling handed the belt, becoming the first person to become UFC champion via disqualification – much to his dismay.
It was later reported that Yan’s corner had instructed him to make the shot, labelled by Sterling as “f***ing bull***t”.
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Sterling was in tears as the belt was placed around his waist, and was clearly distraught in an interview immediately after leaving the cage.
“Everything I worked for man to this point, to f***ing have the fight go like that. I thought the fight was very close, I thought I was down two rounds.
“That’s not the way I want to win. That’s not the way I envisioned this. I just took the f***ing belt off.
“I was trying to continue, even being all f***ed up like that. But I was in bad shape, it would have been (Yan) taking over and further punishment.
“The ref told me I was down.
“I don’t know. It’s f***ing bulls**t. I understand there’s some heat, some bad blood, this old rivalry.”
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Meanwhile, Yan still raised his hand as he awaited the result, a staggering show of confidence despite his actions. The former champion had been leading on two of the three judges’ scorecards ahead of the fourth round.
Joe Rogan said in commentary: “That knee was crazy. It was illegal. So clearly illegal.
“You can’t get more illegal than that.”
It was revealed by the commentary team that Yan’s corner had told him to knee Sterling despite the contender being on one knee.
The shot left Sterling clearly dazed, despite trying to regain his feet for three minutes. The long delay before the referee and a doctor waved the fight off left commentators stunned and begging for it to end.
“For his own health and safety, this should be called,” Rogan said.
“Aljamain’s a tough guy. If he could get up, he would get up. This should be called. Call this fight.”
Eventually, the correct decision was made as Sterling (20-3 MMA, 12-3 UFC) dethroned Yan (15-2 MMA, 7-1 UFC) to become the fifth 135-pound champion in UFC history.
28-year-old Russian Petr apologised soon after on Twitter, writing: “I apologize and wish speedy recovery to @funkmasterMMA I didn’t mean to throw an illegal strike, I just made a big mistake and paid for it.”
But the wild finish sent fellow professionals into a Twitter storm.