Let me be clear — Aljamain Sterling did nothing wrong after Petr Yan blasted him with an illegal knee in their UFC 259 main event matchup. Zero. Zilch. Nothing.
To point a rage-shaking finger at Sterling and ignore it was Yan that did EVERYTHING wrong in that moment is foolish, misguided and 100 percent wrong.
Got that? Okay, now let me explain.
With 40 seconds left in the fourth round of the bantamweight title fight, referee Mark Smith said — loud enough the cage mic caught it — “grounded.” Six seconds later, Yan unloaded an unquestionably illegal knee to Sterling’s dome.
Before Sterling even hit the mat, Smith had called time. The referee then called the doctor into the cage to check on Sterling as he writhed on the mat.
Now, let me say, I couldn’t care less if Sterling was “faking” or “acting” regarding how badly he was hurt. I believe he was, but in the big picture, what anyone thinks is irrelevant in this situation. Why? The rules, that’s why.
What would have Sterling got if he continued to fight after the knee? An “attaboy” or props for “doing the right thing?” Cool, what’s that worth? Zero. The odds are pretty good Sterling would have lost if he continued. Yan clearly kneed Sterling (illegally) in the head. That blow had to take something out of Sterling. If he had continued, the illegal blow would have left Sterling compromised. Why should Sterling — or anyone — agree to continue after they have been hurt by an illegal blow?
Short answer? They shouldn’t.
Don’t agree with me? Fine, let’s check what Daniel Cormier, former two-division UFC champion — had to say during the UFC 259 broadcast.
“Who’s Aljamain responsibility to?” Asked Cormier. “Himself and his family. Not protecting Petr Yan’s belt (from) an illegal shot. So, people should not crap on Aljamain Sterling if he decides if this fight is over.”
Fellow UFC commentator Joe Rogan agreed with Cormier and added, “If Aljamain continues, he’s severely compromised because of an illegal technique. The fight should probably be over. Let’s be honest. If you look at the way he is right now. This fight’s gotta be called. This fight’s over. This fight is over. For his own health and safety, this should be called.”
By not continuing, Sterling did what was right for himself, his health and safety, his future and his family. He didn’t break a single rule. Yan broke the rules. Sterling played by the rules of the sport. Sterling won by disqualification and the UFC awarded him the bantamweight title. He did nothing wrong.