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Demetrious Johnson wants rule change on downed opponent: Sterling went for ‘a safe position’

Former UFC champion Demetrious Johnson thinks it’s high time to amend the rules on striking a downed opponent.

Following the UFC 259 controversy between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling, Demetrious Johnson wants a rule change with regards to striking a downed opponent.
Following the UFC 259 controversy between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling, Demetrious Johnson wants a rule change with regards to striking a downed opponent.
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

One of the most controversial title wins in the UFC happened at UFC 259 between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling. Yan lost the belt via disqualification after landing an illegal knee strike.

Former longtime UFC champion Demetrious Johnson is no stranger to such a predicament. In his recent guesting on MMA’s What the Heck podcast, “Mighty Mouse” recounted the same incident during his 2013 title fight against John Dodson.

“I dealt with the exact same thing in 2013 in Chicago, UFC on FOX 6 against John Dodson,” he recalled. “I had him against the cage, he put his hand on the ground, I did not take the time to see his hand on the ground and it’s not my job to look and see if his hand is on the ground. In my opinion, he was in a knowledgeable position that he could defend himself.

“I blast him in his face, John McCarthy stopped the fight and said, ‘Hey, dude. He was a downed opponent.’ I said, ‘What the f—k do you mean he’s down? His finger is touching the ground. He’s not down.’ So I’ve gone through this before in the UFC.

“To see the same thing happen with Aljamain Sterling vs. Petr Yan, first off, I’m a big fan of Aljamain Sterling. I have nothing against the guy, but each time I give my personal opinion—which you just asked for—I like to do so as a neutral person.

“If I had friends over my house and they ask why he got DQ’d, well it’s a rule that he was a downed opponent, that he was on the ground. Yeah, he’s down, but he can currently defend himself.”

For Johnson, that loophole with regards to the downed opponent rule is allowing others to game the system in their favor. He believes that by making some changes, the sport will be better off.

“Do I think it’s a rule that needs to be changed? I think so,” he said. “I think it’s gonna help the fight progress, it’s gonna help keep people moving. The biggest thing that my coach tells me is, ‘Why should an athlete go to his knees to touch the ground to dictate what I can and can’t do?’ Think about that.

“When my coach trains me and tells me to have that mindset, it makes sense. If I’m getting beat up in a fight, and I put my hands and knees on the ground, you have to stop your onslaught. You have to rethink trying to proceed with the fight.

“That’s where my mindset was at when I was watching that fight because the fight was starting to go in Yan’s favor. Petr Yan was starting to pick him apart. Sterling got some good shots in there, but once he went down on his knees, and he was holding his hands on his knees like he was praying, and he got blasted.

“When it happened, I was like, ‘Petr Yan, you f—n idiot. You’re finally winning the fight and you throw this knee and get disqualified.’ Then I’m like, it’s just like back in the wrestling days when you get pinned and your coach says, ‘You shouldn’t have been there in the first place.’ So that was my opinion.”

As for Sterling, Johnson had this to say.

“Aljamain, you’re way better than that. Why are you putting yourself in that position?” he said.

“But yeah, I think the rule should be changed. It’ll be good for the sport, it will open up a lot more things, and I think people won’t use that position as a safety.

“Like, I’m gonna use this because I’m safe. And those aren’t my words. Those are his words. He said, ‘I knew I was in a safe position.’ When he said that, I was like, you’re in a f—n fight, you’re never in a safe position. You should never think that I’m safe here.”

From his end, the “Funkmaster” doesn’t agree with giving Yan a rematch. He instead wants his next fight to be against another former 135-pound champion in Henry Cejudo.