By round 4 Petr Yan appeared to have his first bantamweight title defense well in hand. Aljamain Sterling had started fast, with tons of pressure, volume, and a persistent wrestling attack, but the insane pace he was pushing – along with some powerful offense from Yan – appeared to be wearing a lot harder on Aljo than his opponent.
When ‘No Mercy’ clinched up with Sterling late in the fight, and forced him to his knees it seemed as though the end was nigh. It was, just not in the way anyone imagined.
Yan rifled off a huge knee to Sterling’s temple, catching the Serra-Longo talent in a clearly downed position. Sterling seemed badly concussed after the blow, landing Yan with a DQ loss and Aljo with a UFC title belt.
Not to keep all the blame squarely on Yan’s shoulders, however, after the bout the UFC broadcasting booth informed viewers that Khabib Nurmagomedov had been sitting near the champs corner for the fight. And, during the fateful exchange that led to Yan’s de-belting, the ‘Eagle’ overheard Yan’s coaches greenlight him to throw the knee. A short while later, and the UFC delivered the video evidence.
“We have audio of the Petr Yan corner instructing their fighter, evidently, to throw this strike to a grounded opponent,” UFC commentator Jon Anik told viewers before rolling the footage.
While one coach can be heard clearly saying, “Just punch,” another cornerman is also shouting instructions in the background, in Russian. And it seems that’s the person who signed off on Yan’s illegal blow.
“Well guys, you can hear it, right?” Daniel Cormier asked his co-commentary members after reviewing the video. “One guy saying ‘Just punch,’ but then somebody in that corner goes, ‘Yes,’ when he says ‘Kick.’ It’s in Russian, Khabib heard it sitting over here, because we couldn’t understand the language. But, someone in that corner yelled, ‘Yes! Kick.’ And Petr Yan lands an illegal knee that ultimately cost him the UFC championship.”
Whatever the controversy may be over why Yan threw the illegal knee, it doesn’t appear that the move will keep him from getting an immediate rematch for the belt. After the event, UFC President Dana White spoke to reporters, and made it clear that he has every intention of booking Yan vs. Sterling 2 as soon as possible.
“Tuesday we’ll get together and we’ll figure out where that fight fits because Sterling wants the rematch, too,” White said (transcript via MMA Junkie). “They both want the rematch, we gotta do the rematch. We’ll figure it out.”
Hopefully, next time around, Yan and his corner will have a good clear handle on the rules. And just maybe put a limit on who’s in charge of shouting out instructions from the sidelines during the fight itself. The first match was an absolute thriller, no reason the rematch can’t be just as good.