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Editorial: Aljamain Sterling can quiet a lot of unnecessary talk at UFC 273

Aljamain Sterling has had his run as UFC bantamweight champion questioned since it began 13 months ago

Aljamain Sterling has confronted challenges before.

The first time Sterling faced big questions came in the aftermath of his 2017 knockout loss to Marlon Moraes.

Moraes posterized Sterling in that matchup. A perfectly timed and placed knee landed directly on Sterling’s chin as he dropped to shoot for a takedown. Sterling fell unconscious to the mat. He stayed there for a very long and incredibly uncomfortable amount of time.

Sterling bounced back from that defeat, his first — and to date only — career knockout loss, with five straight wins. That run culminated with a 2020 submission victory over Cory Sandhagen at UFC 250. The stoppage earned Sterling his first career UFC post-fight bonus, but more important than that, it afforded him a shot at Petr Yan and his UFC bantamweight title.

That fight ended in controversy when Yan threw — and landed — a clearly illegal knee to the head of his downed opponent. The correct call was made in that fight when Yan was disqualified for the illegal blow. With that decision, the title went to Sterling. As it should have, because rules are rules.

The second when Bruce Buffer announced the official results of the fight was the moment Sterling’s right to call himself the UFC bantamweight champion began to be questioned. Those questions remain in the air. Just this week, former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker opined, “He didn’t win. Petr lost. Sterling didn’t win. Petr lost. Okay. This is how it happened. That is the undeniable truth of the matter. So you can’t go around saying I’m the champ, I’m the best in the world, cause you didn’t win the belt – you were given it. It’s different.”

I understand that thinking. But Yan giving the title to Sterling doesn’t change the fact that Sterling is the champ. There are many who might not like how he won the title — I can appreciate that — but part of winning a fight is abiding by the rules. Yan didn’t do that.

On Saturday, in the co-main event of UFC 273, Sterling gets the chance to answer 13 months of questions, erase all the doubts about his legitimacy as the “real” UFC champ and silence all his doubters. But let’s be honest here, the blame for this entire ugly situation should have always been laid directly at the feet of Peter Yan and not Aljamain Sterling.