Aljamain Sterling: ‘I don’t feel like a true champion’

After arguably the most bizarre title change in UFC history, newly crowned UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling gave his response to the MMA community on his podcast “The Weekly Scraps” following his DQ victory over Petr Yan at UFC 259.

While Yan clearly delivered an illegal knee to Sterling, who by definition was a grounded fighter, many MMA fans, commentators, and fighters criticized Sterling for embellishing his reaction to the knee.

Sterling addressed whether or not he felt like a true champion and also criticized Yan for his knowledge (or lack thereof) of the rules along with making the decision to knee him in that position altogether.

“Just so you guys know, I don’t feel like I am the champ because obviously I didn’t win this the way I wanted to win it. But rules are in place for a reason, and it’s mind boggling to me to know that a guy like Yan, of his caliber, can get to the highest of the highs, become a world champion, and still make mistakes like that,” Sterling said.

“Not knowing when an opponent is down, having to ask your coach if an opponent is down? Like, what? I was told that he’s done this before in the past. I have to find the fight so I can actually pull it up and verify for myself if this is true or not. But it is kind of crazy that he would go back and do something like that again if true.” 

Petr Yan’s Russian fans ‘are a little overboard’

Sterling also lectured Yan’s Russian fan base on their lack of medical knowledge regarding their criticism of the severity of “Funkmaster’s” head injury. He also mentioned he received death threats from them as well, but did not seem all too concerned.

“I respect that you guys like to support your own. Maybe that is something that I do admire about the Russian fan base. You guys will support your own no matter what. You guys are a little overboard in terms of crazy; in terms of like the death threats and stuff. That’s a little crazy, but I do respect that you guys support your athletes,” Sterling said.

“With that being said, you guys aren’t freaking doctors. You don’t know anything about concussions. Just because I got a CT scan and they said I was cleared does not mean I wasn’t concussed.”

What went through Aljamain Sterling’s mind following the illegal knee?

Sterling also referenced the first two times he was knocked out, likening the knee from Yan to the prior instances.

The Funkmaster said he was delirious and could not exactly recall what referee Mark Smith said to him while he was on the ground after eating the knee from Yan. However, Sterling said he remembered asking how much time he had because he wanted to continue.

As previously mentioned, many people within the MMA community criticized Sterling for potentially embellishing how bad his head injury was from that illegal knee rather than criticizing Yan for throwing the illegal knee to begin with.

Sterling stayed on the ground for an extended period of time after the fact and provided context regarding his frame of mind in that moment.

“‘The fight’s going to be a no-contest. Dana’s going to say he was losing that fight in the fourth round, so why should we use him again? We already know the direction the fight was heading, and so we’re going to move on from this,’” Sterling said.

“These are all the thoughts going through my head, ‘I’m never going to get the opportunity again, I’m going to have to win three or four more fights to get back to this position to ever challenge for a world title again. So those thoughts were going through my head, not, ‘I’m going to become world champion.’”

Aljamain Sterling punches Petr Yan at UFC 259
Aljamain Sterling punches Petr Yan at UFC 259 | Photo courtesy of UFC & Getty

Aljamain Sterling now angling for a fight with Henry Cejudo

After the fight ended, a picture surfaced on social media of Sterling celebrating with friends and family with the belt on his shoulder.

Yan posted a tweet with this photo, mocking Sterling in the process.

The pair have gone back and forth since trading shots on social media.

While one can assume from a purist’s standpoint that it is in the promotion’s best interest to book a rematch between Sterling and Yan, Sterling also posted a video facing off with former UFC bantamweight and flyweight champion Henry Cejudo, saying he’d be open to skipping a rematch with Yan in favor of that bout.

Either way, this new bantamweight saga is far from over, regardless of whoever is next in line for a shot at Sterling’s new title.

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