Petr Yan might have received some mixed messages from his corner before landing the illegal knee that cost him his bantamweight belt at UFC 259.
According to a video shared by ESPN, one member of Yan’s team can be overheard yelling, “Just punch” while Sterling is in a grounded position. However, UFC commentator Daniel Cormier claims that someone else in the corner gave the go-ahead when asked if Yan could throw a kick.
“You can hear, one guy is saying ‘Just punch,’ but then somebody goes ‘Yes’ when he says kick,” Cormier said during the UFC 259 broadcast. “It’s in Russian. Khabib [Nurmagomedov] 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.”
It’s unclear which cornerman Cormier is referencing regarding the instructions to throw a kick, but moments later, Yan landed the knee to Sterling’s head that rendered “The Funk Master” unable to continue in the fourth round. Nurmagomedov was in attendance at the event to corner teammate Islam Makhachev, who fought earlier on the card.
Yan attempted to explain his thinking in a post-fight interview with ESPN.
“So before the fight the referee was putting a lot of attention on when the fighter is grounded on the hands. He put a lot of attention on the hands. So he was showing [when] all the weight is on his hands, he’s grounded. When his fingers are up or the hands are up, he’s not grounded,” Yan said. “In this position, I was just thinking about his hands, and I didn’t pay attention to his legs and arms, so I didn’t mean to hit him illegally.”
Fortunately for Yan, a rematch with Sterling will likely be booked in the coming months. Prior to the disqualification, two of the three cageside judges had Yan ahead after three rounds. In victory, Sterling became the first UFC champion to be crowned via disqualification.
“Do I think the knee was intentional? He threw the knee. He didn’t slip and accidentally land the knee,” UFC president Dana White said at the post-fight press conference. “It sucked. It was a good fight. That was a fight that everybody was excited about. Everybody knew it was gonna be good. That’s a bad one.
“[We’ll schedule the rematch] as soon as possible.”
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