Petr Yan, the "Russian doctors," active and retired UFC fighters, random fans on social media. Aljamain Sterling addressed them all, and more, in Monday’s episode of his podcast, "The Weekly Scraps."
Sterling was the recipient of an illegal knee from Yan at UFC 259 on Saturday, resulting in a disqualification of Yan and the awarding of his bantamweight title to Sterling. It was the first time in UFC history that a title changed hands on a disqualification.
Since the moment UFC president Dana White put the belt around Sterling’s waist, the Uniondale-raised Serra-Longo fighter has received an influx of negativity and hate, despite removing the belt and leaving it in the cage (someone gave it to cornerman Eric Nicksick as they walked out) and saying he didn’t want to win it that way.
On Monday’s podcast, he spoke for the first time about it all.
"I am now technically the new UFC champion of the world, which is bittersweet because it's not the way I wanted to win," Sterling said. "It's a DQ by another man making an illegal move and being disqualified from the match. It's not the way I want to win, but the rules are the rules. So just so you guys know, I don't feel like I am the champ because I obviously didn't win this the way I want 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 highs of the highs, become a world champion and still make mistakes like that. Not knowing when an opponent is down, having to ask your coach if an opponent is down."
As for those "Russian doctors" on Twitter that tried to tell Sterling he could have continued despite the concussion, Sterling said he appreciated them being all in on their guy. But … "You guys are a little overboard in terms of crazy, in terms of like death threats and stuff," 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."
And for Yan and others who didn’t like seeing photos of Sterling at home with the belt amid his friends and family?
"I didn't think I was getting this. I didn't want this," he said as he grabbed the UFC bantamweight belt. "But then coming home. Like I said, all my friends and family saw me. They knew I had this. They took it out of the bag for me, had me put it on my shoulders and wanted me to take pictures and wanted me to be proud of my performance because of the way I've carried myself and how I've gotten to this position to begin with. … So I respect that and I appreciate that and they all knew that wasn't the way I want to win anyway but they said, 'no matter what, you're still the champ, you did this. It's hard to get to this position anyway to even fight for a world title. So enjoy it while you can and just make the rematch even better.' And honestly those are the best words of advice that I could have ever possibly gotten because I can't change the past, it is what it is."
And to Henry Cejudo, TJ Dillashaw, Cody Garbrandt, Darren Till and other UFC fighters who said Sterling was faking being hurt, Sterling said, "For the fighters that said I milked it, shame on you guys."
"I was not going to quit in that fight. And I was gonna take my lickings or find a way to persevere and find a way to win like a man, because that's just what I do. I don't have a quit in me. There's no quit button whenever I'm in there. So you guys might find it easy. And talk about the Oscars, everything. You guys are the actors, and it might be a reflection of your own spirits or whatever."
Sterling talked through the fight as well, acknowledging that he fatigued early, that Yan was coming on in the later rounds, and that his body language made it look like he was being dominated by the Russian. The judges’ scorecards and striking stats would suggest otherwise. Two judges had it 29-28 for Yan, and one had it 29-28 for Sterling.
In the first round, Sterling had the edge on significant strikes, 34-14. They were tied in round two at 24-24, Sterling ahead in round three at 34-32, and Yan ahead in the fourth, 33-27.
"Shame on Yan. What did I do wrong?" Sterling said. "You guys should be blasting that guy. Why should he be parading around like he's a champ, the guy doing an illegal strike? If anything, he should be disqualified. But there should be a rematch. That's the best thing I could say."