Once again, after fighting against Petr Yan, Aljamain Sterling fell to his knees and let out some emotion.
Only this time it was pure joy and happiness, for the UFC bantamweight championship was officially his and undisputed and guaranteed to stay around the waist of the Uniondale-raised Sterling.
In one of the more heated rematches in recent memory, Sterling rode his ground dominance over Yan to a split-decision win at UFC 273 in Jacksonville, Florida, on Saturday night. The judges scored the bout 48-47, 47-48, 48-47 in favor Sterling.
“Oh my god,” Sterling said in his post-fight interview inside the cage with Joe Rogan. “I know I came in here very highly doubted. People wrote me off after my last performance, but I told you guys that was a big hiccup. I had a very tough opponent in Petr Yan. He’s dangerous, he brings it every single time. And then, he brought out the best in me. He beat my [expletive] in that fourth and fifth round, but this is what the fight game is all about.”
Yes, he did. Even the oddsmakers installed Sterling, the reigning bantamweight champion, around a +350 underdog, and Yan, the interim champion, in the neighborhood of a -450 favorite.
That stemmed from their first fight 13 months ago. Sterling won the bout via disqualification because of an illegal knee Yan threw, but it was Yan who was taking control of that fight in the fourth round before the knee.
On Saturday night, Sterling dominated Yan in rounds two and three with his grappling. A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Matt Serra, Sterling took down Yan and locked in a body triangle both rounds. He had more that three minutes of control time in each round as Sterling (21-3) worked for rear naked chokes while mixing in some strikes. Yan (16-3) was able to fight them off long enough to survive each round.
Yan had the better of Sterling in rounds four and five, himself controlling Sterling on the ground for better parts of the rounds.
“I think I won this fight and I got robbed,” Yan said through his translator in his post-fight interview inside the cage with Joe Rogan.
In total for the fight, Sterling had the edge in ground control time 8:31-5:52, according to ufcstats.com. Yan had the advantage in significant strikes, 63-62.
The difference was the first round, which of the five rounds, was the least active. Two judges scored it for Sterling, who landed 20 strikes compared with 13 for Yan, according to ufcstats.com. As Yan pressured forward in the first round, it was Sterling who was more active and landed more strikes.
“The first I knew was really close,” said Sterling, the third UFC champion from Long Island. “But I thought I outpointed him. He was pressuring forward. Pressuring forward and not hitting to me doesn’t amount to anything."