At UFC 280, the bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling takes on TJ Dillashaw to prove that he is thoroughly undisputed, and Sean O’Malley takes on Petr Yan to rise up the rankings and aim for a title shot. Although Sterling and Yan are not fighting each other, they have been involved with in the near past.
Petr Yan was heading into 2021 the bantamweight champion of the world, having defeated Jose Aldo the preceding year, via TKO. Up stepped Number 1 contender Aljamain Sterling, to challenge the Russian. The odds were extremely lopsided, with Yan opening as the clear favourite at -145, to Sterling’s +125.
The fight went as per the bookmakers’ prediction – Petr Yan manhandled and dominated the American for a solid 19 minutes minutes, with two referees pegging the fight at 29-28, before the final bell of the third round.
However, an anomaly took place in the penultimate round – seemingly frustrated at not being able to force a finish, Petr Yan kneed Aljamain Sterling while his knee was on the canvas. Illegal according to the official MMA rules, the fight was stopped. The illegal knee can be seen at 25:39 in the highlights above.
Here is where the hatred for Aljamain Sterling really got pent up in fans’ mind. He was asked by the referee if he was okay to continue – to which he denied, rolling around on the floor, and “play-acting’’. Additionally, the knee didn’t look like it had brutalized Sterling.
For context, when Jon Jones took on Anthony Smith at UFC 235, Smith too was illegally kneed by Jones – however, Smith said he wanted the fight to proceed, despite him losing the fight, and the chance to hold the title at the end.
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Against the odds, Aljamain Sterling shocked the world to beat Petr Yan in their rematch
This is why Aljamain Sterling became the brunt of anger and scrutiny across social media – in popular perception, he had taken the “easy way out”. Here is a tweet that perfectly captures the essence of the hate he received.
The UFC recognized the ambiguity surrounding the result of the fight and decided to book it again for next year. At UFC 273, Petr Yan again took on Aljamain Sterling – however, this time, his mission was to regain the belt, not defend it. Yan entered the fight a -350 favourite, essentially meaning that no one gave Aljamain Sterling a whisker of a chance.
That would come to haunt the bookmakers, and also fight fans. Although Petr Yan took rounds four and five, Aljamain Sterling thoroughly outclassed Petr Yan on the canvas, eeking out a 10-8 in round two as well.
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At UFC 273, Sterling put a finger to his naysayers’ mouths, and became truly undisputed. Now, he aims to carve out his legacy even further, defending against ex-bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw, at UFC 280.
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