Fans and commentators have erupted over crazy scenes at UFC 259 after Aljamain Sterling won the bantamweight title when Petr Yan was disqualified for an illegal knee.
The much-anticipated slate of three title fights got off to a bizarre start when Yan's inexplicable rules violation handed the 135-pound title to Sterling.
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The fight was stopped with 31 seconds left in the fourth when Yan drove his knee into the face of Sterling, who was kneeling on the canvas in front of him.
Mixed martial arts rules strictly prohibit such blows to a downed opponent, and the knee clearly hurt Sterling, who struggled and failed to get up for several minutes.
The bout was called off by referee Mark Smith, who had verbally warned Yan not to throw such a strike a few seconds earlier.
Sterling (20-3) appeared disoriented and disappointed when the belt was wrapped around his waist after a fight he appeared to be losing to Yan (15-2).
Sterling threw the belt onto the canvas before he left the octagon.
“Everything I worked for to this point, and to have the fight go like that ...," a teary-eyed Sterling said afterward.
“I thought the fight was very close. I thought I was down two rounds.
"That’s not the way I wanted to win. That’s not the way I envisioned this.
"I just took the belt off, man. I was trying to continue, but I was in bad shape.”
UFC world in shock over 'sickening' moment
Fans and commentators were left in shock over the 'sickening' scenes.
"You can’t get more illegal than that,” UFC commentator Joe Rogan said.
“That knee was crazy. It was illegal. So clearly illegal.”
UFC fighter Stephen Thompson tweeted: “You should never have to ask your corner the rules mid fight.
“Feel for (Sterling) I couldn’t accept that belt that way either … feel for you brother! All heart man!”
Fellow fighter Michael Chiesa posted: “That was very illegal, it doesn’t get much worse than that.
"Yan was already flirting with danger by throwing those axe kicks when Aljo was down.
"The doctors made the right call, you can’t let the fighter make the decision to continue after taking a shot like that.
“For the record, I know for a fact that Petr Yan is NOT a dirty fighter.
"He was trying to score offence from all positions the whole fight and he listened to his corner in that scenario. Such an unfortunate situation for both men.”
That was very illegal, it doesn’t get much worse than that. Yan was already flirting with danger by throwing those axe kicks when Aljo was down. The doctors made the right call, you can’t let the fighter make the decision to continue after taking a shot like that. #UFC259
— Michael Chiesa (@MikeMav22) March 7, 2021
You should never have to ask your corner the rules mid fight.... #UFC259
— Stephen Thompson (@WonderboyMMA) March 7, 2021
That knee was absolutely brutal. How Sterling was still conscious is beyond me.
— Shogun (@CallumTheShogun) March 7, 2021
Petr Yan really helped me with that knee coz I had @funkmasterMMA winning in the 4th. Sickening knee though. Veg sickening.
— "LoveMeOrLoveMe" OUT NOW!!! (@adam_k_sa) March 7, 2021
petr yan with one of the most disgusting illegal moves i’ve ever seen in sport, how do you explain kneeing someone in the face when they are on their knees?? #UFC259
— dyl (@jit3e) March 7, 2021
— Percy Brown (@mr_nodayssoff) March 7, 2021
Yan took to Twitter to apologise after the fight.
I apologize and wish speedy recovery to @funkmasterMMA I didn’t mean to throw an illegal strike, I just made a big mistake and paid for it.
— Petr “No Mercy” Yan (@PetrYanUFC) March 7, 2021
Meanwhile, Jan Blachowicz defended his light heavyweight title with a unanimous decision over previously unbeaten Israel Adesanya, thwarting the Kiwi fighter's bid to hold two championship belts simultaneously.
Two-division champion Nunes then defended her featherweight belt with ease, beating Megan Anderson by submission 2:03 into the first round at the Apex gym on the UFC’s corporate campus.
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