Infamy at UFC 259: Yan’s Illegal Knee vs. Sterling

Andrew Bondarev ’22

In UFC 259, on the undercard of Jan Blachowicz vs. Israel Adesanya, Petr Yan as the defending champion battled a tough challenger in Aljamain Sterling. The fight was quite the spectacle, and after the first three rounds, Petr Yan looked to be gaining momentum. However, the fight will live on in infamy, due to the knee that Yan landed on Sterling while the latter still had a knee on the ground. 

According to UFC rules, a fighter cannot kick or knee a downed opponent in the head. After the knee, Aljamain Sterling could not continue and was given the UFC bantamweight belt in tears. Both of the fighters dealt with controversy and trash talk from each other after the fight, with some spectators accusing Yan of being a “dirty fighter” and others calling Sterling an “actor”.

After the fight, Khabib Nurmagomedov informed the commentators that he was near Yan’s corner and could hear them tell him to knee Sterling, specifically when he asked whether his opponent was down. According to the live recording of his corner, one of his coaches yelled in English, “no knees”, while a Russian coach yelled the word бей, direct translation meaning “hit”. Yan understandably listened to his cornerman speaking to him in his native language, and thought that this affirmed the idea that Sterling was in a squat position and he can, therefore, knee him. 

Petr Yan cornerman Marcos 'Parrumpinha' da Matta discusses illegal knee, DQ  loss at UFC 259 - MMA Fighting

With that said, Petr Yan should not have his greatness as a fighter overshadowed by this moment of misunderstanding and failure. His performance against Sterling up until that point was one of the strongest he’s had in his career, and reaffirmed the notion that he deserved the belt. He was able to tag Sterling effortlessly with jabs and right hands, taking advantage of the visible fatigue setting in. However, Aljamain Sterling’s heart and blistering pace in the fight cannot be overlooked. He absolutely came to win, and although this may have been an unimpressive way to receive the belt, he nonetheless won the fight on paper. 

The UFC must now work on a rematch being held as soon as possible, in order to answer the plethora of unanswered questions following this fight. Aljamain Sterling will be hungry to prove that he is not a paper champion and deserves the belt that he received, and Petr Yan has his opportunity to return everything he lost. The title of “champion” is one that has immeasurable worth in mixed martial arts, as it opens chances for further endorsements, bonuses, and a greater social media following.

This will surely provide some more fireworks, potentially deserving the attention of a headliner main event. The first fight created several discussions in the UFC fan sphere as to how well fighters must understand the nuances of the rules in mixed martial arts, and how language barriers can severely impact the results of a fight and the fighters’ futures and legacies.