Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images
Aljamain Sterling has a message for all his haters: be quiet.
This past Saturday, Sterling successfully defended his bantamweight title beating Petr Yan in their rematch at UFC 273. The victory was especially sweet for the champ, who spent the past year being excoriated by many fans for winning the title via disqualification in his first bout with Yan at UFC 259.
Now, without the specter of the DQ controversy hanging over this title win, “The Funk Master” is relishing his “told ya so” moment.
“It feels great,” Sterling told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “It feels good to know that everything I’ve said since the first time we fought each other, that I was completely right. What I said, the reason I had an off night, was the way I was feeling and I wasn’t bulls*******.
“People can say it’s a stupid excuse, and it is. I know it’s a stupid excuse, I know I sound stupid saying it out loud, but it’s the truth and that’s what happened. And I do feel like had I came in ready and not had that hiccup, I finish Petr Yan in that first encounter that we had. Because that version of himself was not as good as the guy I fought at UFC 273. That Petr Yan was much better, had way more discipline when it came to his defense, and I felt like he was just better, and I felt like I comfortably won, still. Two 10-8 rounds, I feel like I should have had two 10-8 rounds. I don’t know how you get four minutes of control time, ground and pound and submission attempts, and that doesn’t hit the criteria that they implemented for 10-8 rounds.
“I’m just happy. I’m happy I got to prove my team right, prove myself right, and got to stick it to Vegas and let these guys suck it. And that’s really it. People want to be malicious and talk about your family, talk about all this stuff, call me monkey, dropping the N-bomb, a whole bunch of s***. I dealt with a lot, and it’s a good thing I have thick skin, because that probably would’ve broken a lot of people, but not this guy. This guy came prepared, ready for battle, and I came ready to win.”
Although Sterling made a strong case that he deserved at least one 10-8 round in the fight, none of the judges for the event granted him one. In the end, that didn’t matter, as Sterling still swept the first three rounds on two judges’ scorecards. And according to the champ, it was only that close because he took his foot off the gas in rounds four and five.
“Once I had that, I was like, I’m up three rounds, if I want to take the next two rounds off, I can,” Sterling said. “And honestly, that’s kind of what happened. … If I wanted to stand up in that fourth round, I could’ve stood up. But I started playing jiu-jitsu, and honestly, that is one of the things I do way too much in the training room. I get so comfortable with submitting guys off my back and looking for scrambles — he was down three rounds, and I think he knew he needed to pocket one, so for me to just hang out, I accepted that position. If I wanted to get up, I could have. … I could’ve got back up and not given him a chance to even score a round in that fight, and I gave away that round and he started to build momentum…it is what it is. I fought a great fight, I think I fought a smart fight. I gave away two rounds that I could have easily fought very, very different, or fought the same [as the first three rounds], because gas tank wasn’t an issue. But whatever, it was a fun fight, people got excited because they thought there was gonna be moments to ‘get me,’ and it is what it is. I shut every everybody the funk up. I am the undisputed, the only one king at this bantamweight division right now. “
But though this win was more definitive than Sterling and Yan’s original title fight at UFC 259, that doesn’t mean it passed entirely without controversy. Following the bout, Yan argued that he should have won, a claim that was echoed by some in the MMA community, including UFC President Dana White and former UFC referee turned Bellator commentator John McCarthy.
The pivotal round in question for the fight is the opening stanza, where Sterling out-landed Yan 19-13 in significant strikes, but Yan was the one coming forward. Sterling argues the scoring criteria here are crystal clear and that anyone saying otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about.
“Come on! Can you both throw less than 20 strikes, one guy throw 5-7 strikes less, pending on whether you count some of the ones that brushed off the shoulder, as a win?” Sterling said. “How can you win by walking forward with a mean face and throwing 5-7 strikes less than the opposing guy, because you were walking forward and getting schooled with footwork. How does that win you a round? People can say aggression all they want – aggression ain’t s*** if you ain’t cutting me off and landing strikes and doing what you want. If you’re fighting my fight and doing what I want you to do, which is chase me around and get pot-shotted and take clean shots, then I don’t know what to tell you. You don’t know how to score a fight.
“The rulebook, as per the criteria, you score damage, effective striking, and my striking was more effective and I controlled and dictated where the fight took place that entire round. So I think it’s pretty black and white. And let’s not even talk about the elbow I cracked him on his head with that made him stumble backward, that was the most significant strike of that round. So people that say robbery, what is a robbery? I don’t even know what a robbery is anymore. … Everything is a robbery because your guy didn’t win the round.
“There’s absolutely no way you could score that round — big stupid John McCarthy voice. Dude, go get a clue. I don’t know how this guy was ever the blueprint standard of MMA, because that guy sucks. His opinion stinks and it sucks. He just says s***, and I think he just wants people to think he knows what he’s talking about. I think he had an MMA school, I think he had fighters, which one of them ever did anything? What did his school ever do? Because clearly this guy is so great, so what has he ever accomplished, other than trying to judge people and being completely wrong about the scoring criteria of the fight.
“If you want to have an opinion, have an opinion, John. It’s OK, but it doesn’t mean you’re correct, because you are not going by the criteria of how you score a fight. So please just be quiet and let the big boys do what they do at a high level, something you’ve never been able to accomplish. Relax there, buddy.”