With Sterling grounded, Yan held Sterling's arms and kneed the challenger in the face, which is an illegal strike. The fight was paused and after the cage doctor confirmed that Sterling could not continue, Yan was disqualified.
The world watched as Sterling struggled to get up and then was awarded the UFC belt. Sterling threw it to the ground and then fell to the Octagon floor in tears, stating in a postfight interview that this wasn't the way he wanted to win it.
Here's what UFC fighters had to say about the controversial moment at UFC 259.
Not the way I ever want to win a fight. It was close, competitive and filled with action. I felt the knee was intentional, especially after the ref announced I was a downed opponent, so I didn't expect to be hit.— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) March 7, 2021
Yan is a bad dude! WE WILL DO IT AGAIN!#UFC259
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
What in the world was Yan thinking? #UFC259— Tatiana Suarez (@tatianaufc) March 7, 2021
Blatantly illegal knee! Put your damn hand down @petryanufc— Chuck Liddell (@ChuckLiddell) March 7, 2021
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
For the record. That move by Yan was boneheaded and illegal and he should lose if his opponent can't continue.— Dominick Reyes (@DomReyes) March 7, 2021
This call should never be on the fighter. Plain and simple. With a shot like that it's over. Doc does his job walks in and it's over.— Justin Gaethje 🇺🇸 (@Justin_Gaethje) March 7, 2021
Ohhhh snap.....illegal knee 100%!!— Stephen Thompson (@WonderboyMMA) March 7, 2021
Heres the thing you cant stall the fight by sitting on your knees. Knees to a grounded opponent should be allowed!— Demetrious Johnson (@MightyMouse) March 7, 2021
Aljamain came in great shape, he fought forward every second of that fight, not his fault he got illegally kneed. Congratulations Champion, you did it— BONY (@JonnyBones) March 7, 2021
You wait you whole life for this moment he's not acting people he didn't want to win like that but it was a great fight— Belal Muhammad (@bullyb170) March 7, 2021