UFC 259: Petr Yan Addresses Illegal Knee That Cost Him His Title

Las Vegas, Nevada — Now former UFC bantamweight champion Petr Yan did not have a good night at UFC 259. That, despite the fact that he was winning his first title defense on Saturday, against Aljamain Sterling.

Winning, that is, right up until an illegal knee that rendered Sterling unable to continue. The blow cost Yan the fight. It also cost him his title, with Sterling awarded the belt due to the DQ win.

“You saw everything. I don’t even know what to say,” said a clearly dejected Yan, speaking to media outlets including Cageside Press at the UFC 259 post-fight press conference. “Before the fight, the referee was paying a lot of attention about hand positions, when the fighter is grounded or not. So I was just too focused on his hands, and even forgot about his legs.”

“Obviously I didn’t mean to do an illegal shot,” he added.

During Saturday’s UFC 259 broadcast, the commentary team reported that Yan’s corner had called for the strike. They cited former UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, who speaks Russian. The retired fighter was close to Yan’s corner, and reportedly heard them instructing Yan to throw the knee.

But after the fact, Yan said he didn’t actually hear them. “To be honest I didn’t really understand what they were telling me. I was just focused, focused on the hands and focused on throwing the knee when he would be up,” he said.

Initially, Yan didn’t even know the blow was illegal. “For a while I thought I did everything right, and that he was not down.” Asked whether he felt Sterling could have continued in the fight, the ex-champ replied “I don’t know. He knows better than me. But I think everyone saw that I was winning this fight.”

In the fight itself, Yan appeared to be pulling away in the later rounds. “That was my plan, to just make him work in the first couple of rounds, make him waste energy,” said Yan. “Then after that, bring the pace.” In the end, it never happened. The illegal knee landed, Sterling could not continue, and the fight was called.

A rematch will happen, UFC President Dana White said Saturday, although no timeframe is in place.

Watch the full UFC 259 post-fight press conference with Petr Yan above.