JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Aljamain Sterling is the UFC's undisputed bantamweight champion.
Undisputed. Kind of.
Sterling (21-3) got the last laugh on Petr Yan (16-3) and all his critics Saturday, as he pulled out a razor-close split decision over Yan. The 135-pound title fight, which was supposed to end any controversy left over from the initial meeting between the two in March 2021, co-headlined UFC 273 inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.
That controversy might not be completely cleared up, however, as some scored the fight in Yan's favor. Two judges had it 48-47 for Sterling, while a third had it 48-47 for Yan. Sterling, who won the belt in 2021 when Yan was disqualified for an illegal knee, seemed to enjoy the win even though the Jacksonville crowd booed the decision.
"I had a tough-ass opponent in Petr Yan," Sterling said. "He's dangerous and he brings out the best in me. He beat my ass the first fight. This is for the haters who keep writing me off."
Yan, who is from Russia, looked incredulous as the scorecards were read.
"I think I won this fight and I got robbed," he said through a translator.
Sterling, of Long Island, New York, clearly won the second and third rounds, as he managed to take Yan down and immediately take his back. He landed punches to the side of the head and looked for a rear-naked choke that never came, but he racked up control time and easily took the rounds.
Yan responded late in the fight. He began stuffing takedowns and making Sterling pay for the failed attempts. According to UFC Stats, Sterling only converted two of 22 attempts, but the ones he did convert were huge, as Yan was unable to get back up.
Still, the later rounds appeared to definitively go to Yan, based on his defensive wrestling and strikes. He also spent a good deal of time in top position himself during the fourth round. The first round was the closest of the fight. Yan's takedown defense was good, but so was Sterling's striking defense.
At his postfight news conference, UFC president Dana White said he thought Yan should've gotten the decision.
"I thought the judges blew that one," White said. "I had it 3-2 the other way. ... I guess it's all in how you scored that first round."
After the fight, which officially brought his record against Yan to 2-0, Sterling called out former champion TJ Dillashaw, who relinquished the belt in 2019 after he tested positive for erythropoietin (EPO) and received a two-year suspension. Dillashaw was in attendance for the fight in Florida. He returned from his suspension last July and beat Cory Sandhagen via decision.