In the fourth round, Yan, known as ‘No Mercy’, delivered an illegal knee strike to Sterling’s head, who was in a grounded position at the time of contact, before referee Mark Smith intervened and waived the contest, meaning Yan forfeited the title.
Phuket-based Yan, who trains at Tiger Muay Thai & MMA Training Camp in Chalong, claimed in the post-fight interview he did not mean to strike with the knee.
“I don’t even know what to say,” the 27-year-old Yan said.
“Of course, if his knee was on the ground, he was grounded opponent, but I didn’t do it intentionally. There is a belt on the line and you make mistakes,” he added.
It appeared there was some confusion with instructions being relayed from Yan’s corner while Sterling was grounded, with claims that one of his coaches had urged him to strike.
“To be honest, I didn’t really understand what they were yelling, I was just focused on the hands, and throwing the knee when he would be up,” Yan said.
“For a while I thought I did everything right and that he was knocked out.”
The 31-year-old Jamaican-American Sterling, who broke down in tears in the ring after Smith had stopped the contest, was visibily shaken and took a while to regain his senses. His trainer had to physically hold him up when the fight outcome was delivered and the newly crowned champion threw the belt on the Octagon canvas soon after UFC president Dana White had wrapped it around his waist. Shortly after he went to hopsital for a thorough check-up.
“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. Yan is a bad dude! WE WILL DO IT AGAIN!” Sterling said via Twitter after the fight.
Yan took to Twitter himself to exclaim: “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.”
White said he would like a rematch between Sterling and Yan to be booked “as soon as possible.”
“I hope we’re gonna have a rematch soon,” Yan said in the post-fight interview.
“I would be very upset if there is no rematch,” he added.