Love him or hate him, fans are invested in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling.
After capturing the title in a literally unheard-of manner in March 2021, Sterling took time to rest and recover after undergoing neck surgery. In the meantime, the man he defeated by disqualification to become champion, Russia’s Petr Yan, would claim an interim crown to set up an inevitable rematch.
Becoming a natural heel throughout the process, Sterling succeeded in his opportunity to silence doubters this past weekend at UFC 273. However, despite his split decision victory, the community is now torn on who they believe should have walked away with the 135-pound strap. That includes retired long-time mixed martial arts (MMA) referee and scoring expert, “Big” John McCarthy.
“I was very impressed with Aljamain and the way he fought, but there’s no way he won that first round,” McCarthy said on his Weighing In podcast (h/t MMA Junkie). “The heavier shots were landed easily by Yan, and I thought it was a smart tactic by Aljamain to stay on the outside, to move continuously, but he didn’t land much. He landed a couple of kicks, not real hard, and he got hit with some heavy shots for a little bit and right near the end, Yan really started landing some good shots.”
Come fight’s end, Sterling had done enough in two of the judges’ eyes by awarding him 48-47s for his efforts, with the outlier judge going in the other direction with the same score for Yan. For all three, it came down to how that first round was scored.
Out of 2800+ fan votes on MMADecisions.com, 58.6 percent scored round one for Yan 10-9. The final four were largely in agreement for Sterling with 10-9s in rounds two and three before 10-9s for Yan in rounds four and five.
“There’s no way in the world you’re gonna tell me that Aljo won that first round, but I will say I thought he fought a great fight,” McCarthy said. “The second round being the one — this is the difference. He won that second round huge. Now he did not damage Petr Yan, so I can see why they all went 10-9 with it, but it was the clearest round of all of them easily for Aljo.
“So if you’re taking a look at it, the first round close,” he continued. “Fourth round, fifth round close, but Petr Yan wins them. Second, third round easy for Aljamain Sterling, so I’m not upset with him winning the fight. I thought he actually fought a very smart fight. He fought well, and you’ve got to give props. He won the belt the way it’s supposed to be won.”