Aljamain Sterling has snapped back at the haters who accused him of overselling Petr Yan’s illegal knee at UFC 259 to win the bantamweight title.

Sterling (20-3 MMA, 12-3 UFC) has been the target of much negative feedback from fans and fellow fighters since Saturday’s fight with Yan (15-2 MMA, 7-1 UFC), where he became the first in UFC history to win a title due to a disqualification after being hit with an illegal blow in the fourth round of the bout at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas.

Since the moment the belt was handed to him, Sterling hasn’t felt good about it. He said in his post-fight interview with Joe Rogan on fight night that he didn’t want to become champion in that manner, and it seems he doesn’t think any different days later.

Sterling said he doesn’t feel like a true champion but also knows he’s in this spot because of Yan’s mistake, and that’s not something he can control.

“I am now technically the new UFC champion of the world,” Sterling said on his “The Weekly Scraps Podcast.” “Bittersweet, because it’s not the way I wanted to win, was a DQ by another man making an illegal move and being disqualified from the match. It’s not the way I wanted to win. Just so you guys know: I don’t feel like I am the champ because I obviously didn’t win this the way I wanted to win it. But rules are in place for a reason. It’s mind-boggling to me that a guy like Yan can get to his caliber, the highest of the highs to become a champion, and still make mistakes like that.”

Sterling said the impact from Yan’s illegal knee was significant. He said he felt rocked any time he tried to sit or stand up after it happened and felt the most clear-headed when he was laying on his back. That’s obviously not an ideal condition to try to compete.

There were many things going through Sterling’s mind in the moment, he said. Among them was the fact the belt could potentially slip away from him forever. It took Sterling 14 UFC fights and a lot of frustration to finally get in the octagon and fight for a title, and he was aware there were no certainties that chance would come again if he continued fighting while compromised.

“I do remember asking, ‘How much time do I have?’ Because I wanted to continue,” Sterling said. “In this moment, I’m thinking a whole bunch of things in my head: Dana (White’s) not going to give me another shot at the title, the fight’s going to be a no contest, Dana’s going to say, ‘He was losing that fight in the fourth round, so why should we use him again? We already know the direction the fight was heading, so we’re going to move on from this.’ Then me, I’m never going to get the opportunity again. I’m going to have to win three or four more fights to get back in this position for a world title again.

“Those thoughts are going through my head. Not, ‘I’m going to become world champion.’ This, I did’t even think I was getting this. I didn’t even want this. Then all my friends and family see me. They knew I had this. They took it out of the bag for me. Put it on my shoulder and wanted me to be proud of my performance and how I carried myself. They all knew it wasn’t the way I wanted to win, but they said I’m still the champ. I did this. It’s hard to get in this position anyway to fight for a world title.”

Sterling admits he did not perform at his best in the fight with Yan. He started strong in the opening round, but Yan found his timing and rhythm in the striking and grappling as the action wore on. Yan was ahead 29-28 on two scorecards after the third round, while another judge had Sterling up 29-28.

There was no ignorance on Sterling’s behalf as to how the action was unfolding. He said it was far from his sharpest showing and attributed that to an imperfect weight cut. However, quitting was never once on his mind, Sterling said.

Sterling said he won’t stand for the questions around his integrity. Trying to find an easy way out or take the title under false pretenses was never Sterling’s desire, he said, and he bit back on anyone who would imply otherwise.

“For the fighters that said I milked it, good for you guys,” Sterling said. “Do you guys ever see me quit or look for a way out? Where a guy puts on a half-assed rear-naked choke, and it’s half on, and you look around and go, ‘OK, I can tap now. … I can quit now.’ You guys are the freaking softies. I fought my ass off the entire time, and I was not going to quit in that fight. I was going to take my licking or find a way to persevere or find a way to win like a man because that’s just what I do. I don’t have that quit in me. There’s no quit button whenever I’m in there. You guys might find it easy and talk about the Oscars and everything. You guys are the actors, and it might be a reflection or your own spirits.”

Sterling said he has upcoming doctor’s appointments to check out lingering damage to his neck and wrist. He will rest until he’s cleared, at which point he intends to get back to training and work with the UFC on a date to book a rematch with Yan.

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