Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight grapplers Aljamain Sterling and Brett Johns will battle this Saturday (April 21, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 128 inside Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Four straight wins and three finishes saw Sterling quickly establish himself as a top prospect to begin his UFC career. Since then, however, Sterling has struggled a bit when faced with the top-tier of the division, losing three of five bouts. Meanwhile, expectations were fairly average for Johns upon his signing despite his undefeated record. However, “The Pikey” changed minds quickly, picking up a pair of dominant decisions before shocking Joe Soto and the mixed martial arts (MMA) world with a slick calf slicer submission last time out.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Renan Barao (UFC 214), Augusto Mendes (UFC on FOX 24), Takeya Mizugaki (UFC on FOX 15)
Key Losses: Marlon Moraes (UFC Fight Night 123), Raphael Assuncao (UFC on FOX 23), Bryan Caraway (UFC Fight Night 88)
Keys to Victory: Sterling is one of the strongest wrestlers in his division, pairing that wrestling with an excellent submission game that’s focused on squeezing the life from his foes. Sterling has long been a powerful kicker, too, but his hands are improving, allowing him to make the most of his lanky reach.
This is a really interesting fight because of the similarities between fighters. Both are competent strikers, but their kickboxing tends to only be a placeholder until the shot makes itself available. From what I’ve seen, I’d rank Sterling as the slightly better striker overall, particularly since Johns has yet to face someone who doesn’t fear his takedowns. With that in mind, I’d like to see Sterling make full use of his range, jabbing and kicking at the shorter man to frustrate him. There’s little doubt that Johns will shoot before long. If Sterling makes him take a bad shot from too far out thanks to range control, he gives himself a great chance to snap the head down or reshot. Securing top position off his foe’s shot is a low energy way to gain top position, a place where Sterling generally dominates.
Key Wins: Joe Soto (TUF 26 Finale), Albert Morales (UFC Fight Night 113), Kwan Ho Kwak (UFC Fight Night 99)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Johns is the classic pressure wrestler. Walking down his man with combinations, Johns is biding his time until he shoots for a strong double-leg takedown, chain wrestling and grinding until he manages to drag his foe to the mat.
To be frank, it’s hard to find genuine advantages for either man until they actually fight. It’s conceivable that either man could submit, take down, or out-strike the other fight. For Sterling, the one definable advantage was reach.
In Johns’ case, his one clear edge is pace. Sterling does not have a bad gas tank, but he struggled late in the bout when faced with Bryan Caraway’s relentless takedowns and scrambling. Constant wrestling is the name of the game for Johns, so it might benefit him to start a grappling exchange at the first opportunity and never let up. Even if he loses the first round, forcing Sterling to exhaust the tank will make every aspect of the fight much easier.
Bottom Line: This has the potential to be an excellent grappling match with back-and-forth transitions between two ranked Bantamweights.
Sterling remains a Top 10-ranked fighter, but he’s in definite need of a win following his violent last loss. A second consecutive loss would drop him from the Top 10 and really put a damper on his potential. Luckily, Sterling tends to do well opposite grapplers, and getting back in the win column allows him to once again begin building towards the title.
Don’t count out the 28-year-old just yet.
As for Johns, this is a huge opportunity for the Welsh athlete. A win is the most high-profile of his career and makes it four straight inside the Octagon, which should be enough to propel him into the title mix. Bantamweight is crowded at the top right now, but a win could open up fights with the likes of Dominick Cruz or Raphael Assuncao. Meanwhile, a loss plants him directly in his current spot at No. 12.
At UFC Fight Night 128, Aljamain Sterling and Brett Johns will go to war in a match up of grapplers. Which fighter will have his hand raised?