Aljamain Sterling made history at UFC 259 in March 2021.
“Funk Master” currently holds the promotion’s Bantamweight title and acquired it unlike anyone else ever has. Facing Petr Yan in a highly-anticipated showdown, Sterling captured gold via fourth-round disqualification when hit with an illegal knee as a downed opponent (watch highlights), rendering him unable to compete. Sterling was down on two of the three judges’ scorecards before the strike landed.
Despite picking up a hard-fought split decision over Yan in their April 2022 rematch and a second-round technical knockout of T.J. Dillashaw (watch highlights), Sterling still finds himself as an easy target for attacks online. The champion doesn’t see that fading all too soon, but believes the critique could have been avoided had he tweaked some preparation.
“I think it’s the first [Petr] Yan fight,” Sterling told MMA Fighting. “I feel like that one weird day of a performance, because I messed up my rehydration and stopped fueling my body where it felt like I was still cutting weight. I literally barely ate anything. I had two pancakes and two eggs, and I hate saying this because it sounds stupid to say out loud, it really does and every time I say it, I feel like a donkey, I really do.
“But the facts are the facts, and that’s why I performed the way I did, and I think people just have that image of me in their heads and they can’t get it out,” he continued. “So for me to beat Yan the second time — [people were saying] ‘Yan by murder, Yan by anything he wants’ — and then I go out there and do that to him, they can’t wrap their heads around the fact that this guy just did a complete 180 and dominated a guy who was supposed to win by anything he wanted. I think because of that first fight, people are still looking at me in that light and they’re saying I’ve had the luckiest title run.”
Sterling’s next challenge looks to be another former titleholder in the form of Henry Cejudo. No confirmation of the bout has been released per the promotion as of yet, but both parties have indicated it’s next for each with UFC President, Dana White, also hinting in that direction.
Cejudo embraced his “cringier” side before retiring as the Flyweight and Bantamweight champion in May 2020. Therefore, fans will likely be torn when it comes to who to root for in an intriguing stylistic clash.
“There’s no winning in my situation but I am happy I’ve got the belt,” Sterling said. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you support me or you hate me, that’s never going to change and it’s going to be a very hard day for anybody in that office to take that belt off my arm.”