Aljamain Sterling is riding high following his win over former UFC bantamweight champion, Renan Barao at UFC 214. The win was not just a statement regarding his place in the talent rich 135 lb division, it was Sterling’s biggest stage yet and he proved that he is capable of rising to the occasion, which might have been an issue for him in previous bouts.
Sterling’s trash talk leading into his fight against Barao wasn’t something particularly new, we’ve seen him go back-and-forth with one of his previous opponents, Bryan Caraway. Early on it seemed like Sterling would back up every word he’s said, but he was instead dealt with adversity for the first time in his UFC career. Sterling’s superb grappling wasn’t as effective in the later rounds and Caraway took full advantage and began winning the grappling exchanges. Sterling’s advantage became his downfall as he faded. The loss following all of the talk leading up to the fight only put salt on the wound as fans let him have it.
Sterling could arguably be his own enemy at times as next fight, a loss to Raphael Assuncao was described by his head coach, Ray Longo as a fight Sterling needed to adjust his mentality and demonstrate high striking volume at the start of round one of their affair in order to pull off the victory. The “Funk Master” showed his grit early on as he found himself on his back right off the bat when he lost his balance after throwing a kick. Sterling’s grappling might’ve been the highlight of his performance, but as Dominick Cruz stated, he used his kicks to set up his punches rather than the standard vice versa. Sterling’s unorthodox style was especially helpful in a fight against Barao, who has proven to have trouble with fighters who are constantly using their footwork and striking from different angles.
Sterling addressed the lack of volume off the bat against Barao, opting to keep pushing the action knowing that Barao has been outworked in the past. His cardio was probably the best it’s ever been and he managed to break a record not even TJ Dillashaw was able to accomplish, Sterling scored the first take down off Barao in his UFC career. Then he proceeded to keep him down and punish him with brutal ground-and-pound.
Sterling called for Jimmie Rivera next who wants a shot against Dominick Cruz who wants the winner between TJ Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt or an interim title bout if he cannot return by the end of the year. Did I forget to mention that Marlon Vera is eyeing a bout against Rivera after their planned bout due to Bryan Caraway falling out due to injury, was cancelled. This is nothing new, but it’s entertaining to watch and even more entertaining to see the division play out.
Sterling has a good case for fighting Rivera next, but it all depends on whether or not Dillashaw and Garbrandt are officially scheduled to throw down. As the competition stiffens, it’ll only make things clearer in who will break into the top of the division.