Aljamain Sterling can cement his legacy with a win at UFC 292

From controversial wins to dominant displays, Aljamain Sterling has become one of the UFC’s most underappreciated champions… but the American can cement his legacy with a win at UFC 292

  • Aljamain Sterling will defend his UFC bantamweight title on Saturday night
  • Sterling will take on compatriot ‘Suga’ Sean O’Malley in UFC 292’s main event 
  • Here, Mail Sport takes a look at one of the sport’s most underappreciated stars 

This Saturday night, Aljamain Sterling and Sean O’Malley will go head to head in a bout for the UFC’s bantamweight title. 

Sterling has been the longstanding champion and will put his UFC gold on the line when he takes on the popular O’Malley at UFC 292. 

Despite his unrivalled success since 2018, which was the last time he lost a bout, Sterling has been overlooked by a number of UFC fans, pundits and fighters.

It keeps in line with the manner in which Sterling has been constantly overlooked and underappreciated throughout his combat career.

And so, here, Mail Sport takes a look at why the American has been so underappreciated throughout his impressive career.  

UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling will return to the octagon on Saturday night

The 34-year-old will take on ‘Suga’ Sean O’Malley in a bout for the title at UFC 292

Sterling’s start

To understand the reasons why Sterling got involved in mixed martial arts in the first place, we have to look back to his upbringing in Uniondale, New York.

Sterling grew up with seven full siblings and 12 half-siblings – with many of his brothers, according to ESPN, being heavily involved in gang lifestyles.

In an attempt to steer clear of those same troubles, Sterling picked up other interests and hobbies, such as basketball. 

But, standing at just 5 foot 7 inches, that dream was crushed pretty early on and, instead, the he decided to turn his attentions to wrestling. 

As claimed by the aforementioned outlet, Sterling had a ‘strong but small frame [which] made for a good wrestler’ and his passion for the sport kept him in school.

But, as many know, Sterling’s abilities are not just limited to the wrestling matt and he also possesses some impressive striking capabilities. And there’s a surprising person to thank for that. 

Back when Sterling was still studying, he was invited by current UFC heavyweight champion Jon Jones to partake in a MMA sparring session. 

Although his time in that gym would be short-lived, Sterling’s journey in MMA had only just begun. 

Sterling, pictured in 2021, began his career through wrestling before transitioning to MMA

Rise up the bantamweight ladder

After a successful stint in the Cage Fury Fighting Championships, Sterling signed with the UFC in 2014 – where he enjoyed a four-fight win streak to start his run. 

It’s the kind of run that can bring about calls for UFC title shots, however, that all came crashing down when he suffered back-to-back split decision defeats. 

Bryan Caraway and Raphael Assunção proved to be worthy adversaries for the New York native and their victories over him threatened to derail any UFC title charge.

But, after building up another four-fight win streak, Sterling quickly was becoming another leading contender in the bantamweight division and solidified that claim on June 6th 2020. 

In a highly-anticipated bout at at UFC 250, Sterling took on compatriot Cory Sandhagen in a bantamweight title eliminator.  

Sandhagen was, and still is, a highly-rated bantamweight star but was made to look like an amateur when he faced off with Sterling, who won within a minute and a half. 

It was a scintillating display from the ‘Funk Master’ and helped propel him to the top of the bantamweight rankings and lined him up with his first UFC title shot.

Sterling put in dominant performances throughout the early stages of his UFC career

Yan controversies

If Sterling was to get his hands on the UFC bantamweight title, he would have to do what no UFC star had done before and beat Petr Yan.  

In the seven fights prior to his bout with Sterling, Yan was undefeated. His dominance, skill set and expertise were all made apparent with his dismantling of veteran star Jose Aldo. 

Facing Yan was a daunting proposition for any bantamweight star but no one could have been prepared for the events that would eventually unfold. 

In their bout at UFC 259 in March 2021, Sterling was getting beat. There’s no denying it. He was going to lose, if the fight went to the judges scorecard. 

However, late in the fourth round, Yan threw away any potential chance to retain his title after throwing an illegal knee whilst Sterling was on the ground. 

The bout was swiftly called to an end by the referee and Sterling was crowned as the new UFC bantamweight champion – in the most controversial manner possible. 

Sterling won the bantamweight title in controversial fashion after Petr Yan landed a knee on him, whilst he was downed – which is against UFC rules

It was a cruel – but ultimately, fair – way for Yan to lose his belt but everyone was aware that if Sterling was truly going to be the bantamweight king – he would have to defend the title against Yan. 

And, 399 days after their first meeting, that’s exactly what happened. 

While many expected Yan to dish out a beating similar to their first fight, instead, it was Sterling who dismantled his counterpart with ease.

From smooth striking to domination on the ground, Sterling was far superior to Yan and deserved to retain his title. 

But, fans did not forget the controversial manner in which he first claimed it and have done little to let him forget as well.  

Dillashaw’s disasters

Sterling has become one of the UFC’s most recognised figures since his title charge

After back-to-back victories over the highly-rated Yan, Sterling was straight back in the octagon.

In October 2021, the New York native booked in for a title fight with UFC veteran T.J Dillashaw – who had just finished serving a two-year ban for doping. 

Dillashaw marked his comeback bout with a win over Cory Sandhagen before earning a title shot with Sterling at UFC 280. 

However, it was a night for former fan-favourite Dillashaw, who suffered a brutal TKO defeat in the second round of the contest. 

The controversy with this fight comes over the manner in which Sterling disposed of his counterpart – given the obvious injury which was effecting Dillashaw.

The bantamweight star dislocated his shoulder during the fight and, in the moments before he was defeated, was struggling to move his left arm at all. 

Sterling made no attention to the difficulties that Dillashaw was experiencing and, instead, upped the pace and delivered a number of huge shots to end the fight.  

Sterling followed up his victories over Yan by dismantling UFC veteran TJ Dillashaw

Booed against Cejudo 

And that brings us up to date. Almost.

After defeating an injured Dillashaw, Sterling became embroiled in a war of words with former bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo. 

Cejudo was the longstanding champion, prior to Sterling’s success, but relinquished the title in May 2020 after announcing his retirement from the sport. 

However, after Sterling’s impressive run in the division, Cejudo quickly came back out of retirement and challenged the new bantamweight champion. 

The bout took place at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey – which is just a stones throw from Sterling’s New York. 

With the fight taking place so close to his hometown, one would expect the crowd to be massively in favour of the bantamweight champion.

Sterling was booed by the New Jersey crowd prior to his bout with legend Henry Cejudo (R)

However, in the lead-up to the fight, Sterling was consistently met with boos from the crowd – which UFC legend Daniel Cormier found bemusing.  

On his YouTube channel, Cormier said: ‘Give this man his respect. This dude is doing everything you want as a champion. He’s active, he fights the best guys that they put in front of him, he wins fights, he carries himself in the way of a champion. It’s time to stop booing Aljamain Sterling.

‘It sucks that this happens time and time again. And in Newark, New Jersey, which is very close to New York, Aljo’s getting booed. It really made no sense. I don’t know what this man has to do to garner your respect. If tonight wasn’t enough, you’re just never gonna be satisfied.’

Despite the antagonising calls from the crowd, Sterling managed to produce a stellar performance and outclassed Cejudo from start to finish. 

Source: Read Full Article