Aljamain Sterling took a gamble. Now, he's ready to get paid.
One of the brightest young potential stars in the sport went to 12-0 last Thursday with his second-round finish of Johnny Eduardo in an exciting fight.
That was the last fight on the up-and-coming bantamweight's contract. The Serra-Longo Fight Club competitor got a contract renewal offer from the UFC before the Eduardo fight, didn't like what he saw, and opted to take the chance of fighting out his contract.
After a job well done against Eduardo, Sterling is a free agent. And he's ready to get paid.
"I want to have a bank account that represents me being a pro athlete," Sterling said on a recent edition of The MMA Hour. "At the end of the day, I want a bank account that has the backing of a pro athlete. Right now I'm just trying to look out for myself, look out for future."
Sterling, who was checking in from the Westside of Los Angeles -- which just so happens to be in the vicinity of Bellator MMA headquarters -- was paid just $12,000 to show and $12,000 to win against Eduardo. That's not exactly huge money for a fighter who came into the bout ranked No. 5 in the UFC's official rankings.
So while he appreciates being a part of the sport's major leagues, Sterling is smart enough to understand it's all about how much money you make.
"Whether it's Bellator, OneFC, World Series, whatever, the door's open for me," Sterling said. "Financial stability is the most important thing for me. To be in the UFC and have the name but not the earnings, good for you, you get a hand clasp and a shake and a don't let the door hit you on the way out sort of thing. I want to exit from this sport with my head intact."
Sterling's matchup with Eduardo was one of a handful of bouts which stood out after a blur of nearly three dozen fights in a three-day span. That's despite the bout being placed on the prelim portion of Thursday's Fight Pass-aired card.
Was the UFC trying to send a message to Sterling by placing him low on the totem pole? Sterling says either way, he was going to clear whichever hurdles were placed in his path.
"We were the second highest ranked fighters on the card," Sterling said. "So I kind of said, you know what, we're going to bury this guy on prelims, whether or not that was a play on their part to try to keep spectators from seeing me? I don't know, I don't look too much into it. But you have a potential superstar on your hands, in my opinion. And I'm going to think the best about myself no matter what, because that's how anybody should be in there life.
"For them to put me on Fight Pass in the middle of the Fight Pass, not even close to top billing, was like, we're going to put you out, or we'll see how you handle the pressure and how you overcome this little setback," Sterling continued. "I think I did very well for myself and I think I stuck out with all 30 fights. Now that all's said and done, I think I had one of the most exciting fights, and I think I had one of the most exciting finishes and dance moves."
Sterling, of course, fought on what was informally called the "Sage and Paige Show," as the card was hyped around young talents Sage Northcutt and Paige VanZant. Sterling says he has nothing personal against the 19-year old Northcutt. But he couldn't help but notice Northcutt's 40K/40K payday.
"Going by those numbers, what's the difference between Sage and I?" Sterling inquired. "We got the same body style, I think I look just as good almost. He's a good looking guy. I'm a good looking guy. He's a smart kid, I'm a smart kid. we're both young, what's the difference? What is the difference? To me, its' the UFC pushing him. The PR machine behind him. Cool, If that's what they want, but at the end of the day don't say there's a difference between us. You guys created Sage, and here I am creating my persona on my own. I'm busting my ass."
With that, Sterling enters his free agency period. And it sounds like whoever coughs up the most dough will get his services.
"At the end of the day, I'm 26, four more years 'til I'm 30," Sterling said. "I want to cash out. I'm not asking for Conor McGregor checks, I know I'm not there yet. I'm not one to stir up the controversy like that. I think I've grown in popularity, pretty sellable persona, and I don't know man. I put in the hard work, I've done it the right way. I'm not asking for handouts, I want to earn my keep, to ask for what I'm asking for, and someone's going to give it to me."