That's no longer the case. The Uniondale, N.Y., native claimed the biggest victory of his career, as the bantamweight improved to 11-0 with a solid victory over respected Japanese veteran Takeya Mizugaki at Newark's Prudential Center.
Sterling scored a third-round submission, getting Mizugaki to tap to a head-and-arm choke applied from the bottom at 2:11 of the third round.
Sterling made his game plan clear from the get-go, as the former collegiate wrestler relentlessly pursued takedowns in the opening round. Mizugaki managed to sprawl the first several attempts, but Sterling continued imposing his will and eventually turned it on. As the round progressed, Sterling also landed several solid shots in the clinch.
In the second round, Sterling turned up the heat, landing from distance with kicks, scoring another takedown, and then working for submissions on the ground.
Sterling stuck with the game plan in round three and it finally paid off, as he scored a takedown, Mizugaki reversed position, but Sterling landed the choke from the bottom.
He admitted afterward that he felt pressure going into the fight, fighting in his backyard against a high-ranked foe.
"A little bit more than normal. but I just kept telling myself, I do this every day, this is just another day in the office," he said.
Sterling is now 3-0 in the UFC, while Mizugaki dropped to 20-9-2 with two straight losses.