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Aljamain Sterling changes his tune, says fighter pay is 'not that bad'

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Esther Lin

Aljamain Sterling might be turning into a company man.

Over the past few years, Sterling has been one the the most vocal dissidents when it comes to fighter pay. Last September, Sterling began voicing his displeasure at his compensation and lack of promotional support, saying that he didn't feel the UFC had was giving him the push he deserved and suggesting that he may have to retire from fighting for lack of pay.

"The pay is definitely not what it is unless you're the champ or a guy that's been around the sport for a very, very, very long time and you can make a lot of money," he told MMAFighting back in September. "I still think I have a very promising future, but just doing the math on how much I fight, how often I fight per year, there's no way I'm gonna be able to make a significant amount of money where I can put it aside to do something when I'm done. You kind of see where I'm doing the math that it's not adding up. I would have made more money taking a full-time teaching job somewhere."

This was prior to the last fight on his first UFC contract, a bout against Johnny Eduardo. Famously, Sterling opted to fight out his contract rather than immediately re-sign with the UFC so he could pursue his full value in free agency. After submitting Eduardo, Sterling said he wanted "a bank account that reflects me being a pro athlete" and mentioned displeasure that the unproven Sage Northcutt was making significantly more than him despite him being on the cusp of title contention.

Well now Sterling is singing a different tune. After entering into free agency, Sterling ultimately decided to re-sign with the UFC for $30K per fight with a commensurate win bonus. His first fight on this new pay scale was his UFC Fight Night 88 battle with Bryan Caraway, a bout he lost by split decision. Yesterday at the fan Q&A preceding the UFC Fight Night 89 weigh-ins, Sterling was asked his thoughts on the current state of UFC fighter pay in light of reports that Zuffa may be selling the UFC for $4 billion.

"It's not that bad. I think when you understand the whole landscape of how the structure works - the payment system - I think it makes more sense in terms of, there's like a hierarchy kind of thing where you kind of got to pay your dues. A lot of guys think you're almost supposed to just get stuff but you've got to put in the work, you've got to lay the foundations. Just like any other job, you want a raise you've got to put in the work and you've got to show that you're deserving and what you bring to the table and all kinds of other stuff to show that you're worthy of so and so pay scale.

"Obviously, the pay could obviously be better in terms of not having to rely on having to fight in case they get hurt because sometimes things happen. Or visa issues. Sometimes things like that, just random things that can cause you to not get a paycheck and sometimes that really sucks."

This is quite the turn from Sterling's previous comments that the company had not "done right by him," especially considering that last year alone the UFC took in $608,629,000 in total revenue with a profit of $157,806,000 while Sterling, the sixth ranked bantamweight, is still only receiving $30K to show and $30K to win, though after his fight with Caraway he now moves up from the $2500 per fight Reebok sponsorship tier to the $5000 per fight tier. Sterling's new, more company friendly response even caught his friend and training partner Chris Weidman off guard, causing Weidman to joke that Sterling "must've got zapped by [Jon] Anik for Funk to keep his mouth shut."

Whether this change of heart is due to his satisfaction with his new contract or perhaps caused in part by his recent loss to Caraway is unclear; what is clear is that Sterling has made a pretty sharp 180 on many of his outspoken stances. When another fan asked Sterling his opinion on Rory MacDonald's decisions to fight out his contract and enter into free agency this weekend, Sterling ended the Q&A saying, "I don't even know what you're talking about."