A training injury has given Aljamain Sterling plenty of time to reflect on his first professional loss.
The up-and-coming bantamweight injured his right bicep in his first gym sparring session after returning home from his split-decision loss to Bryan Caraway last month, which has both given him plenty of time to plot his return, but also a bit too much time to think about what went wrong.
"At the end of the day I take it for what it is," Sterling said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I lost a close fight, I lost a battle of inches, it was just, it kills me kind of, a couple technical things on my end, that's mostly what bothers me."
The loss was a tough pill to swallow on several fronts. For one, it was Sterling first fight of his new UFC contract. For another, he baited Caraway over social media into taking the fight, and for the third, the matchup was heavily promoted as a featured attraction on UFC Fight Pass.
But Sterling refused to use the extra hype as an excuse for his defeat.
"I asked for the extra media," Sterling said. "I asked for extra attention, I asked for the extra hype. I poked the bear to get the fight because I wanted a tough fight, whereas he didn't want a tough fight, he wanted an easier fight, and I wanted to challenge myself to see where I can go. People can say the media stuff drains you and everything, but you set everything up accordingly to the schedule. ... I feel like I had the best training camp of my life, it's just, sometimes things don't fall in line."
If Sterling regrets anything, it's that he let himself get too excited after getting off to a flying start in the fight -- one which many observers felt should have resulted in a 10-8 score -- which led to something of an adrenaline dump after Caraway survived the onslaught.
"I think in the first round I kind of hyped myself in my head, ‘oh my god, I'm about to get a finish over this guy,' I didn't think it would come like that," he said. "I thought it would be like a second round, third round finish, something like that. Then when I had him in compromising positions, it let me know where my skill set is, obviously my muscle endurance wasn't there with my arms, my legs felt great, heavy arms, lungs fine, legs fine, I just had heavy arms, that kind of thing. He he kept, he stayed at steady pace and kept building throughout the fight. I don't think I put any unwanted pressure on myself."
Of course, one loss doesn't break a career in mixed martial arts, and if anything, Sterling believes this will simply be a bump in the road which will make him stronger.
"I lost as amateur, I lost a bunch of times as a wrestler, and you always come back. You show your teeth more when you show what you're made of and your heart. ... I don't think this loss going to make or break me, I think it is going to make me a better fighter."
In the meantime, Sterling is rehabbing his right bicep, which was injured in a fluke mishap in the gym.
"It's coming along, I almost have full range of motion, once the bone completely heals, it takes about six weeks, then I can start strength training again. It's getting pretty close, I'll be four weeks out [Tuesday], but honestly I think I could be good getting this thing going a little but sooner, but I don't want to get too crazy. I was sparring with James Jenkins, we were just in a clinch, broke, and I throw an overhand right but I had arm all the way locked out, so when it landed, it landed flush and the way it hit hyperextended it."
The upside of all this? The timing of the injury is such that, should the Long Islander continue progressing at a proper pace, should put him right on scheduled to appear on the event every New York-based fighter wants to be a part of -- UFC 205 at Madison Square Garden. As long as he's on the card, he's not going to be too picky about his opponent.
"There's a ton of good matchups," Sterling said. "I like the [John] Lineker matchup, I like the [Michael] MacDonald matchup, I like Rafael Assuncao, Faber is fighting Jimmy Rivera now, I'd like to fight Faber. Any of those top 10 fights make sense to me. Even Eddie Wineland, he's coming off a great win."