As soon as T.J. Dillashaw surrendered the bantamweight title in anticipation of a two year suspension for violating the UFC’s anti-doping policy, Aljamain Sterling was doing everything possible to put his name into contention to fight for the vacant championship.
With three wins in a row including a highlight reel submission finish against Cody Stamman as well as a unanimous decision victory against Jimmie Rivera, the New York native thought he had a real shot at competing for UFC gold.
Ultimately the promotion opted to crown a new champion by putting top ranked contender Marlon Moraes against reigning flyweight king Henry Cejudo in the main event for this weekend’s UFC 238 card from Chicago instead. While he didn’t receive the title shot, Sterling did get what he considered to be the next best thing with a fight against Pedro Munhoz, who is coming off a huge knockout win over former champion Cody Garbrandt.
“I don’t hold no ill will towards Henry Cejudo or Marlon Moraes getting the fight,” Sterling told MMAFighting ahead of his fight on Saturday night. “Marlon Moraes was the No. 1 contender of the division, I feel, and Cejudo was supposed to fight T.J. Dillashaw but if they went with a bantamweight, I thought it would have been me in terms of the pecking order.
“I thought I made the most sense. Pedro just lost to [John] Dodson within the last year and maybe a month. He also lost to [Jimmie] Rivera a couple of years ago by split decision. Rivera beat Dodson and I beat Rivera. That’s the way I kind of did the math in my head but the UFC is going to do what the UFC’s going to do. All I can do is keep winning and hopefully all of that takes care of itself.”
Sterling called for the fight against Munhoz because he felt like that was going to be the best way possible to put himself into a position to fight the winner of the upcoming bout between Moraes and Cejudo.
In theory based on the rankings and fighters coming off wins rather than losses, Sterling or Munhoz would be the most logical choice to become the new No. 1 contender after UFC 238 is complete.
Unfortunately, Sterling knows all too well that when it comes to the UFC and the way title contenders are chosen, nothing is guaranteed.
“If Pedro or I, the winner of this doesn’t get the next title shot then pigs can fly,” Sterling said. “I’m convinced that the ranking system should just go away. Like get the f—k out of here with that s—t. If you’re going to do that to us then there should be no ranking system. Just get rid of it. Stop lying to the fighters, stop lying to the fans and just do whatever the hell you’re going to do and stop pretending.
“Let’s stop pretending that these things mean something. It’s about what have you done for me lately and who’s going to sell the most tickets and who the most popular person is that they want to push.”
As much as Sterling would love to ignore the outside noise going into his fight against Munhoz, it’s nearly impossible not to notice that he’s competing on the prelims while highly touted bantamweight prospect Petr Yan got a slot on the main card.
Yan is 4-0 thus far in his UFC career with a fight against Jimmie Rivera scheduled this weekend. Sterling has been impressed by what he’s seen out of Yan so far but he would be appalled if a win over Rivera somehow allowed him to skip the line for a title shot at 135 pounds.
“Right now, honestly I’m not going to lie, it really, really feels like they want to push Petr Yan,” Sterling said. “He’s a very talented dude, he put on a ton of great performances and I get it, I understand the business and what I’ve got to do to stay at the forefront but I think No. 3 versus No. 4, I can’t see how a win from Petr Yan over Jimmie Rivera, who’s coming off a loss to [me] and if I beat Pedro, I can’t see he leap frogs any of us to get the next title shot.”
Sterling feels like he’s faced these kinds of obstacles throughout his UFC career where he’s never felt fully supported by the organization.
This time around it’s Yan getting a main card slot while he’s higher ranked and facing a higher ranked opponent and yet he’s been relegated to the prelims.
“I always felt like the UFC brass kind of had it out for me,” Sterling stated. “They’ll probably say ‘this is the UFC, you always fight the toughest of the toughest guys, the best guys fight here’ and they’ll say anything.
“At the end of the day, I feel like I’ve never had an easy break in terms of opponents. I’ve never had a fair shake in terms of getting on the main card and I’ve been in the top 10 and been in the top four before, for probably the last three years now at this point and it kind of sucks but it is what it is I guess.”
The only thing Sterling can do is to convince the UFC that he deserves a high profile position on the main card and more importantly a shot at the title with his performance against Munhoz this weekend.
“I’ve just got to keep doing what I’m doing. I’ll say this one thing, they can only stop your shine for so long and eventually the light’s going to shine through. I think I’m still a true star in this division and in the whole organization,” Sterling said.
“Pedro’s going to bring it and I know I’m going to bring it so at the end of the day if they think that Petr Yan and Jimmie Rivera’s going to be the one that sparks the crowd or whatever the hell they’re thinking, I just have to go out there and prove them wrong and do something spectacular once again.”