Aljamain Sterling knows a UFC title should be on the line in his next fight even if reigning bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo isn’t his opponent.
The New York native has rattled off four straight wins in a row capped off by a stellar performance to defeat Pedro Munhoz in his most recent outing in June.
Sterling believes he should be the No. 1 contender for the title but the only problem is Cejudo is sidelined until the end of the year following shoulder surgery. Add to that, UFC president Dana White has already hinted that Cejudo’s next fight could come at flyweight against Joseph Benavidez, who is the last man to defeat the Olympic gold medalist.
Sterling can’t fault Benavidez for getting his shot at the title but if that’s the case, he feels an interim title should be introduced to keep the bantamweight division moving Cejudo’s absence.
“I don’t mind it. I plan on fighting for the interim title next and if he takes a little bit longer than we expect, then I’ll defend the belt and kind of go about it like that,” Sterling told MMA Fighting. “At the end of the day, Cejudo’s a tough competitor but I think he’s a flyweight.
“I think the day he comes up and actually acknowledges the real competition in the weight class, it will be a bad night for him. I think he’s going to hold off as long as he can to stay at flyweight and I don’t blame the guy.”
If an interim title is introduced in the bantamweight division, Sterling sees Russian mauler Petr Yan as the most logical choice for his next opponent.
Sterling and Yan have clashed through interviews and social media, which only further fuels the rivalry along with an interim title potentially being up for grabs in the fight.
“If Cejudo is going to go back down to 125 [pounds] against Joey Two-Times (Joseph Benavidez) then I’ll be more than happy to give Petr Yan his chance to dance,” Sterling said. “He’s been doing a lot of talking. I think that slowed down when I put him in his place a little bit but that is the fight that would make the most sense.
“I’m about fighting the best guys. I’m not about trying to hand pick my fights and tip toe around the competition. So if he’s the next best guy, the next highest ranked guy, sign me up.”
While other potential options exist, Sterling looks at Yan as the most hyped prospect on the bantamweight roster after earning five straight wins to start his UFC career.
Sterling is honest enough to admit that Yan brings certain dangers into the Octagon but there are also some glaring opportunities he would look to expose in a potential fight between them.
“I think if you were removing yourself in terms of emotion in my situation, I just look at it strictly as an analyst and looking at him as a fighter, I think he has a lot of good skills but at the same time if you look at his fight with [Jimmie] Rivera and my fight with Rivera, and I know you can’t do MMA math, and Rivera’s fight with Pedro Munhoz and his fight with John Dodson, you can see where he’s at talent-wise and what he brings to the table,” Sterling said.
“It’s all relatively the same. He doesn’t show much improvement with each fight. He hits hard, he got good striking, he’s got a good left hook, he’s tough, well-rounded but I just think I do everything a little bit better than he does. That’s my honest assessment of the guy. I think he’s tough but I think he’s very, very beatable.”
As of now, Sterling hasn’t been offered any opponent or date for his next fight but in a perfect world the interim title fight against Yan would be next for him.
“I would assume so. I can’t see who else it would be,” Sterling said. “Urijah Faber? He beat a guy ranked 15th by default. He was only ranked No. 15 because John Lineker got cut. Other than that, who has he beaten in the top five or top 10? I can’t really see how that fight would make a lot of sense.
“I think the most logical fight is to promote a guy from the U.S. against a big guy from Russia. If I’m the UFC, I would think that’s the no brainer fight to make.”