At UFC 280, Sterling defended the bantamweight title with a second-round TKO of former two-time champion T.J. Dillashaw. Although the performance was mired in controversy because Dillashaw entered the fight with an injured shoulder, the win still marked Sterling’s second title defense and firmly entrenched him atop the 135-pound division.
Afterward, UFC President Dana White suggested Cejudo could make sense as the next title challenger for Sterling, and “The Funk Master” was more than game when speaking at the post-fight press conference.
“It all depends on timing,” Sterling said. “It depends on the offer. Henry is good but these guys don’t understand. There’s literally levels to grappling. It’s not an inside leg trip match and lay in my guard, brother. You’re going to have to work. I take you down, what are you going to do when I take you down?
“So he can say whatever he wants about the distance, ‘Oh, he leaves himself open,’ when he’s doing his little doodling thing on IG. It’s funny, it’s cute — he’s a smart guy, I’ll give him that, so I won’t bust his chops too much, but he’s dealing with another cerebral fighter. I think it would be a very competitive match where I think my key points where I thrive will definitely over-shine his. He’s going to need to keep it standing the entire time, and what’s he going to do when I actually get him down to the ground. Like I said, I take you down, I backpack you up, and that’s a wrap.”
Taking Cejudo down may be more difficult than Sterling makes it out to be, as Cejudo is not only a former UFC flyweight and bantamweight champion champion but also an Olympic gold medalist wrestler. But despite Cejudo’s many accolades, Sterling still feels that the ex-champ doesn’t have the same quality of resume.
“I’m an MMA fan,” Sterling said. “Cejudo won the belt against Marlon Moraes, it was vacant. After that he fought Dominick Cruz, who was sitting on a couch and took it on short notice because it was the opportunity of a lifetime. If we’re being honest here, we are not the same. I fought guys with full training camps, I fought guys with wins and credentialed ability. Yeah, Marlon Moraes might have put me to sleep, but look where he’s at and look where I’m at. ... I came back and I showed that I’m still one of the best if not the best guy in this weight class.
“If Cejudo wants it, Dana [White], what’s up? Hunter [Campbell], what’s up? Let’s talk shop, let’s talk money. Money talks, bulls*** walks, so let’s get it going.”
And it appears that Cejudo does indeed want it. Shortly after Sterling’s post-fight interview, “Triple C” responded to the champion with an aggressive Instagram post.
“Well congratulations, Alja-s***-stain. You continue to keep beating my leftovers. Congratulations. I took that dude out in 32 seconds. Anyhow, the baby, my puppy is right here, dude [pats UFC title over his shoulder]. Let’s not forget. All you guys are babysitting my belt. All you sorry-ass 135-pounders. There’s one king and his name is Triple C. Sign the contract, ho.”
Cejudo retired from MMA in 2020, following his title defense against Dominick Cruz, but he suggested that he’d return for a price. Since then, the former champion has been a near constant presence in the sport, continuously teasing a return.
Recently, he returned to the USADA testing pool in pursuit of a featherweight title shot against Alexander Volkanovski.