Aljamain Sterling doesn’t necessarily disagree with Sean O’Malley when it comes to how the UFC picks its pay-per-view headliners. He just doesn’t see that as his fault.
“That’s on the UFC to put together a fight card that’s worthy of customers wanting to pay a $70 price tag,” the undisputed champ said recently on The MMA Hour. (UFC broadcast partner ESPN recently raised the UFC pay-per-view standalone price to $74.99.)
O’Malley drew headlines when he said undisputed champ Sterling and interim titleholder Petr Yan weren’t big enough stars to carry UFC 272 following the scratch of featherweight headliner Alexander Volkanovski vs. Chan Sung Sung, which prompted the promotion to move the matchups to UFC 273, with the bantamweights slotted as the co-main event.
Headlining the UFC 272 event now is a rare non-title fight between welterweight rivals Jorge Masvidal and Colby Covington, which lends credence to O’Malley’s point.
But Sterling initially dismissed the colorful-haired bantamweight’s statement as uncalled for given his competitive résumé, which in 2020 was marred by a high-profile loss to Marlon Vera, and otherwise features several favorable matchups.
“O’Malley’s going to do what O’Malley does, which is just talk,” Sterling said. “He talks a big game, but we come to find out that he’s a lot of talk, a lot of bark and no bite. The last time he tried to bite off more than he can chew, what happened? He did the broke leg dance.
“I don’t know what he’s on, and again, I know that was a kick that could have never had that impact, but it did. And guess what, you had your shot, and you blew it. We all get opportunities, you had an opportunity, and you blew it.
“The UFC didn’t give me those opportunities to fight tailor-made matchups when I came up. I fought. My third UFC fight, I fought a guy who was ranked sixth in the world in Takeya Mizugaki, and ever since then, I have not left the UFC’s top 10 of ranked contenders and guys that were within the top 10 and top five.”
Sterling, of course, is used to being the target of criticism from those inside and outside the octagon. Since a disqualification win over Yan that made him bantamweight champion, he’s endured an army of armchair critics who have questioned his every move.
To give any opinion weight, Sterling said O’Malley needs to fight a highly-regarded opponent like Ricky Simon, Brian Kelleher, or his teammate, Merab Dvalishvili. But he also agreed that names do matter when UFC scheduling hiccups arise, and at this point, few matchups can carry a card on their own.
“I think that’s pretty black and white — you can’t just rely on one fight,” Sterling said. “I don’t know a lot of people who will pay $70 just to watch one fight. I want to watch good fights. I don’t just want to just watch one fight. When it comes to boxing, they just have Canelo [Alvarez] versus whoever. I’m paying to pretty much see Canelo, but that’s a big price tag to pay to see one fight, and you can’t justify doing it for that and for this.
“It has be a little bit more [about] the metrics. I’m pretty sure that if it was just Sean O’Malley and a bunch of other guys that are up-and-coming and not really any type of notoriety, people aren’t paying $75 to watch Sean O’Malley fight, either. So I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about in that regard.”