Ray Longo has never been known to bite his tongue between rounds. “I want you to punch a hole in his f****** chest,” his advice given to Chris Weidman before Weidman’s shocking upset of Anderson Silva, remains one of the all-time greats in hot mic moments between coach and fighter in the UFC.
Longo was another nightmare for censors this past Saturday at UFC 273. Striding into the octagon to meet his charge, UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling, he yelled, “Aljo, Look at him! Look at him! Look at the motherf*****! That’s what I’m talking about.”
The message, Longo said Monday on The MMA Hour, was that all those people who said Sterling was going to get dominated were wrong.
“What happened to the boogeyman? He’s not the boogeyman any more – Aljo’s the boogeyman now,” Longo explained. “That’s why I even got fired up. This is the guy? This is the guy that everybody thinks is going to kill you? Take a look at him. He doesn’t look too good to me.”
Longo had paid attention to all the hate Sterling fielded after a disqualification win in a first meeting with Yan at UFC 259, and the interim champ had definitely gotten his attention when he threatened – jokingly, he later claimed – a hotel brawl to settle the bad blood that had build up for 13 months between the first fight and the rematch.
So when Sterling not only survived but won the opening frame, Longo thought he’d remind his student.
“I’m loving it, and there was a lot of tension building up to this fight,” he said. “I’m in New York, I’m getting ready to leave, and this guy is saying he’s going to kill his team on site. I’m like, ‘What? You’re threatening me in my own f****** country?’
“It wasn’t a good look for him. Nothing was going to happen. It would have been the stupidest thing he could have even tried. I think for me, maybe that added to the emotion, because you’re kind of aggravated. It’s insulting, somebody’s threatening to kill you. It’s like, ‘Are you joking?’
“I think I wanted to give Aljo a boost. You got this man, because you don’t know what builds up in his mind over 13 months. Maybe there’s self-doubt in there, too, that nobody knows about. I just wanted to erase that and amp him up.”
Sterling went on to win Rounds 2 and 3 on all three judges’ scorecards, though interestingly, none awarded the champ a 10-8 score in the second frame after an extended period of grappling dominance and ground and pound. Yan surged late in the fight, winning Rounds 3 and 4 on all scorecards, making Round 1 the deciding frame. Two of three judges gave the fight to Sterling, 10-9, making him the winner by split decision.
Predictably, Sterling’s critics weren’t appeased by the mixed scorecards. Longo sees the complaints of a robbery as sour grapes.
“People can say whatever they want, it was close. The first round, here’s the bottom line: They had that kid getting killed, period. [They said], ‘He’s not coming out of the first round.’ And then when that doesn’t happen, they’ve got to revert to some...we’re down to the first round, with like six punches thrown? Are you frickin’ kidding me?
“The guy was supposed to get mauled and killed. He shut everybody up, man, and I’ll tell you what, it’s only going to get worse for Yan as these fights go on, because I think the more comfortable Aljo gets, and the healthier he can stay, he’s just going to get better and better.
Sterling aims to face former champ T.J. Dillashaw, who was cageside for this past Saturday’s fight and greeted the champ’s post-fight callout with a pair of middle fingers. Longo doesn’t have any preference on the next name. But he hopes the people who’ve attacked Sterling so relentlessly will back off.
“[Sterling is] an honest guy,” Longo said. “I don’t think there’s a bad bone in that guy’s body. He said in the press conference, in Long Island, everybody’s just busting balls. It’s kind of the way we grow up, and maybe it’s different for the rest of the world. But look, the guy, I can’t say enough good things about him. He runs great classes here, he gives out to the community. He never forgot his roots, where he came from, and I just want people to focus on the good things that this guy does.”