Aljamain Sterling expects to know more about his next title defense within a few days, and the reigning UFC bantamweight champion has narrowed down the list of possible opponents.
The names who will likely receive the most consideration include T.J. Dillashaw, Jose Aldo, and Henry Cejudo. Sterling isn’t sure who will actually get the nod, although he expects the UFC already has an idea in mind.
“I think [the UFC] knows who’s the money fight and who moves the needle,” Sterling said on The Joe Rogan podcast. “I don’t know if it’s Aldo who moves the needle. I know T.J. definitely moves the needle — you can ask USADA. Then Cejudo, so there’s options.”
The sideways shot at Dillashaw comes after the ex-bantamweight champion spent two years on the sideline following his suspension by the United States Anti-Doping Agency. Dillashaw tested positive for recombinant human erythropoietin — better known as EPO — in relation to his fight against Henry Cejudo, which he lost via first-round knockout.
Since coming back from suspension, Dillashaw picked up a razor-close split decision win over Cory Sandhagen that seemingly put him into position to fight for the title again, although Cejudo’s return from retirement and Aldo’s current win streak could work against that.
Sterling knows he probably won’t be able to call his shot so he can only speak to which fights means the most to him, and he can’t deny which matchup would be his toughest.
“If I’m going to be honest, if I just want to fight, like which one would be the best for my legacy? I think T.J. or Aldo in terms of like, ‘I fought this guy.’” Sterling explained. “Even a [Dominick] Cruz.
“For some reason, I feel like the hardest fight out of all of them is Aldo.”
Aldo has been banging the drum for a shot ever since Sterling defeated Petr Yan in March, which solidified his position as the best bantamweight in the sport.
Right now, Aldo is riding a three-fight win streak that includes dominant victories over Rob Font and Marlon Vera to put him back near the top of the ranks at 135 pounds.
Sterling has no problem facing anybody the UFC throws at him, although if he’s being brutally honest, Aldo might not qualify as his first choice when he breaks down his perspective on picking and choosing opponents.
“Right now if it was my choice, I mean I feel you’d want to pick the fighter you feel like you would definitely beat, right?” Sterling said. “For a title defense, I feel like you would want to do that so you could keep the belt as long as you can. Make some money.”
While many fighters constantly tout the desire to always face the toughest competition possible, Sterling would rather be truthful about pursuing the easiest path to remaining champion and earning the biggest paycheck along the way.
“Because that’s f****** stupid,” Sterling said. “These guys are so stupid. It annoys me. I’m an honest guy. I would want to pick the fight that I feel I would have the easier time with and keep that belt. I’m trying to cash out. I’m trying to get paid. You’re not in this position all the time.”
One opponent who is not on Sterling’s radar right now is Petr Yan, who he just battled in back-to-back fights.
Sterling concedes that he’ll probably draw Yan again in the future, but he’d rather move onto different competition for the time being.
“I don’t want to fight him again right now,” Sterling said. “I had to think about this guy for almost 24 months. I’d like to see a different face. I feel like we’re married. It’s like a sour relationship at this point.”
When it comes to timing, Sterling expects a late summer or early fall fight on pay-per-view, with hopes that he’ll receive an official offer very soon.
“Probably September,” Sterling revealed. “I think that’s the next Vegas card. “I’m supposed to get news either today or tomorrow who they want us to be the next guy. So what I am going to do? I am going to release that information as soon as I get it, but it’s going to be on my podcast.”