clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Aljamain Sterling open to quick turnaround vs. Sean O’Malley: ‘We all know what his kryptonite is’

Aljamain Sterling isn’t sure he can make a quick turnaround for his next title defense, but given the circumstances, he’s open to the idea.

At UFC 288, Sterling successfully defended his bantamweight title with a split decision over Henry Cejudo. Immediately after winning, Sterling faced off with No. 1 contender Sean O’Malley inside the cage, setting the stage for their marquee fight later this year.

That fight may be coming sooner rather than later. After the event, UFC President Dana White confirmed it would be next, suggesting it “probably” will take place in August, at the UFC’s rumored return to Boston for UFC 292. That’s a quick turnaround for a champion who just went 25 hard minutes against Cejudo, but one that “The Funk Master” said might be doable if his body permits.

“This would be the fastest turnaround, I would imagine, for a UFC champion,” Sterling told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “I’ll stand corrected, but I think Volkanovski was four, four and a half [months] from the Abu Dhabi card? ... We’d be neck and neck. It is quick.

“In a perfect world, it wouldn’t. But at the end of the day, I’m an athlete. I’m a prize fighter at the end of the day. For me, I’m motivated by competition, and of course, the prize. Am I banged up? I’ve got some things. The usual. If I can start training next week, I think it’s possible. If I could start. I’ll just have to wait until next week.

“I’ve got to get a couple X-rays still. I crushed my legs on Henry, smashing him. I didn’t care if I was going go kick his elbow, I didn’t care if I was going to kick his kneecap. I smashed my feet up pretty good on him. So both my feet are pretty swollen, left one is a lot worse, but it’s victory wounds, so it’s all good.”

If the fight does happen on that timeline, it would be a 15-week turnaround for Sterling — the second-shortest of his UFC career.

For the champion, there are two major factors for his decision to accept the fight: The opportunity to earn a substantial payday, and the risk, or lack thereof, in the fight.

“At the end of the day, it’s competition and the prize,” Sterling said. “It’s just got to make sense. I’ve got to be feeling good, and so far we’re trending in the right direction. At the end of the day, it’s good business, because this card is supposed to be massive. Supposedly, from what I’m being told behind the scenes, Dana is really going to stack this card. And if he stacks this card, that’s a good motivator in itself to be on a big card, because you don’t get pay-per-view points if you’re not the champ. So it’s like, there’s a lot of things that go into this. And to drag a guy like O’Malley down, what’s this guy going to do to me? Really?

“I’m not trying to be disrespectful, it’s a subtle jab, but it’s the truth. It’s a fight, anything could happen. But at the end of the day, I think we all know what his kryptonite is, and it’s unproven in the octagon. We’ve seen him one time on his back and he was like a fish out on land. ‘Chito’ [Marlon Vera] smashed him and sent him home. I think ‘Chito’ might have hit him one time, and his eyes rolled back in his head. That’s not a good sign.

“He got hit one time and he was out, so it lets me have a little bit more confidence — I don’t think you can develop a chin over time. I hit him squarely, take him down, that’s fight is as good as over, probably in one.”

Coming off a win over Petr Yan in October, O’Malley is currently the No. 3 ranked bantamweight in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings and is one of the biggest stars in the sport.

That being said, O’Malley’s high ranking comes largely on the back of his win over Yan, as opposed to a sustained track record of success like others in the division. As a result, Sterling admits that were the circumstances different, if instead he was being asked to face someone like Cejudo on a quick turnaround, he probably wouldn’t be open to the idea.

“That’s very different — very, very different,” Sterling said. “Henry took a lot of preparation. I give the guy his flowers, he’s a tough dude, smart guy. The way he makes adjustments in the middle of the fight reminds me of myself. Those are hard problems to figure out and adjust to. So if it’s Henry, maybe not. That’s an honest answer.”

Sterling went on to note that he does have some lingering issues from the Cejudo bout that he would ideally like to heal up, including ongoing trouble with his bicep. However, he also insisted that ultimately this may be too good of an opportunity to pass up, not just for the money, but for the legacy as well.

“The next two weeks we can find out if this fight is definitely going to happen, if I can make this work, and if my body is feeling up to it,” Sterling said. “And again, I’m a prize fighter. This is a stacked card. This could be some real life-changing situation, and that’s always a good thing.

“Money is always good, but competition too. This would be another chance to add another notch to the belt, another ruby. And really making it hard for the record for anyone to beat it. This weight class is so competitive, I don’t care who it is that gets here, good luck defending the belt as many times as I did, good luck defending the belt as many times as Dom did. Or twice! It’s going to be a tough task. Everyone is going to have a target on your back, and it’s a good problem to have.”

And if it does happen? If Sterling makes the quick turnaround and successfully defends his title for a record fourth time? Well, then it’s on to bigger and better challenges — namely, a fight against the winner of the upcoming featherweight title fight between Alexander Volkanovski and Yair Rodriguez.

“I win this fight, I think it’s my last fight at [bantamweight]” Sterling said. “Respectfully, I would love to fight Yair or Volkanovski. I think it’s just a fun fight, I think it’s another opportunity to chase greatness. ... I’d like to say I was double champ-champ. It would be nice.

“The way I see it is, I defend the belt, we’ll see what happens with the Volk fight, and go from there. We’ll see what the timeline looks like, and see if there’s a real possibility to not have the division tied up where the UFC will allow me to hold the belt so I can at least say I’m the champ doing promos leading up to the fight. I think it would be pretty cool.”

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Fighting Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Fighting