After a hard workout on Monday, Sterling weighed 149 pounds, down from 152 the scale read this morning when he stepped on it, he revealed on The MMA Hour.
When he was younger, a typical cut on fight week was between 20-25 pounds, “and I would just compete like just an animal, like an Energizer bunny for days,” he said.
Now, he added, “I kind of feel like I’m slowing down a little bit, and that comes with age.”
Two weeks ago, Sterling celebrated his 34th birthday, just as he was heading into the toughest part of his training camp to face Sean O’Malley. At a certain point, an idea long percolating about the trajectory of his career became clearer.
“This is more than likely my last fight at 135,” Sterling announced. “There’s a 99 percent chance it’s my last.
“If I win this, for sure, I’m out of here.”
That one percent Sterling reserves for the unknowns of the fight game. He puts the same percentage on his confidence about a win on Saturday night. O’Malley, he said, has a “puncher’s chance” and nowhere near the level of grappling he does, making the ultimate game plan easy: takedown, back control and choke.
What happens from there, he hopes, is an opportunity to join a short list of UFC fighters who’ve obtained champ-champ status. A fight with featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski would be a massive feather in his cap.
That’s the UFC’s call, however. The promotion would need to let him hold the bantamweight a little bit longer, and he hasn’t always seen eye to eye with the brass. Even the announcement of his defense against O’Malley, whom he claims has flexed “Dana White privilege” for a quicker trip to a title shot, came with some drama. He found out it was official through the media. It was also a two-month turnaround with another brutal weight cut.
Still, Sterling plans to let the bantamweight go when he claims the featherweight title. He believes his longtime teammate, Merab Dvalishvili, is due to capture the belt at 135 pounds, and they vowed never to fight each other.
“It’s Merab’s time, man,” Sterling said. “And the second part of that is, I’m a little bit over cutting weight, this much weight. I walk around 165, 170 [pounds]. I think I could hold that frame relatively better, and I think my conditioning and everything could actually go up a little bit more, back to when I was younger, where I was cutting less.
“I’m 34 now, so I think I just wanna get ahead of it before it gets ahead of me.”
Standout bantamweights Pedro Munhoz – whom Sterling has already beaten – and Marlon Vera also fight at UFC 292. Several top bantamweights, however, are out with injury, including Dvalishvili. Even if he were to stay at 135 pounds, Sterling doesn’t see many attractive options.
“All these guys, they’re falling apart,” he said. “And the only other person is Merab, who’s a maniac that trains with one hand after just getting surgery, this guy is still training with one hand, sparring and grappling, it’s crazy. He’s going be the guy who’s leading that path.”
Sterling is just waiting to walk another path, one that’s far healthier to his long-term health. His days of being the Energizer bunny at 135 pounds are over.