He’s already at the top of the list for total wins in the history of the 135-pound division with 14 in the UFC. Perhaps the metric that gets brought up most frequently when comparing resumes between champions, Sterling also holds the record for most title defenses at bantamweight with three in a row with a chance to secure his fourth in his upcoming fight against Sean O’Malley.
While the narrative around his reign could change depending on the outcome of that matchup, UFC analyst Alan Jouban argues that Sterling has probably done enough to sit atop that list for the best fighters to ever compete at bantamweight whether it’s a popular choice or not.
“This isn’t a hard one for me,” Jouban said on the latest episode of The Fighter vs. The Writer. “With a win over O’Malley, he 1,000 percent becomes the GOAT of that division.
“Even with a loss, I saw Jon Anik was talking about this all week and I said let me look into this, but you look at the resume, you look at the guys that he beat, the names that he beat at a time when this is the hottest division in the UFC. We’re not comparing times with this division when nobody was watching. This is the time, this is the hottest division in the UFC right now with all these killers and he’s the guy with the belt around his waist. How is he not the greatest of all time in this division?”
Jouban believes certain biases have worked against Sterling since becoming champion including the way he captured the title by disqualification after Petr Yan blasted him with an illegal knee that stopped their fight back at UFC 259.
Add to that, Sterling has a style where he’s best known for taking opponents to the ground and mauling them in grappling exchanges, which doesn’t always lead to the flashiest finishes.
“The only thing really that I strongly feel people don’t give him the credit is the path to victory because a lot of times he’ll go to decision, he’ll ride guys out,” Jouban explained. “If he was knocking guys out, they’d probably see it differently but at the end of the day, it’s not who’s the more fan friendly fighter? Who got more knockouts or more submission?
“It’s about the green or the red and the name next to it and he’s got more green against more former champions and big names than anybody in the division, while the division is hotter in the UFC than it’s ever been.”
If there’s any lingering doubts about Sterling’s resume, Jouban expects those debates will be settled if he can beat O’Malley on Saturday but particularly if he does it with style points.
“To me, it’s without a doubt — with a win [against] O’Malley but even with a loss, even if he gets knocked out in the first round, you compare what has been done already, his resume speaks more than anybody else’s,” Jouban said.
“[But] what better way to cement himself in history right now, not only with another win cementing it but with the finish? If I’m Aljo, everything that we’ve been speaking about is at stake for him. There’s so much on the line because he will cement himself and have another huge feather in his cap with O’Malley but get the finish. You go in there and dominate O’Malley, a guy that’s been knocking everybody out, you go in there and you just ragdoll him — there’s no question about it.”
Stylistically, Jouban really likes Sterling’s chances to get the job done against O’Malley, although he also understands the danger that comes along with that kind of emphatic prediction.
During his time at the top of the bantamweight division, Sterling has almost felt like an underdog in many of his biggest fights but this time around he’s definitely the favorite to win. That makes things a little scary with Jouban confessing that Sterling should have a lot of advantages over O’Malley in this fight.
“Nobody’s picking O’Malley because it’s a horrible matchup for O’Malley,” Jouban said. “That’s what makes me nervous for Aljo. Because he’s been the dog for so long and he’s been getting the hate for so long that he’s become accustomed to it. Let me prove them wrong. I’m going to prove the world wrong. Now they give him the perfect matchup with a guy he said he would choke out in the first round.
“Is he going to slip this one up? Is he going to get caught? Are we going to see [another Marlon Moraes fight], another very good striker who’s able to hide his kicks well, very good speed.”
That said, Jouban is quick to point out the last tall, high-level striker with good range to challenge Sterling and how that fight ended in less than 90 seconds, which doesn’t bode well for O’Malley.
“When I think about this matchup, who’s the most comparable person in the UFC to Sean O’Malley in that division? Would probably be Cory Sandhagen,” Jouban said. “Terrific striker, long guy, moves well, switches stances, has a lot of feints. What happened when Cory Sandhagen fought Aljamain Sterling? It did not go good for Sandhagen so how can you not lean for Aljo?”