The UFC landscape is ever-evolving, with fighters often seeking new challenges and carving out fresh legacies. One such dynamic figure is Aljamain Sterling, whose imminent bout at UFC 292 might very well signal the beginning of a captivating new chapter in his storied career.
Sterling, as he gears up for the fourth defence of his bantamweight title, has not only made headlines for his impeccable form but also for the physical sacrifices he’s made. His body fat percentage, teetering in the single digits, stands testament to the rigorous discipline he’s subjected himself to. These sacrifices were further elucidated when Sterling candidly revealed on The MMA Hour that a strenuous Monday workout had him drop to 149 pounds, shedding three pounds from his morning weight.
Reflecting on his younger days in the octagon, there’s an unmistakable twinge of nostalgia in Sterling’s voice. Back then, he would shed a staggering 20-25 pounds in the week leading up to a fight. The aftermath? An unmatched vigor that saw him dominate the ring. “I would just compete like an animal, like an Energizer bunny for days,” Sterling fondly recalls.
However, even the mightiest warriors aren’t immune to the march of time. The stark reality of ageing is something Sterling has started to grapple with. “I kind of feel like I’m slowing down a little bit, and that comes with age,” Sterling admits, a sentiment echoing many athletes who’ve graced the sport.
The passage of time has brought introspection. Having recently celebrated his 34th birthday, Sterling’s vision for his career path became notably clearer, especially as he prepared for the daunting challenge against Sean O’Malley. His announcement on the trajectory of his career was startling but definitive: “This is more than likely my last fight at 135. There’s a 99 percent chance it’s my last. If I win this, for sure, I’m out of here.” That lingering 1%? For Sterling, it symbolises the unpredictability and essence of the fight game.
While Sterling acknowledges O’Malley’s prowess with a humble nod to his “puncher’s chance,” he remains steadfast in his belief in his grappling prowess. Sterling’s strategy for the fight is crystal clear: “takedown, back control and choke.”
Beyond the immediate horizon, there’s the tantalising allure of a potential dual-champion status. A prospective clash with featherweight titan, Alexander Volkanovski, looms large, promising fans a bout for the ages. But as always in the UFC, the path is strewn with decisions beyond a fighter’s control. The organisation would need to give Sterling the nod, a tricky prospect given their chequered history. The unexpected announcement of his bout against O’Malley and the ensuing gruelling two-month preparation phase, rife with weight-cut challenges, has been a testament to Sterling’s resilience.
Yet, Sterling’s narrative isn’t one of solitary ambition. His vision extends beyond personal glory, casting a spotlight on his trusted teammate, Merab Dvalishvili. Their bond, forged in the crucible of countless training sessions, is so profound that they’ve vowed to never trade blows in the octagon. With unwavering conviction, Sterling proclaims, “It’s Merab’s time.” As for the reasoning behind Sterling’s prospective shift? It’s twofold: a yearning to reinvigorate his once-youthful dynamism and an aversion to the gruelling weight cuts. “I’m 34 now, so I think I just wanna get ahead of it before it gets ahead of me,” Sterling shared, showcasing his forward-thinking approach.
UFC 292 will not be short on action with bantamweight powerhouses like Pedro Munhoz and Marlon Vera also showcasing their prowess. However, injuries have marred the division, sidelining many top contenders. Despite this, Sterling’s admiration for Dvalishvili is evident: “He’s going be the guy who’s leading that path,” he asserts, underlining Merab’s unmatched commitment and tenacity.