Aljamain Sterling: Slaying the Dragon
‘I could lose this fight, it’s the fight game, but I feel large, I’m Matt Serra powerful and I feel back to my old ways’. Aljamain Sterling appeared to be in good spirits when speaking to SpitballingPod late last week ahead of his clash this weekend in Atlantic City against Brett Johns.
It’s been a busy few weeks for the ‘Funkmaster’; as well as training for his own bout, he was firmly in the corner of teammate ‘Ragin’ Al Iaquinta at UFC223 as he put in a valiant effort against new Champ Khabib Nurmagomedov. Despite the disappointment of his teammate, Aljamain admitted that it was reassuring to see during his camp, as it just lets him know that ‘we’re clearly doing the right things’.
Last time out, Sterling unfortunately suffered defeat to fellow contender Marlon Moraes at the hands of a first round knockout. For some fighters, the mental effects can live with you far longer than the physical effects will after a KO, but Aljamain insists that’s certainly not the case when it comes to his own outlook – ‘It wasn’t difficult to get past at all; I knew what I did wrong. If I was outclassed and he fist pounded me from the first bell to the end then I’d know I have a lot of shit to work on. I shot from Guam, and if I shoot from Guam then that happens, if I jabbed to set it up then it would be completely different. That guy wanted no part of me on the ground and God willing I get past Saturday, then I’d love to run it back with him’.
For many, Johns is one of the unknowns of the division, or certainly a lower profile opponent than some of the other names in the top 15; Sterling admitted that he was familiar with the Welshman, but wasn’t overly impressed with what he had seen so far. He explained ‘I actually think we’re very similar, but I’m a little more dynamic. I knew about him when he was on the Cage Warriors circuit, but a lot of his fights have looked the same way – he’ll take the opponent down and kind of just lay on them. His only impressive fight has been the Joe Soto fight, but at the same time, Soto’s next fight was the same result – very short, inside 2 minutes, so I don’t know how much stock to put in that win. Soto is a veteran, but I like to think he’s a well-known leg grappler and so to get caught by a calf-slicer, it would appear that he didn’t properly respect Brett Johns. I try to keep it as in perspective as I can, I know what he brings to the table and I know what I bring to the table’.
Looking down Sterling’s record, you will find a mixture of knockouts, submissions and decisions, which backs up his earlier comments regarding versatility. Heading into the fight, Sterling says he has no real preference as to where the bout takes place, but he’s fairly certain that Johns is going to try and take him to the canvas - ‘This guy says he wants to stand with me, so I’m gonna let him know at the weigh ins, ‘let’s see who shoots first’. I guarantee, he’ll be the one wanting to wrestle, I guarantee it. I’ll fight wherever the fight goes, I fare much better on the ground as instincts take over but I’ll happily strike on the feet, I’m hard to hit, I have good movement and he’s shown he’s very hittable. I think it’ll be a game of chess, but he’ll try to take me down and he’ll find out that once I’m down it’s just autopilot from there’.
With 5 submission wins on his record, I asked Aljamain if he would ever look at something like that and be reluctant to go to the ground – he laughed and quickly shut down my question, retorting ‘I fought Augusto Mendes and I like to think that he’s a much better grappler than Brett Johns; I’m not saying Brett couldn’t compete with him, but I’d say he’s a better grappler. I think anybody could agree with that, it’s very rational when you look at their backgrounds and credentials’.
Sterling made his first strides in MMA alongside a familiar name – explaining his origins in the sport, he said ‘I started training during my sophomore year in college with Jon Jones, he left college and I transferred right down the road from where he was training and ever since then I just never stopped. As soon as wrestling was done, I was just all in’.
The Bantamweight belt is being contested in August, with a rematch between Cody Garbrandt and TJ Dillashaw; Sterling isn’t thrilled with the match-up, but he understands how the game works – ‘I’m not ecstatic about the Cody v TJ rematch, as there were other legitimate contenders, he’d not yet defended the belt, he got knocked out. I’m not too fond of Jimmie (Rivera), but I felt that he was the next guy in line and I thought Cody should have fought Marlon. Now you’re gonna have contenders knocking each other out. It just seems like a popularity contest over rankings’ he said.
When it comes to moving forward, Sterling says he isn’t going to look past Saturday night – he’s made that mistake before. ‘I’ve just gotta take it one fight at a time, I’m not looking ahead, every time I do then I hit a roadblock and get some disappointment. I’ll enjoy the moment, enjoy the ride and then eventually an opportunity will present itself and I’ll get a shot at the crown’
Aljamain Sterling v Brett Johns takes place this Saturday night as part of UFC Fight Night 128 in Atlantic City – the card will be topped by Kevin Lee v Edson Barboza.