After suffering a devastating defeat in December, UFC bantamweight Aljamain Sterling (15-3) bounced back with a big win at April’s UFC Fight Night: Barboza vs. Lee. That night, in Atlantic City, NJ, he bested then-rising prospect Brett Johns. This weekend, at UFC 228, ‘Funk Master’ meets Cody Stamann; another upstart who is hoping to leapfrog him in the 135 lbs rankings.
Sterling told Bloody Elbow he was, “very very happy” with his performance against Johns.
“I was able to implement my game plan from bell to bell and really impose my will and keep the fight where I wanted to keep the fight.”
Johns came into that contest with a 15-0 record and wins against Joe Soto and Alberto Morales during his two year UFC tenure. Sterling, who has ten UFC fights under his belt, was coming off a loss to title contender Marlon Moraes, but has wins over Renan Barao and Augusto Mendes.
Sterling agreed that his last match presented a bigger opportunity to his opponent than to him. “Every time you step in there with a guy who is not ranked where you’re at, it’s always a big stepping stone for them — if they’re able to get the job done,” he said. “But I think I was able to show the world that, there’s levels to this. If you want to be in the top ten, if you want to be in the top five, it takes a special individual to be able to do that and I think I’m that guy.”
Sterling added that he came out of the Johns fight “pretty much unscathed,” which he said was typical for him. “I go in there and make these guys look bad, where they’re swinging and they can’t hit me. There’s one guy who got lucky, he got away, but I can not wait to get that rematch. But besides that, my focus is fully on Cody Stamann in Dallas and I’m going to bring that guy everything he can handle. And I guarantee I’m going to prove to him, and the rest of the world, that there are indeed levels to this s—t.”
After beating Johns, Sterling sent a list of his preferred opponents to the UFC. At the top of that list was Dominick Cruz. Also on the list were John Lineker, Jimmie Rivera, and John Dodson. Rivera and Dodson ended up being matched against each other, also at UFC 228.
“I thought the toughest one for me to get was Dominick Cruz, but I thought Jimmie Rivera was likely, since we pretty much came off the same loss,” said Sterling. Rivera lost via a Moraes head kick KO earlier this year.
Despite both he and Rivera coming unstuck versus the same foe, Sterling sees a lot of differences between the ends of those two fights.
“[Rivera’s loss] was even faster and his was actually set up, whereas mine was a freak accident. One guy was just throwing a kick and I was just shooting and ran into it. It was an unfortunate ending.”
With his eyes set on a quartet of fighters all ranked higher than him, Sterling admitted he was taken aback when the matchmakers informed him the lower ranked Stamann was up next.
“They offered me Cody Stamann,” said Sterling, with a pause for dramatic effect. “It’s kind of funny because I challenged the matchmaker, I said, ‘When I finish this guy you owe me a match, because this is the second guy in the row who has been an ‘up-and-comer.’’ I really don’t get it. I guess we got to try and develop the division and keep the contenders coming up, and keep trying to get new blood in there. I understand my position right now, but I know what I’m still capable of. I know some people count me out, but that’s the one thing about myself, I never count myself out.”
Sterling revealed that Stamann and Johns were both offered as opponents after his loss to Moraes. He said that, since he was coming off the first stoppage loss of his career, he understood why the match-makers would set him up with a lower ranked opponent.
“They did offer Cody Stamann and they offered Brett Johns, both guys were 3-0. I looked at it and I said, well I’m going to take the fight which seems like the bigger challenge and I thought that was Brett Johns, the undefeated guy who was being pegged as the next guy.”
Even though he said Stamann was less deserving of a fight with him today, compared to Johns earlier this year, Sterling did reveal some respect for the 17-1 Michigander’s game. However, the Serra-Longo product wasn’t able to stay completely positive.
“We got two tough wrestlers,” he said. “One’s a short little wrestler with little alligator arms and we’ve got a lanky wrestler with a lot of high-tempo scrambles, throwing a lot of kicks. I can’t really see what Cody does well enough that’s better than what I do. I think we’re pretty much just as good in every single department. I think he has more explosive power. I think as the fight goes on, I think he’s going to deflate and I’m going to get stronger and eventually I’m going to get him down, throw the hooks in, and choke him out.”
Along with keeping or improving upon his 8th spot in the rankings, Sterling is motivated to beat Stamann based on things he’s recently heard out of his opponent.
“Cody was saying, none of the guys I fought are in the top ten anymore,” complained Sterling. “And I’m like, dude, you do realize after I beat someone they never fight the same after that. It’s not that I’m going out there and dominating guys in terms of punishing them to absolute obliteration, but I’m doing something to these guys so that the next time they show up and step into the Octagon they don’t fight the same.
“One-hundred-percent, they don’t fight the same. Johnny Eduardo, none of these guys, they really don’t. So I think that’s a feather in my cap, as opposed to them just not being good. I think everyone who makes it to the UFC is a tough fighter and people keep trying to s—t on me and what I bring to the table, until I just s—t on them.”
Sterling sounded frustrated by the comments he attributed to Stamann. The frustration, along with a little bemusement, extended to how he feels about Stamann, and others, publicly challenging him.
“It’s interesting to see all these guys keep calling me out after they win. I don’t know whether it’s a slap in the face or just respect. I don’t know. I have no idea. I can’t tell what to make of it. I don’t know if people just think that I’m the easiest fight. You’ve got Cody Stamann who wanted to fight me. Pedro Munhoz wants to fight me. You’ve got Rob Font who called me out before he got shut down by Raphael Assunção. Even Brett Johns called me out before I had to hand him his first L.”
Sterling will seek to channel that frustration into an impressive performance versus Stamann at this Saturday’s UFC 228. You can see if Sterling is able to hand Stamann the first ‘L’ of his UFC career by tuning into the FX prelim show at 8PM ET.