When unbeaten Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight prospect Aljamain Sterling signed a new contract with the UFC, he was of the understanding that he’d find himself in a better situation to market himself. So you can imagine how he felt when he landed the UFC Fight Night “Almeida vs. Garbrandt” Fight Pass headliner slot on Sunday against Bryan Caraway. It was the right opponent, but not necessarily the spot he anticipated.
“Initially, I’m not going to lie, I was pretty upset about it first,” Sterling said during a recent media lunch. “I called my managers and said ‘Dude, what is going on?’ I thought, for sure, I was main event material.”
The No. 4 ranked bantamweight admits that he wasn’t too happy that a pair of bantamweights that he’s ranked higher than ended up in the main event spot with Thomas Almeida at #7 and Cody Garbrandt unranked, but after he talked to the general manager of Fight Pass, he acquiesced and understood why he was fighting in that spot.
“After getting on the phone with (UFC Fight Pass general manager) Eric Winters I understood their vision,” Sterling explained. Unlike the main event fighters, or anybody else on the card for that matter, Sterling has been busy doing the media rounds and had a couple of YouTube shorts produced that spotlighted the rising talent. “I’m getting the same media attention that I would have gotten if I was on the main card. I get paid the same way to do a lot of media or no media. I’m just embracing it.”
The fight with Caraway is one that Sterling has been chasing for quite some time. And it’s not so that the Team Serra-Longo product could pick on the boyfriend of the current UFC women’s bantamweight champion, Miesha Tate. His reasons are because he believes that the pair match up very well.
“I think I have the tougher fight,” Sterling told Sherdog. “I’m fighting a veteran who has 20-plus wins and just about all of his wins have been finishes. People aren’t really paying attention to the things he’s doing. I’ve got the opponent who’s smarter (than the main event fighters) and we’re similar in our skillset so I just want to find out who is the better guy.”
The Funk Master realizes that there’s a lot of weight placed on this bout and plans to shine Sunday night. Should he win, he’d likely be right in the thick of a title shot against the winner of Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber’s UFC 199 clash. Or, he could find himself facing either the winner of Sunday’s main event or UFC 200’s showdown between T.J. Dillashaw and Raphael Assuncao. But, if it were up to him, he’d just bypass the winner of the UFC Fight Night main event and fight either the champion or the former champion.
“My win solidifies a top contender spot,” Sterling said. “I’m not looking at the winner of the main event as my next opponent, I’m looking at the Dillashaw-Assuncao winner or the winner of Cruz-Faber.”
Andreas Hale is the editorial content director of 2DopeBoyz.com, co-host of the boxing, MMA and pro wrestling podcast “The Corner” and a regular columnist for Sherdog.com. You can follow on Twitter for his random yet educated thoughts on combat sports, music, film and popular culture.