Aljamain Sterling wrapped up his first UFC contract in emphatic fashion, submitting Johnny Eduardo with a guillotine choke in the second round of their bantamweight clash in Las Vegas on Thursday night.
With the win, Sterling improved to 11-0 overall and 4-0 in the UFC, a record that figures to make him an attractive option for any number of promotions hoping to make a splashy free-agent signing. For now, it appears to be a foregone conclusion that Sterling will test the market.
“There are guys that have left before. It’s part of the business. I think we made him an offer; he didn’t like the offer. So the way that it works is you go out and you test the market. That’s how it works. It’s always been like that. This isn’t new,” UFC President Dana White said at the post-fight press conference. “We made him an offer. He’s not happy with the offer, so he goes out and shops and brings the offer back to us. We either have the right to match or not.”
Until that process plays out, it’s unclear what Sterling’s future will be. Still, the Serra-Longo Fight Team product sounded like a man who was intent on fulfilling his UFC championship dreams, a vision that could have more clarity after T.J. Dillashaw defends the 135-pound strap against Dominick Cruz at UFC Fight Night in Boston on Jan. 17.
“I got my eye on that title fight in January,” Sterling said. “I know [Urijah] Faber is more than likely the next logical guy in line for the title shot. It just makes sense, him having such a big rivalry with [Dominick] Cruz and [T.J.] Dillashaw. That’s the big money fight right there. I think I’m the next guy in line.”
If that isn’t in the cards, Sterling has a couple of other ideas for his next potential bout -- should he remain in the UFC.
“You got Raphael Assuncao on a seven-fight winning streak right now. He’s coming back from an injury, so maybe I go toe-to-toe with that guy next,” he said. “Or maybe Bryan Caraway will stop hiding under Miesha Tate’s tit and come fight me.”
While Sterling made it look relatively easy against Eduardo, a man who broke former title challenger Eddie Wineland’s jaw in his last outing, “The Funkmaster” made it clear that getting through fight night was indeed a struggle. In fact, Sterling implied that he was close to pulling out of the contest.
“I’m feeling a lot of emotions right now because I went through a lot of adversity just to get to this fight,” he said. “I told myself you can’t go out there and pull out of a fight after you’ve been bitching and complaining about not having a fight for so g-----n long. That was the last thing I was ever going to possibly do. I’m just glad I stuck through it. It’s just a blessing I was able to put on such a dominating performance over another top 10 guy.”
If Sterling does re-up with the Las Vegas-based promotion, he’ll likely be in the mix as one of the top contenders in the bantamweight division -- back-to-back finishes of Eduardo and Takeya Mizugaki have assured him of that.
However, White would not tip his hand as to whether the UFC would come back with a more lucrative offer following Sterling’s latest performance.
“I like the kid. I like the kid a lot,” he said. “We’ll see.”