Many people believe that Aljamain Sterling’s complete domination of Renan Barao at UFC 214 was the best performance of his career. For Sterling, though, he feels that the beatdown he gave Barao isn’t even close to his full potential.
“That performance against Barao was a good one, don’t get me wrong. But I definitely think, in terms of my arsenal and what I can still do, that was between a 6 or a 7 in my honest opinion.”
Like any fighter’s journey through the UFC, Sterling has encountered his ups and downs. Fortunately for Sterling, his lows would not derail his quest for the UFC bantamweight championship.
The ‘’Funk Master” entered the UFC as a highly touted prospect with natural comparisons to Jon Jones. Sterling’s unorthodox striking and excellent wrestling ability helped him secure four consecutive victories in the UFC and improve his professional record to an outstanding 12-0. By the time Sterling entered the octagon with Bryan Caraway in May 2015, he was ranked as the UFC’s #4 bantamweight and was within reach of a title shot if he was to defeat Caraway.
The Caraway fight would prove to be the first of two minor setbacks in Sterling’s career. After dominating the first round, Sterling tired and eventually lost a split decision. Losing was unfamiliar territory for the “Funk Master”, and unfortunately he would encounter consecutive narrow split decision losses after losing to Raphael Assuncao in January 2017.
Sterling admits that he ‘dropped the ball’ with these two split decisions, but isn’t weighed down by the outcome.
“I don’t consider those as losses to be completely honest. That’s just my feeling. People can think whatever they want to think, but I don’t think I lost or was outclassed by either one of those guys. I feel that on any other day or any different judge, I possibly win those fights and I could potentially be 16-0 right now. It is what it is. I just want to get those fights out of the way and keep moving and keep progressing my life. Then I’m going to challenge for a world title in 2018.”
A defining moment
In contrast to Sterling’s fight with Bryan Caraway, it was the later stages of the Assuncao matchup when Sterling really kicked into gear and would show glimpses of what he is truly capable of. A glancing blow from Assuncao in the second round was the moment that would completely change Sterling’s mentality in the fight and for the rest of his career.
“I think in that third round of the Assuncao fight is when I realized… A switch just came on in my head. He caught me with that overhand right that hit me in the shoulder, and it looked like he knocked me down in the second round. After that, I was like dude… I thought you hit a lot harder than that. Because the media kind of hyped him up as this deadly striker. But, when he hit me, I was like is that all you got? I wish I had known that going into the fight because my attitude would have been completely different. I would have attacked him like I attacked him in that third round for all three rounds and left no doubt.”
Creating the funk
The experience of losing (and remember, these were the first times that Sterling had ever lost in competition), has helped grow Sterling into the unstoppable force that we saw against Renan Barao. Now, there’s no doubting that the Caraway and Assuncao fights will be monumental in shaping Sterling’s career.
Sterling expanded on the ‘light switch’ moment further:
“I think I made the fight (with Assuncao) more than it really was. Obviously, with the small gloves if you get touched it can be a short night for you. But, I think that with all the training that I’ve done, and being hit by the guys in the training room, I kind of realize that it’s the same thing. There’s nothing different. The only thing that is different is that there’s a big a** audience and we’re standing inside an octagon that says ‘UFC’ on it. What else is different? Once that resonated with me, the light switch went on, and it felt like ‘oh s**t’, I can do any of these things that I’ve done in the training room in here in front of the fans, in front of Dana White, for the coaches and just have fun with it. Once I’m having fun, man, it’s a different ball game.”
Sterling carried his spectacular third round against Assuncao and a renewed sense of self-belief into the Augusto Mendes fight, a fight in which he out-grappled the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt.
“The Augusto Mendes fight, I went out there, and it just clicked. I’m better than these guys, I really am. Once you start believing that, self-belief is one of the most powerful things. It’s one thing when two guys believe in themselves, obviously, someone has to lose. I think I have the tools in every single department. It’s my mental attitude. I come from a wrestling background; we don’t quit. We go hard. We run through a f***ingwall. It’s that mentality going into these last two fights that’s been the biggest difference maker for me.”
Way of the funk
Aljamain Sterling’s techniques are certainly very funky. Whether it’s the spinning kicks, the loaded upwards elbow (Aljamain named this ‘The Divider’) or his tremendous submission techniques (the arm-triangle from the bottom against Mizugaki comes to mind), Aljamain applies ‘the funk’ to all aspects of his game.
“The thing is, the funk, it’s the same way I wrestled; it’s the same way I strike on the feet. It’s unorthodox. There’s no real set rhythm to everything. Everything has a purpose. But more so, it’s just feel. It’s feeling things. You see something, and you respond to that. You know what the next possible attack could be, so it’s all about what you can do. You have to know all the possible outcomes, all the possible scenarios that he can do. There’s nothing that I haven’t seen before. I’ve sparred with some of the best guys in the world. I travel and train with some of the best guys in the world. I’ve seen all the different things that are out there. That’s what has come together. It’s a culmination of my life experiences. It’s helped me get comfortable with where I am today.”
The power of self-belief is undeniable. Aljamain has his eyes set on a title challenge in 2018, and it’s hard to see a reason why that won’t be the case now that he is starting to put it all together inside the octagon. If Sterling’s performance against Barao was truly ‘a 6 or 7’ (out of 10), then the top contenders in the division should be concerned.
For anyone who isn’t sure what to expect from Aljamain Sterling next time he steps into the octagon, he gave us a hint, "you’re going to see some ninja shit”.
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?