Ahead of his Bantamweight title fight against Sean O’Malley, Aljamain Sterling appeared on The MMA Hour With Ariel Helwani. On the show, Sterling stated that this would probably be his last fight at Bantamweight. Helwani, unsurprisingly, was taken aback at this statement.
Sterling, who is arguably the best bantamweight in the UFC, won his title under controversial circumstances in 2021. Since then, he has defended his title 3 times and rightly earned his status. And now, he’s adamant about leaving the bantamweight division after UFC 292. As such, he had this to say to Helwani, “This is more likely my last fight at 135…There’s a 99% chance of my last fight… Well, that’s if I win for sure. I win this for sure, Ariel, I’m out of here. Come on. It’s Merab [Dvalishvili’s] time, man.”
Aljamain Sterling says there’s a “99.9 percent chance” this is his last fight at bantamweight 👀 #TheMMAHour
“It’s Merab [Dvalishvili’s] time. The second part of that is, I’m a little bit over cutting weight, this much weight.”
— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) August 14, 2023
Considering this will be his last bout at this weight, he’d want to go out with a bang. Interestingly, a loss to O’Malley might force him to a rematch.
The real reason why Aljamain Sterling is moving up to featherweight
The bantamweight champion declared he would move up to featherweight and sighted that it was Merab Dvalishvili’s time to take over. Dvalishvili, a teammate of Sterling, has been on a hot streak, winning each of his last 9 fights in the UFC after losing the first two in the promotion. The teammates also vowed never to fight each other, hence Sterling’s assertion to move up a weight and let Dvalishvili take charge of the division.
Additionally, ‘Funkmaster’ also alluded to extreme weight cuts being a factor in his decision to move up. He weighs at least 30-34 lbs more than his fighting weight on normal days and believes that fighting at a higher weight class may improve his conditioning and performance. This, coupled with his age, makes it a strategic decision to optimize his time in the UFC while taking as little damage as possible.
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‘Sugar’ knows he’s the underdog and also praises Sterling for his grappling skills. “Aljamain Sterling is the best bantamweight the UFC has ever known,” O’Malley told ESPN. “He’s in his prime. He’s 33, I think – that’s pretty much prime age. All the male UFC champions are in their 30s. He’s the best grappler in the division. I’m a striker. This is a striker vs. grappler matchup, so it’s exciting.
Many fans are aware of the ill effects of extreme weight cuts, and a decision to avoid this in the future sounds like the best for the champion. Sterling, known for his grappling is the clear favorite this weekend against O’Malley, who will rely on his striking ability and takedown defense to tip the scales in his favor.