Aljamain Sterling is a name we’re all familiar with in the MMA world. The reigning UFC bantamweight champion is a popular, yet polarising, figure in the community. Today, I’m going to look deep into what has made the champ the character he is today.
This is my two cents on it all – this is Jake’s Takes!
Our story begins with a promising 135lb prospect from Uniondale, New York. In only his fifth pro fight, the young Sterling took hold of the CFFC bantamweight title. He went on to successfully defend the title a further three times, all by rear-naked-choke.
At 8-0, the UFC noticed Sterling’s talents and booked him into a short-notice bout at UFC 170. After an opponent switch, Sterling would debut on the big stage against newcomer Cody Gibson. The promotion decided to keep the New Yorker on after a unanimous decision win, booking him for another fight a few months later. This time, Sterling would stop Hugo Viana by TKO.
Sterling was pitted with veteran Takeya Mizugaki, which was seen as a decent step-up in competition. Proving his worth, he submitted Mizugaki in third round of their 2015 bout. He followed this up with another submission win over prospect Johnny Eduardo. This showed many that Sterling was becoming a force to be reckoned with at 135lbs.
Sat at #4 in the bantamweight rankings, talks of a title opportunity for Sterling were louder than ever in 2016. At this point, he wasn’t necessarily a fan favourite, though.
Looking to solidfy his case for a crack at the belt, Sterling fought #8 ranked Bryan Caraway. Despite being dominated in the first round, Caraway rebounded late in the fight against a fatigued Sterling. Ultimately going to a split decision, Sterling was handed his first ever defeat in pro competition.
Trying to put his loss behind him and get back on the title path, Sterling squared off with perennial contender Raphael Assouncao. Again, the fight went the full three rounds and came down to a split decision. The judges would give the nod to Assouncao, making it two straight losses for ‘Funkmaster‘.
Sterling finally rebounded with a decision win over Augusto Mendes. He followed it up with an important clash against former 135lb champ Renan Barao. New York’s Sterling would take another win on the cards against Barao. A short-notice fight with former WSOF titleholder Marlon Moraes was booked for late 2017. The rising Brazilian would brutally flatline Sterling with a knee inside of a round.
The loss to Moraes served as the nail in the coffin for fans who believed Sterling couldn’t contend for the title. However, the knockout actually signalled a change for the better for Sterling.
A four-fight win-streak over the course of two years put Sterling at the forefront of title discussions at 135lbs. With each win, the contender continued to plead his case for a title shot. After a decisive performance against the surging Pedro Munhoz, it looked as if Sterling was finally going to get his crack at the belt.
As most know, 2020 saw the bantamweight title picture fall into disarray. The retirement of champion Henry Cejudo saw the title become vacant. UFC president Dana White tapped rising Russian star Petr Yan as the next line for the belt, promising he would fight for the belt. Rumblings of a Yan vs Sterling bout had been circulating, and it was expected to be those two fighting for the title.
Instead, Sterling was paired up with another top contender in Cory Sandhagen. The promotion marketed the bout as a title eliminator, saying the winner would be in line to fight the new champion. Dispatching of Sandhagen in only 88 seconds, Sterling gained massive fan support as he protested Yan being given the title shot against Jose Aldo.
Yan prevailed in an instant classic against Aldo, seemingly ushering in a new era of bantamweight supremacy. Many doubts loomed over his legitimacy, however, as Sterling was seen by many as the uncrowned king. Tensions between the fighters grew, with the two ultimately facing off at UFC 259 in March 2021.
The first round saw Sterling push a high pace. His unorthodox striking was on display, seemingly causing problems for the champ. Unfortunately for Sterling, he would slow down significantly from thereon out. Yan came into his own as the fight progressed, showing his superior fight IQ along the way.
Late in the fourth round, Yan pulled Sterling to the ground, with the challenger being down on one knee. In a case of miscommunication or negligence, the champ threw and landed an illegal knee to Sterling’s temple. Referee Mark Smith called the fight off minutes later, declaring a disqualification victory for Sterling.
With the sequence of events that led to the result, almost all fan support for the new champion had disappeared. Nobody doubted that the knee was illegal or that it made contact with Sterling. That much was certain. It was the manner in which Sterling acted that drew the ire of fans. Members of the community accused ‘Funkmaster‘ of faking the severity of the knee, knowing he would get the win if he couldn’t continue. The nickname ‘Actormain Sterling’ has stuck on amongst those online.
In terms of those claims, it’s hard to dispute the arguments of Sterling’s naysayers. The dramatic eye-rolling and flopping back to the floor upon hearing the referee talk about the disqualification seems a little too coincidental to not inquire about.
“I thought it was gonna be a no-contest”, Sterling said on his YouTube channel. “I wasn’t trying to get a DQ for a win, or for the championship. I just thought I wasn’t ever gonna get a shot again […] I thought the DQ would’ve DQ’d him but it was a no-contest. I didn’t think the DQ would mean me getting the belt or winning.”
‘In this [the foul] moment, I’m thinking of a whole bunch of things”, he continues. “Dana’s not gonna give me another shot at the title. The fight is gonna be a no-contest. Dana’s gonna say that I was losing that fight, so ‘why should we use him again?’. For me, I’m never gonna get this opportunity again. I’m gonna have to win three or four more fights to get back to this position, to ever challenge for a world title again.”
Another source of controversy for Sterling has been his mixed responses to carrying his title. Much to his own misfortune, the champ has given contradicting responses to the question of how he conducts himself as the new titleholder.
In an interview with The Schmo, he said, “I don’t have it in my bones to walk around with the belt […] Yeah, I won on a technicality because Petr Yan decided to disqualify himself, like an idiot. I couldn’t rightfully walk around with the belt. I couldn’t parade around being like, ‘look at me, I’m the champ’.”
Yet, directly after the fight, Sterling and his team posted celebratory pictures with the belt on full display over the champ’s shoulder. It’s the inconsistencies in responses that have played a big part in turning fans against Sterling.
A mountain of excuses, such as a sick stomach, slippery Octagon and a recurring neck injury, has been built by Sterling in the time after the fight. Many see this as a way of him blaming his fatiguing in the later rounds. The neck injury, however, was confirmed by medical reports. Sterling was not cleared to rematch Yan in October 2021 due to that injury.
Campaigning for fights with former champions like Henry Cejudo and TJ Dillashaw have also faced extreme backlash from fans.
In recent months, Sterling has gone full heel on the MMA community. He has embraced a much more hostile approach, claiming he is the true champion and fans simply must accept it. In a way, it’s easy to sympathise with him. He got a lot of unnecessary hate throughout this saga. But on the other hand, there is a lot of evidence that points towards him milking the injury for a win.
Now, Sterling is booked fight Yan in only two months time. In the time that the champ has been sidelined, Yan has claimed the interim title, making their rematch a unification fight.
This fight really will be make or break for Sterling. If he cannot get the better of Yan, almost the entirety of his legacy will be looked on unfavourably. Should he get the better of Yan, however, his fanbase will be revived as he sits atop the 135lb division, truly undisputed.
Everything is on the line for ‘Funkmaster‘ at UFC 273 on April 9.
Fight To Watch | Muhammad Mokaev vs Charles Johnson
Fights are being booked fast and furiously for July 23rd as the UFC’s anticipated return to London approaches. With fireworks expected throughout the whole event, MMAPlay365 and VMTV have scoured through the card and selected Muhammad Mokaev vs Charles Johnson as our ‘Fight To Watch’ on the night.
Muhammad Mokaev returns to the octagon following a successful debut back at UFC London in March against Cody Durden. ‘The Punisher’ made light work of his American counter-part, submitting him in the first round via guillotine choke with very little problems. His upcoming opponent, Charles Johnson, signs with the UFC after an impressive four-fight winning streak on LFA, which saw him capture and defend flyweight gold.
His ability to mix it up on the feet and in grappling scenarios make this a much more dangerous bout for Mokaev stylistically, but it’s still nothing the 21 year old won’t be able to handle in the eyes of MMAPlay365 Founder, Adam Newsome:
“At this stage of Muhammad Mokaev’s UFC career every fight is going to be a test. And just because you haven’t heard of Charles Johnson doesn’t mean he isn’t a good fighter. Johnson was the Flyweight Champion in LFA. If you aren’t familiar with LFA it’s basically the American equivalent of Cage Warriors. You are battle tested in LFA and if you become a Champion the chances are the UFC are going to sign you.
So this is a very interesting match-up but still right now I don’t think that Mokaev gets tested enough to the point he loses. This is going to be another fight I see him doing extremely well in and I don’t see Mokaev losing a fight until he hits the top 20 of the division. But even when that time comes, he is going to have improved and developed so much that he could run through that pool of fighters at that time. If a fighter is going to beat Mokaev outside the best fighters in the division then now is the time to do it whilst he’s still developing. But even though he’s still developing he’s still a problem. I’m not sure Mokaev finds another finish here so I am predicting a dominant three round decision victory for Muhammad Mokaev.”
Cauley Quilty, Editor for VMTV, had this to say on the fight: “Muhammad Mokaev is always a treat to watch in action and his UFC debut back in March was nothing short of spectacular! He came to fight and did exactly that getting the first round finish and I see him doing the same thing when he steps back out there against Charles Johnson. His extensive amateur career and impressive run of professional performances make it almost impossible to not side with Mokaev in this bout, especially with the way he defeated Durden on his debut.
However, Charles Johnson isn’t an opponent anyone should underestimate as his resume and recent performances speak for themselves! His fight vs Carlos ‘Mota’ Tizil was a barnburner and with 8 of his 11 wins coming by way of finish you know he can get the job done when needed. Both fighters are highly touted and respected so expect the winner of this to receive a bump up in competition on their next outing.”
Who do you think leaves the ‘Fight To Watch’ with their hand raised? Be sure to let us know your predictions below!
Sumo | Summer Tournament wide open after 10 days
The Sumo Summer Tournament has a surprise joint-leader after 10 days, but many Rikishi are in with a shout of glory with only 5 days to go.
So far, only two have managed to achieve a guaranteed winning record, with M15 ranked Ichiyamamoto and M4 Takanosho posting 8-2 records 10 days in to the basho. It remains to be seen if he can keep up his championship challenge, but Ichiyamamoto is bringing back memories of the January 2020 basho when the M17 ranked Tokushoryu took home the title in a huge surprise. Whatever happens, Ichiyamamoto should see himself catapulted up the rankings for the next tournament if he can keep up this form. It is a welcome return to form for Takanosho who has previously been a Sekiwake.
Despite his patchy form, Terunofuji has scrapped himself to a 7-3 record, which puts him 1 behind the leaders in a large chasing pack. On day 10 he managed to get by a spirited Hoshoryu who is improving all the time. The Mongolian giant will be hopeful of taking home his first championship of the year. Others in the pack on 7-3 are Kiribayama, Ura, Sadanoumi and Aoiyama. With NINE more wrestlers on 6-4, only two behind the leaders and with an outside shot, there will be an amazing 16 Rikishi who may be dreaming of lifting the Emperor’s Cup come Sunday 22nd May. The chances of there being a playoff for the win for the second tournament running are looking pretty high.
Down at the other end of the table, it has been another tournament to forget for March’s playoff runner-up, Takayasu, who has posted a losing record of 2-8 so far. After doing so well to get himself back to M1 rank, he will find himself going down the rankings ahead of the July tournament. Ozeki Shodai has continued his poor form and one more defeat will once again see him staring down the possibility of losing his rank come July. March winner Wakatakakage, alongside fellow Sanyaku ranked competitors Abi, Takakeisho and Mitakeumi, are all fighting for winning records having gone 5-5 so far.
Keep an eye out for the next update after Saturday’s day 14 when I will be recapping the standings and looking ahead to what promises to be a very exciting final-day’s action.
Remember to check out the VMTV Sumo introduction and guide here if you need a refresher of the rules and some of the words used in these articles.
You can find the full rankings and results of the tournament so far at the Japan Sumo Association’s page here.
UFC London | Aspinall vs Blaydes Staff Predictions
The UFC will take centre stage once again in London as they return to UK shores for a second time this year on July 23rd. Following the immense success of the previous show in March, the O2 Arena will again play host to another stacked night of fights.
Headlining the card is surging heavyweight contender Tom Aspinall who will be looking to cement his name amongst the top ranked in the division with a win over #4 ranked Curtis Blaydes. It’s do or die for Darren Till when he faces Jack Hermansson in the co-main event as he aims to get his first win since 2019.
Leading up to the event, VMTV have teamed up with MMAPlay365 and our writing staff will be giving their predictions for each fight on the card as there announced. You can view details on the partnership between VMTV and MMAPlay365 here.
Tom Aspinall vs Curtis Blaydes
- Cauley – Curtis Blaydes via KO/TKO, R4
- Matt – Tom Aspinall via decision
- Jamie -Tom Aspinall via KO/TKO, R3
- Jake – Tom Aspinall via KO/TKO, R3
- Darragh – Curtis Blaydes via KO/TKO, R3
- Harry – Tom Aspinall via KO/TKO, R3
- Colin – Tom Aspinall via KO/TKO, R2
Darren Till vs Jack Hermansson
- Cauley – Jack Hermansson via decision
- Matt – Darren Till via KO/TKO, R2
- Jamie – Darren Till via decision
- Jake – Darren Till via decision
- Darragh – Jack Hermansson via submission, R3
- Harry – Jack Hermansson via decision
- Colin – Darren Till via decision
Nikita Krylov vs Alexander Gustafsson
- Cauley – Nikita Krylov via decision
- Matt – Nikita Krylov via KO/TKO, R1
- Jamie – Alexander Gustafsson via decision
- Jake – Nikita Krylov via submission, R1
- Darragh – Nikita Krylov via decision
- Harry – Alexander Gustafsson via decision
- Colin – Nikita Krylov via decision
Paul Craig vs Volkan Oezdemir
- Cauley – Paul Craig via submission, R1
- Matt – Paul Craig via submission, R2
- Jamie – Paul Craig via submission, R2
- Jake – Paul Craig via submission, R2
- Darragh – Paul Craig via submission, R1
- Harry – Paul Craig via submission, R2
- Colin – Paul Craig via submission, R2
Muhammed Mokaev vs Charles Johnson
- Cauley – Muhammed Mokaev via KO/TKO, R2
- Matt – Muhammed Mokaev via submission, R1
- Jamie – Muhammed Mokaev via submission, R2
- Jake – Muhammed Mokaev via decision
- Darragh – Muhammed Mokaev via KO/TKO, R1
- Harry – Muhammed Mokaev via decision
- Colin – Muhammed Mokaev via submission, R1
Molly McCann vs Hannah Goldy
- Cauley – Molly McCann via KO/TKO, R3
- Matt – Molly McCann via decision
- Jamie – Molly McCann via KO/TKO, R2
- Jake – Molly McCann via decision
- Darragh – Molly McCann via decision
- Harry – Molly McCann via decision
- Colin – Molly McCann via decision
Mandy Bohm vs Victoria Leonardo
- Cauley – Victoria Leonardo via KO/TKO, R2
- Matt – Mandy Bohm via decision
- Jamie – Mandy Bohm via decision
- Jake – Mandy Bohm via decision
- Darragh – Mandy Bohm via decision
- Harry – Mandy Bohm via decision
- Colin – Mandy Bohm via decision
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