A Man of Many Targets

By Jason Burgos Aug 17, 2018

Aljamain Sterling will face Cody Stamann at UFC 228 on Sept. 8 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. While the fight pits two Top-10 bantamweights against each other and has garnered considerable interest from fans, Sterling has shown himself to be less than pleased with the scenario.

Sterling took to Twitter in recent months to proclaim his desire for a bout with Dominick Cruz -- a competitor he has admired for years.

“He’s been a guy I looked up to for a long time,” Sterling told Sherdog.com. “I mimic a lot of my fight style from him.”

As a fighter who has been ranked as high as No. 4 and currently sits eighth in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s bantamweight rankings, Sterling feels he has earned the right to ask for a career-defining fight. In his mind, the pairing with Cruz made sense on a number of fronts. Both were available at the time; Cruz is a highly ranked former champion; and Sterling wanted to test himself against a fighter many view as the gold standard at 135 pounds. Plus, he believes it to be a fight he can win.

“I think he’s on the downward side of his career [and] time is catching up to him,” Sterling said. “I think I am one of those new-breed fighters that can take him out.”

In a recent interview on “The MMA Hour,” Cruz intimated that the broken arm he suffered in November -- he was training for a scheduled bout with Jimmie Rivera -- has never fully healed, turning a three-month recovery into one lasting nearly eight months. That made him unavailable during the time when Sterling was angling for a fight. When asked if he was ever informed about Cruz’s status through UFC back channels, the Serra-Longo Fight Team product offered a short-and-sweet response: “No, no one said that.”

Sterling claims he is not frustrated about not getting Cruz in the cage, fully aware that fighters do not always get the opponents for which they ask. He also would have understood if Cruz had turned down the fight. “I know it was a lose-lose situation for him,” Sterling said. “You lose to me, you lose your spot.” The 29-year-old’s discontent can be traced to the fact that he was not afforded an opportunity to face any of the fighters he suggested to the UFC via text message. “I gave the matchmakers a list of names to fight,” Sterling said. “Cruz was on the top of the list … Jimmie Rivera, John Dodson. I think I asked for Eddie Wineland, but I’m not really sure.”

Although Sterling respects Cruz immensely, he concedes to being annoyed with “The Dominator” for trying to get his name in the running for a title shot at reigning bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw. Cruz defeated Dillashaw in a title fight in January 2016 but has not competed in nearly two years.

“Dude, who do you think you’re fooling? You beat T.J. in a split decision,” Sterling said. “People are saying he’s the best bantamweight of all-time. Yeah, he was the best bantamweight of that era. You have guys who earned their shots, staying relevant [and] putting guys away. You’ve got Marlon Moraes. You’ve got Raphael Assuncao. Those are the guys who should be getting the shot.”

While Sterling stopped short of saying recent matchmaking decisions have soured his opinion of the UFC, he concedes it has made him wonder what the organization wants from its fighters.

“It’s starting to become more about the shenanigans than anything else,” he said. “What should I do, dye my hair like [Tekashi] 6ix9ine? Tattoo my face and just talk all kinds of crazy hood s---? I don’t want to have to do stuff like that. It’s not going to be UFC anymore; it’s going to be called UFE: Ultimate Fighting Entertainment.”

Ultimately, Stamann was the only opponent offered to Sterling. Having entered the Octagon four times in 2017 and with two fights under his belt this year, he chose to stay active and collect a paycheck rather than continue to wait for the fights he wanted. Life goals away from the sport played a major role in his decision.

“Finances definitely played a big factor,” Sterling said. “I’m trying to buy a house. It’s crazy to know I’ve had 10 fights in the UFC and I’m not even a homeowner yet.”

Stamann, now 17-1, drew Sterling into a Twitter batter over his decision to call out Cruz. Much to Sterling’s chagrin, the back and forth on social media likely played a part in UFC matchmakers pitting the two against each other. Stamann was not the first fighter to target the former Cage Fury Fighting Championships titleholder.

“All these guys are calling me out,” said Sterling, pointing to Rob Font and Pedro Munhoz as examples. “I guess [they] must have the hots for me. I’m looking forward to shutting these guys up one by one.”

Sterling plans to keep it simple against Stamann, who enters the cage on a 10-fight winning streak. “I know Cody Stamann is a tough dude,” he said, “but I am looking to give another one-sided beatdown.” As for other bantamweights on the roster who wish to face him, Sterling welcomes their challenge: “Line them up. I’m going to knock them down.”

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