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Aljamain Sterling knows his grappling-heavy style might not be for everyone, but don’t think for one second he’s planning on making adjustments now.
After all, Sterling (17-3 MMA, 9-3 UFC) knows that a UFC 238 win over Pedro Munhoz (18-3 MMA, 8-3 UFC) could very well earn “Funk Master” a shot at the UFC bantamweight title.
“I definitely pride myself on being a finisher, but when you can’t get the guys to the ground or the finish doesn’t come when you’ve got guys hurt – sometimes with these top-level guys, it’s not just as easy as 1-2-3, they’re done,” Sterling told MMA Junkie Radio. “The higher I get in the competition, the harder it’s going to be to put these guys away. But I’m constantly going out there to pitch shutouts and put away the competition in any which way I can.”
Sterling and Munhoz meet on the ESPN-broadcast prelims of next month’s UFC 238 event, which takes place June 8 at United Center in Chicago. The night’s main card airs on pay-per-view.
The matchup is expected to serve as a de facto No. 1 contender bout, even though UFC officials haven’t officially made any declaration about their intentions for the winner. But with both near the top in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie MMA bantamweight rankings, the scenario seems likely.
Despite the generally accepted stakes, the bout is on the prelims – though with the broadcast power of ESPN, the audience could be as large or larger than the amount of people that catch the main card.
Sterling believes his wrestling-heavy style may be a reason the promotion doesn’t have him in a more prominent slot.
“I don’t want to say I was bitter about it – I’m kind of used to it at this point,” Sterling said. “I don’t know if it’s like my style of wrestling that they don’t like, even though you’ve got a champ that’s done the same thing in Kamaru Usman. You’ve got Colby Covington that goes out and does the same, exact thing.
“I guess what they want to see is me get my face busted up and get all battered and bleeding – give the ‘just bleed’ fans what they want. I’m not really willing to oblige to that, so I’m going to keep doing my thing, stay pretty out there, stay smooth, stay hard to hit and just keep whooping ass.”
Sterling said his theory isn’t based on pure speculation, and insists an old manager told him a UFC matchmaker expressed those sentiments when considering a potential Sterling fight with Frank Saenz. The idea, Sterling was told, was to give him an opponent that would put him in “a dog fight.”
“I’m just not that type of fighter, and it’s going to take a special type of individual for me to fight that type of way when the chips are down, and I need to go down and bite down on my mouthpiece and just go,” Sterling said. “Until then, I’m just going to keep doing what I do: Too tough, too smooth, too quick, and I can’t be broken.”
Instead, Sterling said he’s going to stick to his traditional approach. That, he believes, will be enough to get him a fight with the winner of the UFC 238 main event, which Henry Cejudo and Marlon Moraes meet for the currently vacant UFC bantamweight title.
That’s when Sterling says he will claim gold.
“This is the semifinals right now,” Sterling said. “I busted my ass to get here. You’ve got the third and fourth-ranked guys in the division, who are matched up on the same side of the bracket. We both won our fights and battled our asses to get here, and it’s winner takes all – winner gets to get to the final tournament spot in the finals for gold.
“This is the one we’ve all been working so hard for. I’ve got a tough opponent in front of me, but one thing is for certain: I truly do believe that I’m the best bantamweight in this division, and I’m going to go out there and prove it on the night.
“I’m going to pitch a shutout against Pedro Munhoz. June 8. Tune in.”
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