UFC 288: Aljamain Sterling Expects Just One More Fight at 135, Has Message for Critics

Newark, NJ — Following a successful title defense in New Jersey at UFC 288, where he claimed a split decision win over former double-champ Henry Cejudo, Aljamain Sterling admitted that the victory was the sweetest of his career.

“This one in New Jersey is definitely the sweetest, for multiple reasons,” Sterling (23-3) told media outlets including Cageside Press following the PPV event at the Prudential Center. “My first main event, taking on a legend, someone so accomplished like Henry Cejudo, is not an easy task, man. Yeah we both do Youtube channels and we analyze and breakdown fights, but the dude is freaking smart.”

Sterling highlighted the tactical back-and-forth that played out in the fight, with each fighter adjusting to his opponent, then being forced to readjust in turn.

“I don’t think a lot of people can even appreciate what was going on in the middle of that octagon. Both of us making adjustments to each other’s adjustments. It was a high-level physical chess match, and thankfully I think I came out just a little bit better, and maybe that means my Youtube channel’s a little bit better.”

Aljo was confident that he had won the fight 3-2, but admitted that “at the same time, you just never know. People give ring generalship to the guy who’s just walking forward, making a mean face. The other guy is circling around you, dancing around you, making you look silly, you’re missing, and they give it to the other guy because he came forward.”

That shouldn’t score points, Sterling suggested. “Scoring [in] fights is literally doing damage. If I’m dancing around you, I’m using my footwork, and you can’t touch me, that’s me controlling the octagon. If you’re cutting me off, you’re pressuring me, I’m on the back side of the cage and you’re landing shots, you’re controlling the octagon, you’re controlling the action. but that’s not what happened tonight. Close fight, but I definitely thought I won and edged it out.”

Two judges did in fact agree with Sterling’s 3-2 assessment, scoring the fight 48-47 for the champ. The third had it reversed, 48-47 Cejudo, in what was admittedly a close fight.

Sterling knows there will be critics decrying another “controversial win,” and to those, he had a message. “S.M.D. bro. Get used to this face, because it’s not going anywhere guys. It’s not.”

The man next in line for the bantamweight title, Sean O’Malley, was brought into the cage following Sterling’s win at UFC 288, with a heated face-off unfolding.

“My thoughts on Sean O’Malley is, that motherf*cker is frail. Frail,” Sterling observed after the fact. “You think if I can take down a short, stocky guy like Henry who’s actually a gold medallist and has good takedown defense, what am I going to do to Sean O’Malley?”

“Let’s be honest here guys. Yeah he’s been promised a title shot; he opted not to take the title shot and gave Henry a chance to come back and chase history. I beat Henry. Now there’s no more running. You either want to swim with the big boys, or you don’t. If not, get the f*ck out of the pool and go up a weight class or some sh*t. Don’t keep sitting around here talking and barking and not saddling up and taking the opportunities that are given.”

“This is what the sport’s all about. You take the opportunities that are given to you,” Sterling continued. “I guarantee you, we step in there, I think I fold that man in half in one round. Same thing I did to [Cory] Sandhagen. Go out there, pressure forward, he’s going to use his footwork, I’m going to cut off the cage like I was just talking about. Eventually he’s going to be on his back foot, let him throw his stupid kick that I’m going to catch, I’m going to body lock him, and I’m going to fold him in half like a lawn chair, and that’s the fight. Signed, sealed and delivered.”

Sterling suggested Saturday that he expects to take just one more fight at bantamweight, and that would mean Sean O’Malley. “I plan on fighting O’Malley, then going up and chasing [featherweight champ Alexander] Volkanovski. I’m taking Henry’s blueprint. I just need to get one more, then I think that’s it for 135.”

“It just depends on how the fight goes. If I lose, knock on wood, then I stick around, Merab [Dvalishvili] gets his shot at 135 for the belt, and I help him and it is what it is.”

Watch the full UFC 288 post-fight press conference with bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling above.