UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling has received criticism for every fight of his title reign so far. His win against Petr Yan at UFC 259? Controversial because he won the championship via disqualification due to an illegal knee from Yan. His defense against Yan at UFC 273? Also controversial because some thought the split decision should have gone to ‘No Mercy,’ not Sterling.
And then there was his defense against T.J. Dillashaw, the ex-champion who came into their fight at UFC 280 this past October with a preexisting shoulder injury. The ‘Funk Master’ finished Dillashaw via second-round (T)KO, but his critics ran rampant with the narrative that he simply thumped an injured fighter.
Coach on Aljamain Sterling and previous criticism
Considering the criticism his student has received so far, coach Ray Longo sees the writing on the wall ahead of his next defense against Henry Cejudo. The former two-division UFC champion returns after a nearly three-year layoff, and Longo says that is going to get used as an excuse when Sterling hands him a loss.
“I think Aljo’s got the mindset where he’s just gonna go in and fight,” said Longo on MMA Junkie Radio. “The more I get to know him, the more I appreciate [him]. The way he thinks, the way he dealt with the adversity after the illegal knee and had to sit there for a year and just get absolutely tortured. But it’s always gonna be something. If Aljo wins this fight, [critics will say] Henry had a a three-year layoff. ‘He didn’t fight for three years’. That’s what you’re gonna hear. ‘He didn’t fight for three years. What do you think? He was rusty’.
“It doesn’t matter, you know what I mean? I think Aljo’s smart enough — he’s just gonna fight one fight at a time, take his money, and be very, very happy and grateful for everything he has,” continued Longo. “That’s the way I think. I don’t even know if there is a chip on his shoulder. He’s just very, very happy to be in the position he’s in and he’s gonna just enjoy himself. I don’t even think he’s putting pressure on himself, to be honest with you. Because there’s always gonna be something. It’s never clean.”
Coach preparing Aljamain Sterling for ‘tough fight’ with Cejudo
Ahead of this defense, the Serra-Longo Fight Team captain says he is preparing Sterling for the best version of Cejudo. The way he sees it, the Fight Ready representative continues to sharpen his skills despite his three-year layoff, so he is still a legitimate threat to Sterling.
“I think Henry’s a student of the game,” said Longo. “I don’t think he’s messing around, so I’m expecting the best Henry. However, a three-year layoff is a three-year layoff. If he did it right, it shouldn’t make a difference, but I hope it does. But he’s not a stupid guy. You watch him break down fights, I like listening to him talk, I think he’s intelligent.
“I think maybe he might be overlooking Aljo. He sees something he thinks he’s gonna exploit easily, and I think that might be his mistake. But besides that, Henry, he’s smart, a student of the game. He’s an Olympic champion. He’s got a great mindset, he’s a fantastic competitor. This is a really, really tough fight.”
Though Longo expects a ‘tough fight,’ his student sees it differently. For Sterling, he has most of the advantages, which is why he is sure he can get ‘Triple C’ out of there within two rounds.
“I think I can stop him in the second round,” said Sterling in an interview with Andrew Capucetti of InsideFighting. “That’s the plan right now with the way I’m training. I think he’s gonna be tough to get out of there in the first round. I think it’ll be a feeling out process, maybe trying to gas pedal him a little bit, get him on the back foot. If I can get him down, that’ll be ideal. Once I get the takedown secured I just pound him, and either he gives up his neck for the submission or I pound him out.”
When is Aljamain Sterling vs. Henry Cejudo?
UFC 288 goes down on Sat., May 6, at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Sterling vs. Cejudo serves as the headliner, while Belal Muhammad vs. Gilbert Burns is set as the co-headliner.
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