Aljamain Sterling keeps beating the bad matchup

Aljamain Sterling has another chance to prove his doubters wrong this weekend, at UFC 288 against Henry Cejudo.

By: Zane Simon | 4 weeks ago
Aljamain Sterling keeps beating the bad matchup
Aljamain Sterling is still the champ. IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

When Aljamain Sterling ‘beat’ Petr Yan via DQ stoppage to capture the bantamweight title, he painted an obvious target on his back. Here was a UFC belt holder, a man with gold in his hands, who was clearly not the best fighter in his division. The mantle of UFC champion was there for the taking for any challenger who could work his way into a fight with Aljo.

Of course Yan, being the man who so ingloriously gave his title away, got first crack at Aljamain Sterling. An instant rematch to right the wrong that Yan himself had perpetrated when he threw that knee to the head of a downed opponent. Then a funny thing happened, Sterling went out and beat him again.

BEEF WARS: Henry Cejudo vs. Aljamain Sterling | UFC 288

No DQ this time. Fans could argue the score and the judging criteria and whatever else they might want to until they were blue in the face, but Sterling fought a hard fight and walked away with his hand raised. It’s been something that’s happened a lot to the longtime Serra-Longo talent.

The plan to beat Aljamain Sterling seems simple

Known for his backfoot kicking game, reluctance in the pocket, and dynamic backtake and grappling games, the recipe to beat Sterling has seemed pretty obvious. Keep the pressure high, stuff the takedowns. The recipe is so ubiquitous, in fact, that—outside of his last two bouts—stat junkies would have to go all the way back to his 2017 victory over Renan Barao to find a fight where Sterling spent more than 5 minutes in control positions.

Sure, there’s an insta-KO loss to Marlon Moraes in there, and an insta sub over Cory Sandhagen, but there are also a hell of a lot of rounds where very good wrestlers tried to walk Sterling down and stuff his takedowns, and where the ‘Funk Master’ picked up the win anyway.

Henry Cejudo is a truly special talent

Which, of course, leads to Henry Cejudo and UFC 288. The best of all wrestlers that Sterling will have faced (and also the smallest). It’s hard not to think that ‘Triple C’ will go out, pressure Sterling hard, look to shut out his takedowns, and look to land big shots as the champion allows himself to be backed to the fence. The question is, can he do it better than all the rest?

Working against Henry Cejudo in this equation is the fact that he’s coming off a multi-year layoff. He’s assured everyone that he spent the time refining his game, but until we see it, we can’t really know. He’s also on the wrong side of the 35-year-old dividing line. Fighters 35-and-over are 2-28 in title fights between 135-170 lbs. The lighter weight classes are not kind to aging vets.

It also has to be said, if it comes to having the right training partners to prepare for a game like Cejudo’s, Sterling has the best. Merab Dvalishvili is the picture of high-output, high-octane wrestling in the bantamweight division. Aljo sees him in the cage, every single day.

So who’s gonna win? Check out the MMA Vivisection and find out.

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About the author
Zane Simon
Zane Simon

Zane Simon is a senior editor, writer, and podcaster for Bloody Elbow. He has worked with the website since 2013, taking on a wide variety of roles. A lifelong combat sports fan, Zane has trained off & on in both boxing and Muay Thai. He currently hosts the long-running MMA Vivisection podcast, which he took over from Nate Wilcox & Dallas Winston in 2015, as well as the 6th Round podcast, started in 2014. Zane is also responsible for developing and maintaining the ‘List of current UFC fighters’ on Bloody Elbow, a resource he originally developed for Wikipedia in 2010.

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