Welcome to the ‘Aljo’ Show: Re-Signed and Ready

Fightland Blog

By Peter Carroll

Photo by Mike Stobe/Zuffa LLC

Surging bantamweight prospect Aljamain Sterling is finally getting a big promotional push from UFC ahead of his Fight Pass prelim main event against Bryan Caraway this weekend at the Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas.

Eric Winter, Senior Vice President & General Manager of UFC Fight Pass, has been driving the promotion’s streaming service since the beginning of 2016, which is evident from fighters of the caliber of Anderson Silva headlining Fight Pass cards over the last few months.

This week Sterling has appeared to have his schedule more full than that of Sunday night’s main event pairing, Thomas Almeida and Cody Garbrandt. In the last 24 hours, social media posts have shown ‘The Funk Master’ sitting down in front of a table full of media members, recording an interview for Fight Pass and a sit down with John Anik was also released on the UFC’s network.

The Ray Longo charge has been very vocal about his belief that he could go on to be one “a superstar” under the UFC banner. However, the promotion was reluctant to get behind him due to his desire to test the free agency market when his contract ran out.

Now that he has re-signed with the world’s flagship promotion, this being his first fight since choosing UFC over their various competitors, the difference in coverage he is receiving is rather blatant. That being said, it didn’t make much sense for UFC to promote an obviously outstanding talent if they were unsure if his future would unfold under its banner.

Just back in December, Sterling was in an entirely different situation as he fought out the last fight on his contract midway through the preliminary portion of a Fight Night card. His second round guillotine finish of Johnny Eduardo underlined his status as one of the most prosperous upcoming fighters in the division, but he was far from happy with his placement on the card that night.

Free Agency

In an appearance on The MMA Hour following his win over Eduardo, Sterling outlined why he believed that his placement on a card was a purposeful move from the UFC to stop his star for shining through to a bigger audience. As two of the most highly ranked fighters on the card he probably had a point.

“I kind of said, you know what, we’re going to bury this guy on the prelims, whether or not that was a play on their part to try to keep spectators from seeing me? I don’t know,” said Sterling.

“I don't look too much into it. But you have a potential superstar on your hands, in my opinion. And I’m going to think the best about myself no matter what because that’s how anybody should be in their life.”

Sterling publicly outlined his intent to test the market and negotiate contracts with all of the promotions competing with UFC–Bellator, WSOF, One FC–but in another appearance on The MMA Hour a few months later, ‘The Funk Master’ revealed that he would be signing on the dotted line for Zuffa again.

Since his re-signing, Sterling has shown that he has held no grudges with the promotion. Through his interviews in the lead up to his showdown with bantamweight veteran Caraway, his upcoming bout has gained more coverage than any other fight on the card.

Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC

Rising to the Occasion

Given the platform by UFC for the Caraway bout, Sterling seems very comfortable with his upscale in media obligations. Half a dozen headlines came out of his meeting with the press yesterday. The 26-year-old’s selling ability seems to strong based on his dressing down of Caraway, who he thinks shies away from “tough fights”.

“He just doesn't like to take tough fights, and he’s openly gone on record and said it,” Sterling told Bloody Elbow. “It’s like he doesn’t want to take fights with guys who don’t make sense for his career, which I understand, but ultimately it comes down to him not wanting to take tough fights. I fought Mizugaki, as an unranked opponent, Mizugaki stepped up and fought me, he didn't have to take that fight, that fight did nothing for his career.”

Although he may not be talking about it, Sterling certainly realizes that Caraway is the toughest test of his young career. The Ray Longo fighter has certainly looked more impressive than his counterpart for Sunday night of late, but Xtreme Couture stalwart has brought a halt to a lot of prospects trajectory in the past.

Sterling stands to gain more from a win over Caraway than any other bout his has contested in his unbeaten career thus far. Despite his last bout Eduardo announcing him in the free agent window, should he take a victory on Sunday night UFC will know they have another potential contender on their hands who can appeal to the wider UFC fan base.


Check out these related stories:

By Signing Overeem and Sterling, UFC Makes Big Play in Ongoing Free Agency Narrative

Young Hearts Run Free: The Gift of Youth in the UFC