Sterling is finally set to defend the 135-pound strap for the first time since winning it via disqualification last March. He was initially scheduled to face interim titleholder and arch-rival Yan in a unification bout at UFC 272.
Despite the bitter rivalry between the two elite 135lbers, which began with Sterling’s title crowning at UFC 259 and picked up when he withdrew from UFC 267 last October, the promotion was seemingly unwilling to have the two bantamweight titleholders main event the March PPV in the absence of Volkanovski’s 145-pound defense, something Yan believes Sterling is firmly at fault for.
During a recent episode of his podcast, #12-ranked contender O’Malley commented on that, suggesting the occupiers of his weight class’ gold simply aren’t big enough to headline a pay-per-view, something he believes is a problem given that bantamweight is one of the most stacked divisions in the UFC.
Sterling Tells O’Malley To “Fight Somebody, Bro”
In a fashion similar to what we’ve come to expect at 135 pounds, Sterling has now responded to “Sugar,” and he certainly didn’t mince his word.
During an appearance on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour, “Funk Master” told O’Malley that if he wants to keep talking, he needs to fight a “real” contender, something he pointed out didn’t end well for the 27-year-old at UFC 252 in 2020.
“O’Malley’s gonna do what O’Malley does, which is talk,” said Sterling. “He talks a big game, but we come to find out that he’s a lot of talk, a lot of bark, and no bite. The last time he tried to bite off more than he can chew, what happened? He did the broke-leg dance…
“So O’Malley, if you wanna keep talking like this, step up to the plate and fight somebody—I don’t want to say ‘good’—but fight somebody that’s a contender, a real contender so we can see how good he really is. Ricky Simon’s been calling him out, Merab’s [Dvalishvili] been calling him out, a lot of guys been calling him out—[Brian] Kelleher’s been calling him out. Fight somebody, bro. Fight somebody.”
Despite later admitting that O’Malley’s point wasn’t wholly wrong, Sterling claimed it’s on the UFC to create a card with him and Yan at the top worthy of the price tag, rather than relying on one bout to sell it to the fans. The bantamweight champ concluded by suggesting nobody would pay top dollar for just an O’Malley headliner.
“I do think O’Malley had a point in possibly saying that maybe we probably couldn’t headline a card by ourselves, but that’s not on us. That’s on the UFC to put together a fight card that’s worthy of customers to pay a $70 price tag to pay for,” added Sterling. “I think that’s pretty black and white. You can’t just rely on one fight to be the main fight for—I mean, I don’t know a lot of people who are gonna pay $70 just to watch one fight…
“I’m pretty sure if it was just Sean O’Malley and a bunch of other guys that are up-and-coming, not really any type of notoriety, people aren’t paying $75 to watch Sean O’Malley fight, either. So I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about in that regard. So if the UFC puts together a great card with top-10 fights and matchups that mean something, people are gonna pay. So it doesn’t really matter who’s headlining. The UFC is the UFC. If it’s a good fight card, people are gonna pay to tune in to watch it.”
While it may not be a main event, Sterling and Yan are still set to collide on the pay-per-view stage later this year and will look to settle their score for good.
For the New York native, the rematch represents the opportunity for him to legitimize his reign and cement his place on the throne. For the Russian, UFC 273 offers the chance to regain the undisputed title he firmly believes he never should have lost. The build-up is certainly set to be a heated one.
Do you agree with Aljamain Sterling’s response to Sean O’Malley’s comments?