Saturday, May 28, 2022

Aljamain Sterling: MMA & UFC Is A Popularity Contest

UFC Bantamweight Champion Aljamain Sterling has cited past matchups in the 135-pound title picture as evidence that the sport of MMA is a popularity contest.

The idea that rankings and results are often overlooked is not new in discussions about the UFC. If that statement requires evidence, the ongoing discussion about #9-ranked lightweight Conor McGregor, who is 1-3 since 2016, returning from injury and back-to-back losses in 2021 straight into a title shot tells the story.

The case of McGregor may be seen as an exception. After all, he is undoubtedly one of sport’s biggest superstars. However, Sterling believes nonsensical jumps and decisions are common practice in the promotion, and identified a recent example in his own weight class.

During a recent interview with MMA Junkie’s Nolan King, Sterling discussed those who continue to delegitimize his championship status. For “Funk Master,” his reign didn’t even begin with the UFC 259 disqualification of Petr Yan, it started when he choked Cory Sandhagen unconscious inside one round at UFC 250.

“I’ve been the champ the entire time. When I beat Cory Sandhagen, we were the two best guys in the division,” said Sterling. “It’s ironic how when Sandhagen and I fought, I was two, Sandhagen was four. I was coming off my second back-to-back win over a top-five guy in Pedro Munhoz, who just knocked out Cody Garbrandt. And that was in 2019. So my résumé speaks for itself. Then, to do that, and with Sandhagen just beating Raphael Assunção, we were the highest-profile guys with the best win streaks over the most credible opponents.

“And Yan beat Jimmie Rivera after I beat him, and then he beat an unretired Urijah Faber, who just came back, and that gave him the opportunity to fight for the vacant title against someone (José Aldo) who just lost a split decision to Marlon Moraes,” added Sterling.

Sterling: The UFC Is Entertainment First, Everything Else After

Sterling went on to assess how MMA is the only sport where the two consensus top contenders in terms of form and merit can be jumped over when it comes to championship opportunities.

“Just cause the UFC said this matchup (Aldo vs. Yan) was the one that gets to fight for the belt, that doesn’t even make any sense,” claimed Sterling. “There’s no other sport where the number one seed and the number two seed can beat everyone in their bracket, and somehow, someway, the number five and six guys can leapfrog those guys… That just doesn’t make any sense.

Petr Yan Beats Jose Aldo Via TKO to Win Bantamweight Title at UFC 251 |  Bleacher Report | Latest News, Videos and Highlights
Petr Yan, Image Credit: Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

“The fans were the ones calling me the uncrowned champion. I knew I was the uncrowned champ. So, to me, that was the title fight (Sterling vs. Sandhagen). I’ve been champ since back in 2020,” continued Sterling. “For me, no one can ever take that away from me and try to tell me that my championship wasn’t legitimate. Yan having the belt sure as hell wasn’t freaking legitimate.”

For Sterling, the explanation for that scenario, and others like it, is simple. The UFC is the equivalent to a “popularity contest,” with entertainment and making money at the forefront of the promotion’s goals.

“This is a very wacky sport that we’re in. It’s kind of a popularity contest. The UFC does a great job of running their business. They’re entertainment first, and everything else is after, you know, so they’re in the business of making money, with the most amount of money they can make and squeeze out of everybody. And I get it… I’m not upset about it… But the facts are the facts. We (Sandhagen and Sterling) should have been the guys fighting for the vacant title,” concluded Sterling.

While he missed out on winning the belt with his triumph over Sandhagen, “Funk Master” had the gold wrapped around his waist last March in controversial circumstances. He’s now set for his first defense at UFC 273 on April 9.

He’ll be looking to best Petr Yan definitively and secure the respect he believes he deserves as bantamweight king.

Do you agree with Aljamain Sterling’s take? Is entertainment the UFC’s number one goal?

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