Following his title crowning last March, which came via disqualification after Petr Yan threw an illegal knee, Sterling spent over a year on the sidelines, a period in which he consistently experienced criticism from those who doubted his credentials and sought to delegitimize his reign.
At UFC 273 last month, “Funk Master” returned with a chip on his shoulder and a point to prove. After five rounds inside Jacksonville’s VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, the champ had proved a whole host of fans, fighters, and pundits wrong.
After falling on the right side of a split decision, Sterling left the Octagon with the bantamweight title in tow and a much more convincing victory over Yan on his record.
While some, most notably former UFC middleweight champion Robert Whittaker, have since changed their opinion on Sterling and praised his victory, others, including UFC President Dana White and former referee John McCarthy, questioned the result.
Now, one of Sterling’s most notable teammates has criticized those who still don’t give the champ the praise that he is due.
Iaquinta: People Still Aren’t Giving Sterling Enough Credit
During a recent appearance on The Schmozone podcast, Iaquinta, who was present in Sterling’s corner at the April pay-per-view, addressed the reaction to his training partner’s second triumph over Yan.
According to “Raging” Al, Sterling’s detractors are “grasping at straws” with their post-UFC 273 criticisms and takes.
“The guy freakin’ did it, you know what I mean? You gotta be a complex person to get to the level that Aljo is at. But a lot of people, I don’t think, are still giving him the credit, even Dana going out and saying that—whatever he said after the fight,” said Iaquinta.
“It’s like, dude, how could you ever score the fight differently? A lot of people said the first round, this and that, there’s pictures of him in the second round, mounted freakin’ body lock, triangle… There’s no picture of Aljo ever like that in the whole fight.
“If you’re gonna give the first round 10-9, the second round’s gotta be 10-8? That 10-8, there’s no way Petr Yan, in the fourth round—people are just grasping at straws. They can’t just admit that they were wrong the whole time,” added Iaquinta. “Very few people believed in Aljo the way that Aljo believed in him, the way that us in the gym saw and knew what he was capable of.”
While it’s true that many still doubt Sterling as a top UFC champion, the New York native didn’t let that affect him prior to the rematch, so it’s unlikely to hinder his stride moving forward.
Having proved himself right against “No Mercy,” the next step for Sterling will be a second defense of his title. While an opponent is yet to be confirmed, it seems that TJ Dillashaw and the returning Henry Cejudo are leading the charge.
Either way, one thing for certain is that Sterling will have Iaquinta and their fellow Serra-Longo teammates firmly behind his reign.
Do you agree with Al Iaquinta? Does Aljamain Sterling still not get the credit that he deserves?