Aljamain Sterling Stakes His Claim to Face Marlon Moraes for Vacant UFC Bantamweight Title

Aljamain Sterling is doing everything possible to pounce on a potential title shot as the UFC will soon seek a new bantamweight champion

Aljamain Sterling
Image Credit: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Aljamain Sterling never wants anybody else’s downfall to lead to his success but he’d be doing himself a disservice if he didn’t pounce on the potential opportunity to fight for the now vacant UFC bantamweight title.

In this case, the 29-year old New York native isn’t exactly stepping on somebody downtrodden to raise himself up. Former bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw has been suspended for a year after adverse findings in a drug test surrounding his last fight and he voluntarily relinquished the 135-pound title as a result.

Obviously, Sterling doesn’t wish ill will towards Dillashaw or anybody else but it’s not like he suffered a gruesome injury that forced him to the sideline.

“I don’t know what to think about it. It definitely puts an asterisk on a lot of his past fights now,” Sterling said about Dillashaw on Wednesday night. “When you look back at some of those interviews with him and Cody Garbrandt, some of the ongoing feud between the two, Cody brings up that TJ came to the gym was showing everyone how to do certain — I don’t want to say steroids — but [performance enhancing drugs].

“I remember Cody specifically going ‘what are you talking about TJ, you’re the one that came to the gym and was showing everybody how it’s done’ and TJ never really denied it. So that was a red flag right away for me. I never forgot that. I’m never one to blame anyone until they’re guilty and sure enough, this came up, so I guess where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

Currently on vacation in Hawaii, Sterling says his phone started blowing up early Wednesday morning when news about Dillashaw started to spread like wildfire. His teammate Chris Weidman shot him a text message with a photo attached that finally grabbed his attention enough to crawl out of bed to look at it.

“I’m like holy s—t, is this happening right now?” Sterling revealed.

Rather than sit around and wait for something to happen, Sterling immediately starting thinking about the best way to position himself to eventually battle for that vacant bantamweight title.

Based purely on resume and ranking, Sterling definitely has a case after winning three fights in a row including convincing victories over Jimmie Rivera and Cody Stamman in back-to-back bouts. He’s gone 5-1 overall in his last six outings and he’s currently sitting at No. 3 in the rankings behind only Raphael Assuncao and Marlon Moraes, who seems like the most obvious candidate to get the shot at the vacant belt.

Still, Sterling knows that just having a good enough record doesn’t always guarantee you a title shot so he’s letting the UFC know right now that he wants the opportunity and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get it.

“When you look at the body of work inside or outside the Octagon, no other bantamweight puts in as much time as I do with the fans as I do. When it comes Marlon Moraes, he needs someone who is going to push the pace, someone who is actively going to make him fight and give the fans something to get excited about. That’s 100-percent me,” Sterling explained.

“These other guys are not going to say anything, they’re just going to be twiddling their thumbs and just show up on fight night. I’m going to be doing everything from now until fight night and show up on fight night. If Dana White needs a guy to step in there, I’m the guy 100-percent.”

As far as other potential contenders, Sterling knows that Pedro Munhoz will likely get consideration as will flyweight champion Henry Cejudo, who knocked out Dillashaw in January in just 32 seconds when they competed at 125 pounds.

“Cejudo was just supposed to settle the score with TJ at 135 [pounds] from what I was hearing. Now that’s not going to happen, he should go and focus on the guy that already beat him in Joseph Benavidez in a rematch at 125 and let us figure this out at 135,” Sterling said.  

“Pedro beat Cody [Garbrandt] but Cody got knocked out twice by TJ in the second round and then the first round so I don’t know how much that really warrants. And I beat Jimmie Rivera, who beat Pedro Munhoz.”

Ultimately, Sterling is just going to do everything possible to get that chance to fight for the title and he’s already back in training just hoping that his phone will ring soon.

“I think the next guy has gotta be me,” Sterling said. “That’s my opinion.”