Aljamain Sterling, the reigning bantamweight champion, is faced with the knowledge that his days in the division are limited. Though he is slated to defend his title against Henry Cejudo at UFC 288, Sterling openly admits that he will inevitably make the move up to 145 pounds.
Sterling shares that this transition might occur sooner than he initially anticipated with close friend Merab Dvalishvili propelling contentions for the title and the strain of constantly cutting weight taking a toll on him. Sterling acknowledges that he only has so many fights left before the move-up.
He reveals that his forthcoming fight against Cejudo and the anticipated showdown against No. 1 contender Sean O’Malley might mark a cessation of his time in the bantamweight division. “Very likely that’s the path, but I’m just going to see how this fight goes, how the weight cut goes,” says Sterling. He also adds that depending on how things pan out, this might potentially be his last fight.
Sterling confesses that cutting weight to 135 pounds has been a difficult journey as he gets older, taking a serious toll on his body. Despite never missing weight, the 33-year old fighter admits that he cannot continue to punish his body when there’s a plethora of prospect fights waiting for him at featherweight. “Making 135 is not easy”, he says. “I’m just taking it day by day, fight by fight, and then we can make a decision — and I would love to see my guy Merab get a crack at the title.”
At present, Dvalishvili is riding a nine-fight win streak, including a one-sided victory over ex-UFC champion Petr Yan in March, and therefore considered the top threat in the bantamweight division. However, Sterling explicitly declares that they will not fight each other as the two have close and personal ties that go beyond just being training partners. Sterling intends to move up to 145 pounds, but he makes sure that Dvalishvili gets his opportunity to become champion once he’s gone.
Sterling only has one reservation about moving up to featherweight, and that is ensuring that Dvalishvili secures the assurance he needs from the UFC ahead of his next fight. He wants to make sure that his friend gets his shot at the title post his departure.