In the world of mixed martial arts (MMA), Aljamain Sterling’s title reign as bantamweight champion continues to polarize viewers. Over the past three years, no other fighter has been able to convincingly sway both supporters and skeptics with such consistency.
Sterling’s style is far from pretty, yet remarkably effective. His resume, while bearing its share of disclaimers, is among the most impressive the bantamweight division has seen in its 13-year history. Even fighting in front of a hometown crowd, Sterling remains a divisive figure; some viewing him as underappreciated, while others dismiss him entirely.
Despite this, his split-decision victory over Henry Cejudo at UFC 288 has cemented him as the owner of three significant divisional records, the most wins, longest win streak, and most consecutive title defenses. However, the criticism lobbed at Sterling remains, suggesting that the scrutiny over his reign is unlikely to subside anytime soon. Sterling, himself, has set his sights on a fight with Sean O’Malley, stating his belief that he will finish the younger fighter in the first round.
Belal Muhammad also emerged from UFC 288 with a well-earned victory, defeating Gilbert Burns on short notice and while still observing Ramadan, a month-long Muslim fast which entails not eating or drinking between dawn and sunset. For Muhammad, the fight was a risk; a loss could have set the fighter back years in his title aspirations. Muhammad’s ten straight fights without loss speak to his impressive career, yet despite this, he has been viewed with skepticism by some.
A victory over Burns has secured Muhammed a spot in the next title race against the winner of the Leon Edwards vs. Colby Covington fight. It’s unlikely that fight will take place until late 2023 at the earliest, giving Muhammad plenty of time to face the possibility of having to rematch or face interim matchups.
Yan Xiaonan, with her one-shot knockout in the women’s strawweight division, delivered the most explosive highlight of the night, making herself a clear contender should the UFC decide to return to China. With strawweight in its current state of not having a clear number one contender, the potential matchup between Xiaonan and Weili Zhang could be precisely what the UFC needs to excite fans. Meanwhile, the Kron Gracie experiment seems to be coming to an end.