Though Aljamain Sterling doesn’t know for sure who will challenge him for his UFC bantamweight belt, he has a good notion who deserves to do so.
Following retaining his title with a victory over T.J. Dillashaw, Sterling watched as Sean O’Malley, who had previously been ranked second in the category, shot to the top after a hard-fought split decision victory against Petr Yan.
Even though former champion Henry Cejudo, who came out of retirement and rejoined the active roster in April, was mentioned by UFC president Dana White as a possible new No. 1 contender at 135 pounds after UFC 280, White did not make that announcement.
If O’Malley had done what Sterling thought he should have done, he would have beaten the division’s top challenger and the defending champion, putting himself in line for a championship bout. After more than two years away, he believes the bantamweight category will be quite different for Cejudo to return to.
Sterling said to MMA Fighting, “O’Malley did deserve it – I can’t dispute that.” It made sense—even Dana [White] said you defeated the top contender—but then he walked it back.
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I’m not sure whether he expected the Yan-O’Malley fight to be that close, and I doubt he expected my battle to be as close. It’s likely he was expecting someone to stop him before realizing, “Holy s*** this man really has to fight for the championship.” Typically, things go like that. Usually, the performance is the deciding factor, but these two men nailed it. Both men busted a gut in the midst of the fight. And they received ‘Fight of the Night.’ So, I don’t understand why Dana’s declaration that the winner will face the next challenger (Cejudo) could have been disregarded.
Cejudo has been demanding the rematch with Sterling since after UFC 280 concluded. He’s also focused on O’Malley, recommending that the position of temporary leader be made vacant.
You may think that’s a strange request, since Sterling successfully defended his championship twice in 2022 and isn’t likely to lose much time in 2023.
Sterling confesses he isn’t very excited about the prospect of fighting Cejudo instead of O’Malley, but this has nothing to do with Sterling seeing Cejudo as a tougher opponent.
According to Sterling, “I’m really not enthused about the meeting” (with Henry Cejudo). Simply put, “He hasn’t competed because. If the fans were really invested, I believe the general sentiment would be to create this battle between Cejudo and McGregor; Cejudo, you are the person; McGregor, I’m calling you out; that’s the money fight; people want to watch that fight. I simply can’t believe that’s the whole story.
I don’t see any reason why O’Malley shouldn’t get the fight if he is the biggest name right now after the victory, the new No. 1 man. People will say things like “you want the easy struggle.” It doesn’t make sense to me that the battle was so simple. He has terrific footwork to complement his length and reach. He’s got some crack in him. The battle doesn’t seem simple to me.
In addition, Sterling is aware that a battle between O’Malley and Cejudo would generate attention from fans in a manner that Cejudo’s fights don’t, meaning that both combatants will earn more money at the conclusion of the event if they face off.
While Sterling is candid enough to admit that money does play a role in fighters’ choices, he acknowledges that at the moment, O’Malley is not only the true No. 1 contender, but also likely the greatest attraction in the bantamweight class.
“If I lose the belt and when I lose the belt — at some time I will lose the belt, you remain in this game long enough, someone will defeat you, it’s simply sure to happen, destined to happen,” Sterling said. Father Time has never been conquered. A time comes for everything. I understand what it’s like to come up short since it’s happened to me before. I can be hurt; I’m not a deity. It’s possible that I’m simply having a better night than usual, but right now it’s paying off in pay-per-view points.
Because if it’s intended to be Sean getting the fight and he does win, I lose the title and the pay-per-view points, I’d prefer to maximize my earnings while I still can. A sum of money like this may completely alter one’s circumstances.
This is the kind of material that might secure my financial future. Therefore, I will do what is best for my loved ones, and if that means fighting O’Malley, then I will battle O’Malley. If that’s the one the audience wants to see, then I know they’ll be watching and buying. Cejudo is not that kind of man, in my opinion. Honestly, I can’t. I’d love to join if that’s the case. If he isn’t, then Sean O’Malley is the man to fight if you want a big bout that will draw in a lot of viewers.
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Cejudo’s claim to another championship fight rests on his previous tenure as champion, during which he gave up the crown and announced his retirement in 2020.
Although Cejudo never lost the championship in the ring, Sterling questions his legacy in light of the achievements of other fighters who have kept busy and active in his absence.
“He won at 125, then he defeated T.J., knocked T.J. out, and he defended the title once,” Sterling added. He’ll be at 135,” she said. Contests to fill an empty position. We can rule out T.J. as a potential participant. A victory against Marlon Moraes is in his hands. OK. I give Marlon Moraes all the credit he deserves for being a murderer back then. Later, he takes pride in his ability to face Dominick Cruz on short notice. I’d have a lot more respect for it if you fought Dom throughout a complete training camp. That victory means a lot more.
Who wouldn’t take a risk against a man who’s 5-foot-4, maybe 5-foot-5, and earn title challenger pay and a chance to win the belt on such short notice? That’s why [Dominick Cruz] got off the couch. So, I see what you mean. After that, he goes into retirement. He’s sidelined for over three years, and your run is nothing like what you’re probably picturing. Almost three years after the fact, you still believe you can break ranks for the same purpose that brought you to this point? Sorry, I have no idea. I’m still not convinced. Without intending any disrespect against Cejudo, the facts remain the facts.
Sterling hopes that Cejudo will return in the middle of 2023 and challenge another top-ranked bantamweight to solidify his position as a championship challenger. But until then, he considers O’Malley to be the true frontrunner in the category.
We should really go for O’Malley if we’re going to adopt the merit system. It’s my opinion,” Sterling remarked.
I won’t be returning until the middle of next year at the earliest. That is exactly how I feel at this same moment. The belt was guarded by me. In April, I was involved in a fight. This battle took place in October, while I was actively training. I feel as though I have earned a break to see how the division pans out. I plan on training hard, but I also want to make sure I enjoy the time I have left before it’s too late.
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