Former UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling understands why charisma is just as big a part of finding success in the UFC as fighting. Still, he can’t fathom why the UFC would skip over other contenders to give Sean O’Malley a rematch with Chito Vera.
“Chito’s No. 6, dude, I don’t even…there’s a story line,” Sterling said on The MMA Hour. “We signed [to merge with] the WWE…why are we making this a WWE sport?”
Sterling would like an immediate rematch with O’Malley despite a second-round knockout loss to the current champ at UFC 292. If O’Malley decides to wait until 2024 to fight again, he believes his legacy as champ is strong enough to warrant an immediate rematch.
“As you said, champions turn around, they do it all the time,” he said. “So we’re gonna hold you to that Mr. Sean, you’re gonna turn around and do it like all the other champions, as well.”
If O’Malley jumps back in the cage before the end of the year, however, Sterling believes his longtime friend and teammate Merab Dvalishvili should get a title shot.
Sterling and O’Malley both said their UFC 292 meeting was the biggest business the promotion has done at bantamweight. But O’Malley immediately called for a rematch with rival Vera, who three years ago broke his unbeaten streak, and UFC CEO Dana White was not happy Sterling and Dvalishvili wouldn’t fight each other.
White has repeatedly said the UFC’s corporate merger with WWE won’t affect the way it does business. For Sterling, the two already have a lot more in common than stock.
“[The UFC is] not the WWE, and I get the business model of things,” he continued. “So I’m not even talking about that. I’m just saying as a pure sport fanatic myself, I watch the fights week in and week out. I hate this model.
“I’ve learned to kind of just embrace it, and try to do my best, and try to make a character and persona, and try to be more engaging with the fans to kind of give that feel, because that’s what the company wants, right? We want characters, people that we can kind of sell, even though you want say, ‘I don’t sell, I’m not a huge [draw].’ OK. That’s relative to whatever you want say to the fans and the viewers.
“But the fact that we’re going to skip over everybody else and go to No. 6, when there’s a guy who literally, let’s be honest, he kicked Petr Yan’s ass way worse than I did, way worse than Sean O’Malley did. Why is he not next? There’s a storyline. He still has the jacket.”
Dvalishvili paraded O’Malley’s “Thriller” jacket around the octagon when Sterling and O’Malley faced off after Sterling’s UFC 288 win over Henry Cejudo. Dvalishvili and O’Malley have sparred on and off, with O’Malley recently trolling his bantamweight counterpart’s social media work.
Dvalishvili has been on the shelf with a hand injury since a March win over ex-champ Petr Yan, but Sterling said his friend is ready to fight before the end of the year.
“People keep saying [Dvalishvili and I are] clogging up the division,” Sterling said. “We’re not clogging up the division. If I’m getting a rematch, that’s going happen, Merab is next. If I’m not getting a rematch, problem solved, Merab is next, and then maybe I just f*** off and go 145. If I’m not gonna get the rematch, maybe I just f*** off and go 45.”
Before his title loss, Sterling had all but confirmed he was moving to the featherweight division, where his weight cut would be less severe.
“I know people are gonna say you’re going back and forth,” he said. “What I’m saying is if the rematch is given to me because it’s a title shot opportunity, where I make the most money as an athlete, I’m going to take it, like anybody else with a brain. This is not even about just fighting the best in the world anymore. It’s not even about that anymore. I’ve done that already.
“Now, I would like to cash out as much as I can, while I’m 34 years old, and try to get out with all my faculties as best as I can intact, and whoop a lot more asses on my way out. That’s the goal. And if I’m not gonna be the guy to challenge for the belt again at 135, [Dvalishvili] has paid his dues, he’s fought everybody that the UFC has put in front of him. Merab Dvalishvili, how do you not give him an opportunity to make history be the first Georgian champion ever?”