It really is something to see a crowd of fans in Newark, New Jersey boo a Long Island native succeeding on the biggest stage in the MMA world, but that just seems to be a day in the life of UFC Bantamweight Champion Aljamain Sterling.

Not since the days of Benson Henderson’s string of controversial decision wins has a champion been this successful and received this little respect.

It truly is baffling to me. I like to joke that Sterling is the Rodney Dangerfield of the UFC in that no one gives him any respect but Rodney was at least joking most of the time.

Aljamain Sterling, a victim of circumstance

Aljamain Sterling had to deal with some form of controversy from the moment he became champion and he just can’t seem to shake any of it off:

Winning the championship from Petyr Yan after being hit by a blatantly illegal knee strike and being unable to continue fighting (as if any fighter wants to win a title by faking a concussion…).

Rematching Yan in a 5 round fight where he performed very well and either deservedly won the decision in a competitive fight or masterminded a robbery with the number of scorecards in Yan’s favor.

Dominating the former champion TJ Dillashaw in a fight where, not only did Dillashaw’s shoulder pop out of the socket, it was revealed that Dillashaw entered the fight with the injury knowing full well he was compromised before a single punch was thrown.

Now that I think about it, maybe the Rodney comparison isn’t the right one. Maybe Sterling is more like Curly Howard of The Three Stooges.

He’s just a victim of circumstance.

He’s just a victim of an unending series of circumstances.

Henry Cejudo and Aljamain Sterling fight at UFC 288 main event.
IMAGO Images / Louis Grasse

If you came into Sterling’s UFC 288 main event against Olympic gold medalist and former two division UFC champion Henry Cejudo with a less than positive opinion of the champion, then I’d imagine the fight itself did little to change that.

Cejudo came into the fight ready to reclaim the championship he never lost. He wanted to prove that he hadn’t missed any steps in the three years he’s spent away from active competition and, to his credit, he absolutely did that. He said he was going to bring the fight to The Funkmaster at UFC 288, and he did.

You could even say Cejudo made Sterling “bend the knee” the way he stuffed some of the champion’s takedown attempts.

You could say that, but the challenger’s Olympic caliber wrestling did not carry the night because, when Sterling was able to use his grappling, he used it well, taking Cejudo down a few times and even getting to Cejudo’s back at the end of the first round.

Sterling also excelled on the feet, landing loads of calf kicks to Cejudo’s lead leg and making use of his reach advantage to land punches that Cejudo could do little to counter against.

Still, it was a close fight, with the second and third rounds being particularly close, resulting in a split decision falling on the side of the defending champion.

That seems appropriate since all Sterling has done in the last two years he has spent as champion is split opinions.

It matters little now, as Aljamain Sterling has the win, the championship (he’s one of the winningest champions in UFC Bantamweight history), and what will likely be another lucrative main event in front of him in the form of “Suga” Sean O’Malley.

You can love Sterling, you can hate him, or you can really hate him, but you know who doesn’t have an opinion one way or another? The record books, the ones that will now say that Sterling has defended his championship three consecutive times, a feat that, amazingly, no other former bantamweight champion has been able to accomplish.

That’s quite the feat to defeat a former two division champion and make history in the process. 

Of course, you can try to discredit the win by saying that Cejudo should have won. You can say that Henry was rusty (so was Jon Jones, right?) or that he didn’t take the fight seriously enough (or too seriously) or whatever other excuse you want to use to continue to justify an irrational hatred for one of the best spoken representatives the sport has had in recent years.

You can say whatever you want. It won’t change what Aljamain Sterling has done. It won’t have any impact on what he does next.

There’s no need to cringe but it might be time to start showing some respect.

About the author
Evan Zivin
Evan Zivin

Evan Zivin is a writer, having joined Bloody Elbow in 2023. He's been providing his unique takes on the sport of MMA since 2013, previously working as a featured columnist for 411Mania. Evan has followed MMA and professional wrestling for most of his life. His joy is in finding the stories and characters within all combat sports and presenting them in a serious yet light-hearted way.

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