It's hard for me to feel like the book hasn't already been written on what a great prospect Aljamain Sterling is. Patrick Wyman, our resident prospect hunter, named Sterling as the #2 fighter on his list of future champions. And The 2012 Bloody Elbow Scouting Report had him as their #2 bantamweight prospect.
Rumors of his signing broke on Tuesday, but now the UFC has confirmed. Sterling will enter the UFC on a little more than three weeks notice to fight another young bantamweight (and former ligthweight) already three fights into his UFC career. His opponent will be Lucas Martins at UFC 170 on February 22. Sterling is filling in for the injured Bryan Caraway, the nature of Caraway's injury is not known at this time.
Sterling will bring a spotless 8-0 professional record with him into the cage, having defeated Claudio Ledesma, Sean Santella, and Sidemar Honorio. It's an impressive list of names for a fighter only two years into his pro career. Of course a record isn't all Sterling will be bringing to the cage. He was a two-time Div. III All American wrestling at SUNY. He started training with Team Bombsquad (Jon Jones' first MMA gym) but most recently has made the jump to Team Serra-Longo, which has a great track record of turning strong wrestlers into incredibly well rounded strikers and grapplers. It's the perfect home for a top prospect, and there's no doubt that Sterling is a top prospect.
Watching him fight the raw talent and athleticism that he possesses immediately jumps off the screen. Unusually for a wrestling based fighter he uses a high volume kicking game to maintain distance and open up opportunities on his feet. While this could open him up to takedowns (or more particularly slips) the speed, volume, and balance with which he uses his legs makes it a tool many fighters will be ill equipped to deal with. Of course if he does end up on his back his fantastic scrambling ability and growing submission savvy make him an incredibly difficult fighter to hold down or keep control of. He's currently on a three-submission streak and I only expect that part of his game to get more dangerous training at Serra-Longo.
While Sterling is a fantastic prospect he does have a couple of small holes in his game. He tends to wait a bit on the end of his punches and doesn't tend to throw them in combination, which could leave him open to counters against better strikers. His footspeed compensates, but it's something he'll probably need to correct down the line. He also can be a bit passive in guard and in top control. He's got great ground-n-pound and does a great job of keeping control while standing over his opponent, but he can be a bit static while looking for opportunities. Bantamweight, like flyweight, is full of dynamic scramblers who will take advantage of passivity while grappling. Eventually these feel like the natural gaps of a fighter with limited cage experience and things that should correct themselves over time (and with strong training).
To get us better acquainted here's footage of his most recent bout against Joel Roberts:
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