The back and forth between top ranked UFC bantamweights Aljamain Sterling and Bryan Caraway shows no signs of stopping ahead of their scheduled clash at UFC Fight Night: Almeida vs. Garbrandt, which takes place this Sunday at the Mandalay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Sterling (12-0) told Bloody Elbow that the reason he first got the call to fight in the UFC was because of Caraway (20-7). According to Sterling, he was the replacement after Caraway had 'pulled out' from a fight with a 'tough opponent', something Sterling claimed was typical for Caraway.
"He just doesn't like to take tough fights, and he's openly went on record and said it," said Sterling. "It's like he doesn't want to take fights with guys who don't make sense for his career, which I understand, but ultimately it comes down to him not wanting to take tough fights. I fought Mizugaki, as an unranked opponent, Mizugaki stepped up and fought me, he didn't have to take that fight, that fight did nothing for his career."
"[Caraway] said he wanted to fight somebody in the top-five, [Urijah] Faber called him out, he didn't want that fight, he wanted to fight Michael McDonald, who was coming back off a two-year layoff with wrist surgery, multiple wrist surgeries, and same thing with Eddie Wineland, who's coming back from a broken jaw. He calls out Eddie Wineland, so you can kinda tell a man's character based on the opponent's he's called out."
Asked why he believed Caraway accepted the bout between them. Sterling laughed, "I think he had no choice!"
"I just don't think he had many other options. I think it's like, you either take this fight, or see you later kind of thing, but who knows?"
This wasn't the first time Sterling had alluded to Caraway's position in the UFC being under threat. He had previously done so, albeit cryptically, in a tweet.
Call me Hitman.— Aljamain Sterling (@FunkMaster_UFC) May 7, 2016
The leather gloves fit.
Theres a guy on the list that the UFC wants gone.
They said make it silent and painful. #Strangle
When asked directly if he believed the UFC would prefer not to have Bryan Caraway on its roster, Sterling replied by imitating the sound of a gun firing, three times, before adding: "They gave me the sniper rifle and they told me to take him out."
Sterling laughed after that statement and continued, "Listen man, I don't know if that's exactly what they want, I mean, they got Meisha, Meisha's awesome, she's a great person, but when you got a guy who is on the bandwagon, who is just kinda riding your coattails, and any type of success you have, any type of sponsors you have, they kinda just leach on to you, I think... he kinda just reminds me of a freakin' parasite, just one of those guys, I think that's what bothers me most about him.
"I mean, it's cool yeah, your girlfriend's hot and she's a badass, the world champion, that's cool, but what have you done?"
"That's how I look at it," confessed Sterling. "I gotta say, you know, if he wasn't a fighter then it is what it is, but dude, you're a freaking fighter, so freaking fight!"
Despite not agreeing with how he believes Caraway has crafted his career, the Funk Master did reveal his respect for what his opponent had done inside of the cage.
"He does a great job of setting up his take downs and getting the fight where he wants it to be and I think that's what makes him a tough opponent," remarked Sterling. "He's very durable, he's been in some fights where he's taken some hard shots and just keeps walking forwards. This is gonna be a very tough fight, tougher than a lot of people are thinking."
Sterling stated he is confident in getting the finish over Caraway. The Long Island native also stated that he believes the gap in striking skills between Caraway and himself could be the deciding factor.
Sterling enters the octagon on May 29th for the first time since the conclusion of a drawn out contract negotiation between him, the UFC, and other suitors. Sterling can be counted among people who were surprised that his first fight back in the ZUFFA-owned promotion would be shown exclusively on UFC Fight Pass.
"I guess it's a love hate thing," said Sterling when asked how he felt about competing on the UFC's digital platform. "At first I was a little more resentful to it, not resentful but, a little bit more disheartened I guess. I really thought this was going to be my time to get on the big screens."
Despite that initial disappointment, Sterling is hopeful that he can make the most out of the booking.
"They're gonna push me, they promised to push me, and you know, I'm gonna work on my end in terms of promoting myself, the same thing I've been doing since the beginning of my career, you know, trying to get people interested in Aljamain Sterling and Aljamain the Funk Master, and get people interested in the things he's doing, what he's like as a person, and getting them invested in myself and my career."
Sterling, having decided to re-join the UFC despite a matching offer he claimed to have received from Bellator, believes that given a promotional push, he can greatly add to the UFC's fan base and make it more diverse in the process.
"If you're a UFC guy, if you're a company guy, if the company likes you, they're gonna do the right thing, in terms of promoting you," said Sterling. "They're gonna promote who they want, they're not going to promote the people they think can't get to that next level and can't help bring the company a lot more money and bring them into other avenues. I think with me, I can sell it to a certain different demographic."
Key to this belief is Sterling's recognition that he represents a culture he thinks is currently under-represented at the highest levels of MMA.
"I got a different persona than a lot of these other guys," said Sterling. "I'm from a different area, I've got a different style, and I've got something that a different culture is gonna like. We don't have a lot of fighters in the UFC right now from that cultural aspect that can actually get people interested in the sport, so I think I have some pull in my back pocket that I actually bring to the table."
Sterling also stated that the lifting of an MMA ban in New York will only help his ambitions of attracting a large fan base made of visible minorities who otherwise may not have considered supporting mixed-martial-arts and the UFC. Sterling also made it clear that it would be most beneficial for a promotion to take into account a fighter's background when marketing them.
"I definitely think it's a little different man," said Sterling of the need to adjust marketing strategies based on the demographics of fighters and fan bases. "You know what it is? And I'm speaking from my experiences, just growing up in a place like Roosevelt, I don't know if you're familiar with it, Roosevelt and Uniondale, are predominately black and hispanic towns, you know, you don't see a lot of guys going out for the wrestling team, it's one of the least popular sports, you know everyone's got 'hoop dreams' of basketball and football, so when it comes to wrestling, it comes to tennis, it comes to any of those other sports, people are just, I guess ignorant to it.
"So I think for people to see somebody who grew up just pretty much the way they did and have somebody that is relatable being in the UFC, who is doing well, I think it's just pretty much a no-brainer in terms of marketing and selling that, it's just about having the opportunity and having the right person to be the pioneer for that in those areas. I think I'm the guy for it. I think I'm the guy for the job."
You can follow Aljamain Sterling on twitter @FunkMaster_UFC