2021 hasn’t been kind to UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling. After controversially winning the belt and taking a lot of heat for it, the “Funkmaster” was forced off his UFC 267 rematch with Petr Yan due to injury.
As Sterling already explained, his lingering injuries from a previous neck surgery hindered doctors from clearing him to fight. But it was a difficult decision he had to make, which he recently spoke about in detail with Helen Yee and Dave Schumelnson (a.k.a The Schmo) on “The Schmozone Podcast.”
I trained my ass off and I just wasn’t getting any results of what I wanted. Talk about doing all those rounds, strength and conditioning work, early mornings, and then going into sparring sessions and after one round of grappling and throwing strikes and your arms are just super heavy, I’m like, ‘Yo, I feel like I’m in the Petr Yan fight all over again.’
That’s exactly what it felt like. I was, like, ‘I feel like I’m living a nightmare that just won’t end.’ It was just crazy.
I told my roommates at the house after the last sparring session that I had with Merab — I think it was the week before his fight — and I told the guys I said, ‘Listen, man. I don’t know what’s about to happen. I don’t think I can pull out of this fight because it just feels like if I do, I’m gonna get a lot of shit.’ And this is my personal opinion, I don’t know if the UFC would be happy.
I know it sucks, it’s a big fight, they want to get the division moving, it’s a hot division. All these things I’m thinking about and they’re like, ‘Why would you do that?’ I was, like, ‘I think I’m just gonna go in there and I’m just gonna wing it. I think I know what he can do. I think I just gotta be smart and I think if I could catch him with one of those flying knees again, I think this time I can end the fight.’
That’s honestly what I said to my roommates, and they’re like, ‘Dude, that’s crazy. Why would you ever put yourself in that position?’ I’m like, ‘I almost feel like I have no choice.’
After speaking with doctors and his coaches, Sterling decided to withdraw from the booking. But that experience only made him feel worse.
That was the most down I’ve been in a very long time. Super depressed. ‘Cause, that’s how much this sport means to me. I’d been able to provide and how much I love it and I like competing, and not being able to do those things and feeling like you’re gonna get hurt.
I felt like I’m gambling my quality of life all in one fight to try to make the fans happy when I know I’m doing the wrong thing. It was a really complex and difficult situation, but all in all, I made the right decision for the longevity of my health.
I wasn’t fun to be around. Ray was like, ‘Dude, I haven’t seen you smile in God knows how long.’ I’m not happy. Getting my ass kicked in training.
I know Merab’s good, but we battle. It’s never that one-sided. Even when he was peaking in the past, it was never this one-sided. There’s clearly something going on, and here we are.
Sterling has since been replaced by Cory Sandhagen, who will now fight Yan for the interim 135-pound title at UFC 267 on October 30 in Fight Island.