When Aljamain Sterling hit the Octagon at UFC 259 this past weekend, he did so minus one very familiar face in his corner. Longtime coach Ray Longo was there, but former welterweight champion Matt Serra was watching the action from home.
Serra has been a fixture in Sterling’s cornering crew for most (if not all) of his UFC run. But it seems the newly minted bantamweight champion felt it was time for to make a change. And when it came to assembling the team for his first UFC title fight, Serra was left sitting on the sidelines.
In a recent episode of his UFC Unfiltered podcast, Serra spoke about the surprise decision—one that apparently left him feeling a bit blindsided and “hurt” by the fighter he had supported for so long.
“When I found out I wasn’t in it, I gave Aljo a call,” Serra revealed (transcript via BJPenn.com). “I felt stupid, because I made a call before that and left a nice message. Then I got the call from Longo and he said, ‘How are you out of the corner? It’s your team.’ I said ‘You f-cking tell me.’
But at the same time, I didn’t want his head f-cked up before the fight, so I didn’t attack him. I called him and left a message and said, ‘I love you and I’m here for you either way if you need me.’ I told Aljo a few weeks before he left (for Las Vegas) that the COVID sh-t is crazy so if you need to use bodies (for corners) I understand. But when you’ve been with a guy for that long — first of all, Aljo texted me and said he would call me back, but I didn’t hear from the kid for three days. I don’t want to be over-sensitive, but how do you think those nights were sleeping? I’m just hurt. I know you’re busy and things are going on but I gotta know what the f-ck I’m doing.”
In Serra’s place, Sterling elected Xtreme Couture coach Eric Nicksick to join him for his bout against Petr Yan. To Serra’s credit it sounds like the 4th degree Renzo Gracie black belt isn’t harboring any real animosity toward either Sterling or Nicksick, saying that although he “can’t help but feel disrespected,” he still loves everyone involved. Eventually, however, it appears that Sterling’s decision is prompting Serra to make a move away from cornering work altogether, just so he doesn’t find himself caught in the middle of these kinds of decisions in the future.
“My thing is, going forward, it’s better now to make an exit on a high note,” Serra added. “I loved cornering, but what is it for the next fight, is it me and Nicksick with rock paper scissors to see who gets to corner? I have a family. I will always be in this kid’s corner, just not physically anymore. And not by my choice, but by the choices that are made here. So I’m retiring from the whole cornering thing.”
For fans, that seems like this will spell the end of one of MMA’s most iconic cornering duos. Truly the end of an era in the world of unabashedly direct ringside instruction.