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Opinion: Time for a break - Aljamain Sterling is right not to rush into his next title fight

Aljamain Sterling should take as much time off as he needs to be 100 percent ready for his next UFC title fight.

Aljamain Sterling beat T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 280
Aljamain Sterling beat T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 280
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Aljamain Sterling sounds like he knows that the objective—even if the UFC, fight fans and his fellow competitors don’t like it—is to be as healthy and prepared as possible when defending his UFC title. And the reason couldn’t be more simple: Money.

Sterling is coming off a UFC 280 win over T.J. Dillashaw. Looking at how that fight played out, with Sterling absorbing a total of 13 strikes over the 8:44 the bout lasted, it would be easy to assume that the UFC bantamweight titleholder would be able to get back to action in a hurry.

That would be the best path to please the fans, and perhaps even the best past to pleasing the UFC. But, with gold already in hand, it’s a risk Sterling doesn’t need to ever take if he can avoid it. Something Sterling addressed in the aftermath of his win and the post-fight callouts of former two-division UFC champ Henry Cejudo.

Alongside Sterling’s position as champion, what’s often missing in conversations about quick turnarounds is what goes into a champion preparing for a five-round title defense. An oft-stated refrain in the sports world is that the training is the work, the fight that follows is as much a reward for the work already done as it is a job in and of itself.

“I just need some time to just be myself, get some other things done, some other ventures… I’ve got a bunch of different things that I have on the horizon that I want to dive into, but I can’t put focus or energy into it if I have one month off and then have to dive back into another vicious training camp. I don’t think you guys understand how hard I train. It’s not easy, guys,” Sterling told on his YouTube channel.

It’s a stance that makes perfect sense.

The UFC pay structure is such that champions are smart to extend their title reign as long as possible if they hope to make ‘real money.’ Losing the belt can cause an exponential dropoff in earnings, for all but the highest profile athletes. The opportunity to earn pay-per-view points, additional outfitting pay and increased sponsorship opportunities can all vanish in a flash. Because the UFC is unlike other sports—such as the NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB where a long career alone can create generational wealth—a lengthy title run may very well be the only opportunity a fighter has to make anything that approximates life changing money.

It’s easy to understand why Sterling’s fellow fighters might be upset that the champ isn’t willing to rush back into camp to tee up his next opponent. After all, an ‘inactive’ titleholder cuts everyone else out of that same chance at high end paydays. But fans? The fans should want the UFC’s champs to enter their title fights as physically and mentally prepared as they can be, because that’s how we get the best fights, when two fighters are at the top of their game, battling for gold.

Sterling gets it. Challengers may have their qualms, but the rest of us shouldn’t condemn him for wanting to be his best.