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Aljamain Sterling opens up about awkward relationship with UFC brass: ‘I’m working on it’

Sterling revealed he sometimes feels the UFC aren’t completely behind him.

UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling’s next challenge comes at UFC 280. At that event, in Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Arena, Sterling will defend his belt against former champion T.J. Dillashaw.

Sterling recently spoke to Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour about that fight. He also discussed his history with the UFC, which hasn’t always been plain sailing.

“Sometimes I feel like, for lack of better terms, the cliché, the red-headed stepchild,” said Sterling (ht MMA Fighting). “Sometimes I do [feel like that]. It’s not with everybody in the UFC. Certain people that probably matter the most. I guess it’s not always the best feeling to be on that side, but I roll with the punches. I’m going to do me, no matter what. But I just don’t feel like I get the push like maybe some others do. Or maybe I’m just in my own head.”

Sterling is one of few fighters who have publicly tested free agency. Back in 2016 Sterling fought out his UFC contract and listened to offers before accepting a return to the Octagon. Sterling announced he had re-signed with the UFC in a The MMA Hour segment reminiscent of LeBron James’ infamous free agent announcement known as ‘The Decision’.

During his second spell in the UFC, Sterling has been vocal about he and the UFC brass not always seeing eye to eye. Despite that sometimes rocky relationship Sterling was able to make the transition from prospect to contender to eventual champion.

He won the UFC bantamweight title in 2021 with a DQ win over Petr Yan. Sterling defeated Yan by split decision this April to defend and unify the title. In his recent The MMA Hour appearance Sterling said he wasn’t sure if the nature of his title win played a role in his current relationship with the UFC.

“If you were to ask the brass, they probably would say no, but then again, I don’t know. I’m just here rolling with the punches,” he said. “That the best way I can put that. But it’s hard to know what these guys are really thinking. I don’t think any of us know what they’re actually thinking, in terms of the upper echelons of the UFC, and the only thing you can try to hope for is that they like you and you’re in their good graces. That’s really all there is to it. Do your job, hopefully you do it well, and hopefully you get rewarded handsomely for it.”

When asked about how he might improve his relationship with the UFC, Sterling said: “I’m trying. I’m working on it.”

“I’ve been trying,” he continued. “I know the guys are busy and the world doesn’t just stop for me, but hopefully we get things figured out and kind of figure out the working relationship, because at the end of the day, we’re all business partners. I want to help them make money, I want them to help me make money, and I think that’s the best way you can look at a relationship like that.”

At UFC 280 Sterling will be hoping to extend his current winning streak to eight fights. The only losses on Sterling’s record are from a rough patch he had just after signing his new deal with the UFC, when he lost to Bryan Caraway and Raphael Assuncao (both by split decision) and then suffered a KO loss to Marlon Moraes (off of a botched takedown attempt).

Sterling’s wins in the UFC include victories over Cody Stamann, Jimmie Rivera, Pedro Munhoz and Cory Sandhagen.

Sterling vs. Dillashaw is the co-main event for UFC 280. The main event is Charles Oliveira vs. Islam Makhachev for the vacant UFC lightweight title.