As we all gear up towards the next few months of nonstop fights, the UFC is preparing for some big matchups down the line. From Jorge Masvidal v. Kamaru Usman to Stipe Miocic v. Daniel Cormier, there is plenty to be excited about. One of the most stacked divisions within the company, however, has the most question marks. I’m talking, of course, about the UFC’s bantamweight divison.
Right now, the champion of the division is Henry Cejudo. The former UFC Flyweight Champion beat Marlon Moraes for the title at UFC 238 following T.J. Dillashaw’s suspension for testing positive for EPO. Following the bout, Cejudo (15-2) called out a number of challengers, including Cody Garbrandt, Ujijah Faber and Dominick Cruz. Since then, he has called out Jose Aldo. UFC President Dana White has expressed interest in the Aldo fight.
“That’s the fight that I want to do,” White said during a UFC 246 media scrum. “That’s the fight that both of those guys want. So hopefully we get that done.”
The only problem with that? Aldo just came into the division and lost to Moraes via split decision. Aldo is also 2-4 in his last six. The other callouts? Cruz hasn’t fought since 2016, Garbrandt is on a three-fight losing streak and Urijah Faber, who just came out of retirement after three years away, is 3-4 in his last seven. While “superfights” are all the rage nowadays, the UFC should be looking into a matchup that makes the most sense when it comes to rankings and fighters.
The fight to make is Henry Cejuo v. Aljamain Sterling.
Ranked second in the UFC bantamweight rankings, Sterling (18-3) is on a four-fight win streak. He is also 6-1 in his last seven fights, the lone loss coming from a devastating knee by Moraes back in 2017. Currently recovering from wrist surgery, “Funk Master” might be one of the most brightest minds in the sport. He gets the value of the big money fights but doesn’t see Cejudo, who has been out with an injury of his own, as one of those guys.
Speaking on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show, Sterling attempted to understand how Cejudo can look past the people within the division in order to get matchups he believes he deserves.
To become a super paid, superstar, you need to do what the others have done. Clean out your division!! The checks and respect will come. Simple. https://t.co/NqRrhxhaTy
— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) February 17, 2020
The fight isn’t hard to prepare for either, when it comes to promotion at least. Cejudo considers himself the best in the world, and lives and breathes the “Triple C” gimmick. It has sometimes gone against him, especially with the recent racist comments he has made towards Petr Yan and Sterling. The build can easily go on without the comments, but a war of words will surely be utilized in some capacity.
Sterling is not impressed with Cejudo’s antics and what he believes is the champion avoiding him. “Aljo” believes that Cejudo wouldn’t be able to prepare for him either way.
“At the end of the day, Cejudo’s a tough competitor but I think he’s a flyweight,” Sterling said to MMA Fighting. “I think the day he comes up and actually acknowledges the real competition in the weight class, it will be a bad night for him. I think he’s going to hold off as long as he can to stay at flyweight and I don’t blame the guy.”
The matchup, stylistically, makes sense. Both fighters like to work the wrestling game to their advantage, which could make for a wild ground game between the two. Touting his medal as an Olympic medalist, the competitor in Cejudo should want a challenge that could very well hold onto the pace that is wrestling.
When looking at the stats, the previous statement holds value. According to the UFC stats page, Sterling has a 1.91 takedown advantage, a 66% strike difference and a 50% strike accuracy mark. As a bantamweight, Sterling has over 740 significant strikes landed. Cejudo has a 44% accuracy mark, a 65% strike difference and a 2.16 takedown advantage. He has 436 significant strikes landed as a bantamweight. Even if Sterling has had more time within the division when it comes to the UFC, the stats indicate that the best face off against the best. Wouldn’t you want to see if either can change their game to match the others?
If the matchup isn’t going to take place soon, the UFC could always do Yan (14-1) v. Sterling for the interim title. This is something Sterling has called out for as well. Yan is on a nine-fight win streak and has won all six of his UFC fights. Ranked third in the rankings, Yan v. Sterling also makes the most sense.
“I’m about fighting the best guys,” Sterling continued. “I’m not about trying to hand pick my fights and tiptoe around the competition. So if he’s the next best guy, the next highest-ranked guy, sign me up.”
However, that fight would only delay a title unification bout, while also allowing Cejudo to explore the option of his fantasy matchups.
While money and nostalgia can be the deciding factor over wins and losses, Sterling’s overall resume warrants a title opportunity. With tension, the skills of both fighters and common sense, a legitimate title fight is the only one to make at 135.
I see you soon my guy @HenryCejudo.
— Aljamain Sterling (@funkmasterMMA) February 18, 2020