Aljamain Sterling and his Elusive Title Shot

DALLAS, TX - SEPTEMBER 08: Aljamain Sterling celebrates his submission victory over Cody Stamann in their bantamweight fight during the UFC 228 event at American Airlines Center on September 8, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Dominick Cruz‘s immediate title shot upon his return at UFC 249 has added more controversy to the bantamweight title picture. Cruz’s title shot comes as a result of Jose Aldo‘s forced withdrawal from his bout with Henry Cejudo. However, there is one fighter in the 135-pound division, Aljamain Sterling, whose name belongs in the title conversation.

The Other Contenders

Dominick Cruz

Nobody can question the legacy of Cruz within the UFC’s bantamweight division. Injuries have hampered his career and dealt him lengthy sidelines, but this has never stopped him. Cruz came back after a mere 61 seconds of fight time in over four years and dethroned then-champion TJ Dillashaw. We know he is capable, but Cruz hasn’t won a fight in almost four years. His last outing was three and a half years ago, a loss to Cody Garbrandt. A title shot for a comeback fight after such a lengthy layoff will always be controversial.

Jose Aldo

Former UFC featherweight champion, Jose Aldo, was Henry Cejudo’s original opponent. Aldo’s title shot was also subject to controversy. He made the drop to 135 and fought former title challenger Marlon Moraes at UFC 245. Aldo lost the bout via a close split decision, yet was still handed a fight with Cejudo for the title at UFC 250.¬†The event was canceled due to COVID-19 and Aldo was forced to withdraw and was replaced by Cruz.

Petr Yan

If you ask MMA fans who deserves a bantamweight title fight the most, there’s a good chance they will say Petr Yan. The former ACB champion is ranked #3 in the division and is fresh off a KO win over Urijah Faber at UFC 245. Yan is 6-0 in the UFC, his biggest divisional climb to date is a win over the then #7 ranked¬†Jimmie Rivera. Considering that win is his biggest thus far, there is at least one better alternative currently.

The Cejudo Problem

Bantamweight champion, Henry Cejudo, is part of the problem. Cejudo has made it clear that he’s setting out to build a legacy. This means he’s looking to compete against big names and legends of the sport. Upon winning the bantamweight title and capturing his second UFC belt, Cejudo named a hit-list. The list consisted of Dominick Cruz, Urijah Faber, and Cody Garbrandt. Having already discussed Cruz, at this point, Faber hadn’t fought in two and a half years, and Garbrandt was on a three-fight losing streak. This is problematic as fighters on win streaks at the top of the division are being overlooked by Cejudo.

Why Aljamain Sterling?

On the night that Cejudo became bantamweight champion, Sterling fought too. He defeated #4 Pedro Munhoz, in what should’ve been a title eliminator. Munhoz was fresh off a KO victory over former champion Cody Garbrandt. The only fighters ranked above Sterling that night were Moraes and Raphael Assuncao. Moraes fought for the title on the same card and lost, whereas Assuncao has now lost two straight.

Obviously, we know the UFC does not operate on meritocracy, but it seems the organization and many fans are overlooking Aljamain Sterling’s rightful claim to a title shot.

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