After a 3-week lull in UFC events, April 21st marks the 3rd week of a surge that began on April 7th with UFC 223 in Brooklyn. Another stacked card is on deck for this weekend, with Fight Night headlined by Kevin Lee and Edson Barboza in Atlantic City, NJ on April 21st.
In the Bantamweight Division, "The Funkmaster" Aljamain Sterling returns to action after suffering a brutal knockout last December at the hands (or the knee, rather) of former World Series of Fighting Bantamweight Champion Marlon Moraes.
Speaking recently, as a guest on the MMA Latest Roundtable Podcast, the Serra-Longo protegé vowed that he learned many a valuable lesson in his last defeat. "The last fight was the most comfortable I've ever been during pre-fight warm ups. I felt so confident but that might have backfired on me a little bit, in terms of my reaction time and really setting up (offense and defense) the way I normally set things up; whereas in the Renan Barao fight I was mentally prepared for a war." What the Funkmaster is saying does not necessarily imply that he underestimated his last opponent, rather it is a revelation of his cognitive preparation process. In other words, he understands why his mindset was wrong and what he needed to change for his next fight.
"I needed to reset and kind of put things into perspective. I try not to overthink it. That fight came down moreso to what I did (wrong) not so much what he did (right)."
Other significant changes that Sterling made are in his approach to strength and conditioning as well as a commitment to a better diet, all of which he attributes to maturity and professional development as a fighter, "I haven't lifted, as much as I'm doing now, in probably 3 or 4 years. I was having a lot of struggles with the weight cut. I was always able to make it, but it was tough. Now I work with Tony Ricci. I'm a little older, a little more mature. I understand diet a little better. I'm not starving myself for 2 days. I can eat, lift and still feel just as strong," said Sterling, "I feel like a horse right now. I got that horsepower behind me."
As for life events that may have caused his focus to stray elsewhere, Aljamain recently freed himself from what he perceived to be a burden of career mismanagement; and he parted ways with the controversial agency, First Round Management. "I fired those guys. They're just taking money out of people's pockets. I was essentially paying them to answer the phone and accept a fight. They weren't bringing any money to the table."
Aljo manages his social media and apparently handles his own matchmaking as well, according to his comments on the MMA Latest Roundtable. During the interview, he explained how his fight with undefeated prospect Brett Johns came together. "We hung out at the UFC retreat (in the Summer of 2017), me and a few other Bantamweights, we had a few drinks. Brett was really cool. He told me his brother was a huge fan of mine. I actually like the guy." Though his level of respect for his opponent has not exactly wavered, things got a bit awkward when he found out that Brett Johns asked the UFC specifically to fight him.
"I messaged Brett, and I asked him if he and his team asked for me. I said 'if this is the fight you want, let's do it' and then I heard he gave them (UFC matchmakers) a list of names and I was the one he really, really wanted," Aljo said on the MMA Latest Roundtable.
He elaborated, "That's good to know because it just adds a little more motivation to training. I think people tend to look at my fight style and think it's a safe fight for them. They think I'm coming out to just wrestle them. I think in the Renan Barao fight and the Augusto Mendes fight, I showed that I can stand," Sterling told MMA Latest, "I'd rather just throw down, where it's a one sided victory and there's no question of who's winning the fight."
The Full Card for UFC Atlantic City is as follows:
Lightweight Edson Barboza vs. Kevin Lee
Featherweight Frankie Edgar vs. Cub Swanson
Heavyweight Chase Sherman vs. Justin Willis
Middleweight David Branch vs. Thiago Santos
Bantamweight Aljamain Sterling vs. Brett Johns
Lightweight Jim Miller vs. Dan Hooker
Preliminary card (Fox Sports 1)
Welterweight Ryan LaFlare vs. Alex Garcia
Flyweight Magomed Bibulatov vs. Ulka Sasaki
Welterweight Siyar Bahadurzada vs. Luan Chagas
Light Heavyweight Corey Anderson vs. Patrick Cummins
Preliminary card (UFC Fight Pass)
Women's Bantamweight Leslie Smith vs. Aspen Ladd
Bantamweight Merab Dvalishvili vs. Ricky Simon
Welterweight Tony Martin vs. Keita Nakamura