If you think you’re getting under Aljamain Sterling’s skin when he replies to you on social media, that’s definitely not the case.
Arguably the most active UFC champion on social media, Sterling oftentimes engages with his biggest critics as much as he does his most ardent supporters. The No. 1 bantamweight in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings makes a point to never shy away from replying to a comment, especially when it’s somebody coming at him with a ridiculous take about a particular fight or moment in his career.
“I don’t care what people say, but I care to defend my freedom and ability to tell them that they’re wrong,” Sterling told MMA Fighting. “So the fact that you’re able to tell me this, and I have the freedom and the luxury to do that, I go out of my way to entertain these guys when I could just leave it alone and ghost it. That’s really how it is.”
Because social media tends to lean further into negative commentary than positive affirmation, many high-profile fighters are constantly bombarded with malice-filled messages.
Even knowing that, Sterling still seems to deal with an inordinate amount of criticism or insults being lobbed his way. He really believes that boils down to the considerable reaction he earned after becoming UFC bantamweight champion; he defeated Petr Yan by disqualification at UFC 259 in March 2021 to claim the title, the first time a title had changed hands by DQ in UFC history. Then he defeated Yan by split decision in a rematch at UFC 273.
“I think it’s the first [Petr] Yan fight,” Sterling said. “I feel like that one weird day of a performance, because I messed up my rehydration and stopped fueling my body where it felt like I was still cutting weight. I literally barely ate anything. I had two pancakes and two eggs, and I hate saying this because it sounds stupid to say out loud, it really does and every time I say it, I feel like a donkey, I really do.
“But the facts are the facts, and that’s why I performed the way I did, and I think people just have that image of me in their heads and they can’t get it out. So for me to beat Yan the second time — [people were saying] ‘Yan by murder, Yan by anything he wants’ — and then I go out there and do that to him, they can’t wrap their heads around the fact that this guy just did a complete 180 and dominated a guy who was supposed to win by anything he wanted. I think because of that first fight, people are still looking at me in that light and they’re saying I’ve had the luckiest title run.”
After a lopsided win over T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 280, Sterling once again faced comments about his performance after Dillashaw revealed that he went into the fight with an injured shoulder that actually popped out of socket in the opening round.
Despite Dillashaw saying that he had won previous fights while dealing with the same problem, Sterling still had to deal with people saying that his win was somehow tainted because his opponent made the choice to compete at less than 100 percent health.
Of course, Sterling isn’t obligated to respond to anyone. He could just as easily ignore the messages sent his way. But he actually has fun with it.
“Maybe I should stop responding to these guys and just go dark. What fun would that be though?” Sterling said. “I enjoy the banter going back and forth. As long as I’m not getting emotionally riled up where I’m losing sleep at night and it’s harming my performance and training, it’s not doing anybody any harm.
“So it’s like enjoy it. Why do people get so butthurt that I respond? It’s like damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
If there’s one thing Sterling wants more than anything out of people coming after him on social media, it’s the concession that he’s actually accomplished a lot in his career. He certainly doesn’t expect anybody to suddenly turn around to become a fervent supporter, but at least they can appreciate the body of work he’s putting together.
“I didn’t get here by accident,” Sterling said. “I didn’t have no Dana White privileges. I fought all the toughest guys.
“I think people are eventually going to have to come around regardless and whether or not they do or they don’t, I’m still going to defend myself.”
If living well is truly the best revenge, Sterling’s ultimate retribution will be continuing his reign as UFC bantamweight champion and that’s exactly what he’s planning to do.
“There’s no winning in my situation but I am happy I’ve got the belt,” Sterling said. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you support me or you hate me, that’s never going to change and it’s going to be a very hard day for anybody in that office to take that belt off my arm.”