Aljamain Sterling may be the reigning and defending UFC bantamweight champion, but he knows his days competing at 135 pounds are likely numbered.
Originally a wrestler before transitioning to MMA, 33-year-old veteran has cut weight nearly his entire life. That tortuous process has also come with a lot of knowledge, which is why Sterling knows his body will eventually reach its limit.
“I do think so [it’s inevitable],” Sterling told The Fighter vs. The Writer about an eventual move to featherweight. “It’s just getting harder for me to make this weight. Even for me to stay consistently under 160 [pounds] in a training camp is really, really hard. I’ve really got to dial it in these next two weeks, and waking up at 155, because that’s the next stage, and then I’ve got the next stage waking up at 152, 150, so it kind of takes away from my training, and I do think it takes away from my cardio a bit when I do get there on fight night.
“That’s why I try to go as hard as I can in the room, so I’m as prepared as I possibly can be so hopefully that’s enough so even with the drop off, I can still make up for it just with mental toughness kind of thing.”
Weight-cutting aside, Sterling has previously addressed a move to featherweight when he’s asked about his friend and teammate Merab Dvalishvili, whose rise in the bantamweight ranks has put him in potential conflict with the champ.
Dvalishvili has made it clear he will never face Sterling, regardless of the stakes. He recently told reporters to stop asking him that question because the answer will never change.
Sterling says exactly the same, because in his mind, some relationships are worth more than gold.
“You won’t have Aljamain Sterling here without a training partner like Merab, and I don’t think you have Merab without a training partner like myself,” Sterling said. “I help him with training camps, he helps me. We go over tape. We bounce ideas off of each other. We both moved to the same block in Las Vegas.
“People can say whatever they want. Obviously, you never had any real friends, so I think that’s pretty much what it comes down to.
“To have a guy like that you can train with and lean on, and who’s super reliable when it comes to giving the extra workouts and just being super selfless in a very selfish sport. It’s nice to have. I think that’s what makes us so close, because anything I need he’s there, anything he needs from me, I’m there.
“Even when I’m banged up, I’m still letting the guy beat up on me so that he can get the work in that he needs. I think it just goes to show you how well-respected we both feel in terms of both of our skillsets.”
While the move to 145 pounds is inevitable, Sterling doesn’t anticipate leaving bantamweight just yet. He still has unfinished business to handle against T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 280. The champ would like to rack up some more records and build an untouchable resume before testing the waters in a new division.
“There’s history for me here right now,” Sterling said. “If I can run up the score and make it very, very hard for anyone to catch my record, that would be really, really nice. That’s kind of where I’m at with my mentality at 135. I just want to win as much as I can, set records and keep my name in the history books for as long as I possibly can, because this sport is constantly evolving.
“What else am I doing this for? Obviously to make money, but to be remembered as one of the best guys ever at bantamweight, and to have people be able to study me for years to come, decades to come, that’s the new motivation for me.”