UFC: Aljamain Sterling’s future in flux as the title picture at 135 becomes cloudy

MMA: UFC 280-Sterling vs Dillashaw
Craig Kidwell-USA TODAY Sports

Former UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling (24-3) seems to be in a little bit of limbo at the moment. The longtime bantamweight champion is coming off a loss to “Suga” Sean O’Malley (17-1, 1 NC) back at UFC 292 just a couple of weeks ago.

The loss was Sterling’s first loss since his knockout loss to Marlon Moraes all the way back in 2017. Now that the title isn’t on his shoulders, Sterling is taking a little time to take a step back and evaluate his options regarding his future. Sterling has openly talked about his interest in fighting at 145 pounds.

That said, after he was stopped by O’Malley, he didn’t seem keen on fighting at featherweight. The message in his post-fight interview was simple, “If he (O’Malley) caught me like that, I can only imagine what Volkanovski would do.” On his weekly podcast, Sterling said that he would love an immediate rematch with O’Malley.

Sterling said that if they wanted to do the fight in the first couple of months of 2024, he’d take the fight in a heartbeat. However, the word is that the UFC is talking about December for O’Malley which would be a little soon for Sterling. Sterling said that if he doesn’t get the shot, he wants his teammate Merab Dvalishvili (16-4) to fight for the title.

UFC’s Bantamweight Division

Dvalishvili has said he would absolutely take the title fight against O’Malley in December. However, if Sterling’s immediate rematch is on the table, Dvalishvili has also said he would step back because he doesn’t want to take the title fight over his close friend and teammate.

Dana White responded to those claims last night with frustration directed towards Dvalishvili. White said, “Why did you even get into this sport if that’s your mentality?” White has also openly criticized Dvalishvili in the past for saying he would never accept a title fight while Sterling is the champion because of their close relationship.

If I had to bet money, I’d say Marlon “Chito” Vera (23-8-1) gets the next shot at O’Malley because that’s the biggest fight for business the UFC could make. Back to the former champion, Aljamain Sterling is just waiting to see how this all shakes out. If he gets the title shot, that’s what he wants. If Chito Vera gets the title shot, my guess is that Sterling would take a fight at 135 next.

However, if Dvalishvili gets the title fight, I could see Sterling move up to featherweight and jump into a fight with someone in the top five at 145. On the topic, Sterling said, “Of course that (Merab getting the title fight) would put me in limbo. I know people are going to be like ‘well where does that leave you, Aljo?’. I don’t know. Maybe I stick around at 35 and take like a fight or two, and then maybe I explore 45? Or maybe I just go right to 45. It just really depends. Let’s just see how things shape up before we just kind of start jumping to conclusions and getting all crazy with all this other stuff.”

What should the UFC do with Sterling next? I’m not sure but if I was the promotion, I would explore the options at 145 in order to clear up the clog at 135.