LAS VEGAS – Consumed by nerves and a crisis of confidence an hour before his fight, Uniondale’s Aljamain Sterling left the locker room at The Cosmopolitan and went to the nearest restroom.
There, Sterling faced the truest test: his face staring back at him in the mirror.
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“I asked myself, ‘How bad do you want it?’” Sterling said Thursday. “’Do you want this? You can’t let this guy take it from you. The only person who can take this from you is yourself.’ I stared myself in the eyes and I was able to pull myself back together.”
When Sterling, the No. 5 ranked bantamweight in the UFC, harnessed his emotion, he walked to the octagon, said a little prayer to himself and then went about his job of beating Johnny Eduardo at UFC Fight Night 80.
Sterling submitted No. 10 Eduardo via a guillotine choke with 42 seconds left in the second round.
“I had to keep pumping myself up and telling myself I do belong here and I can be great if I really want to go out there and be great,” Sterling said.
He did. He was.
Sterling (12-0, 4-0 UFC) fought calm and smart and dictated the pace. He moved forward and barely let Eduardo, with a Muay Thai background, get off many strikes. Eduardo did land a few solid kicks, though.
Sterling showcased high leg kicks more than in previous fights. Although they didn’t land, they kept Eduardo (27-10, 2-2) guessing as Sterling varied his striking.
“Giving him more things to think about,” Sterling said. “I can strike to the stomach, I can strike to the legs, I can strike to the head, and I can attack in my grappling exchanges and get you down to the ground.”
Sterling was most successful on the ground after getting a takedown in each round. Both came a little more than halfway through the round, and Sterling was able to control Eduardo’s body positioned near the cage.
In the second round, Sterling inflicted his most significant strikes while in top position after the takedown. Sterling landed a few powerful and clean elbow strikes as well as punches. From there, as Eduardo tried to sit up, Sterling grabbed a hold of the exposed next and positioned himself for the guillotine choke.
His near flawless performance in the final fight of his current UFC contract left little doubt about Sterling’s skill and position in the 135-pound division.
Still, Sterling said that for whatever reason, he needed to find a way to overcome those last-second doubts that can creep into an athlete’s mind in the last moments before competition.
“He’s the same as you,” Sterling told himself. “He’s just another man. You’re another man as well, but he’s just another man. I’m fighting a tough guy in Johnny Eduardo, well guess what, Johnny Eduardo has to fight Aljamain Sterling.”