Aljamain Sterling’s first career loss has turned into his first career losing streak.
Long Island’s Sterling could not get back into the UFC bantamweight title picture Saturday, falling to Raphael Assuncao via split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29) at UFC on Fox 23 in Denver.
The loss is the second straight for No. 7-ranked Sterling, who fights out of Uniondale. He suffered his first defeat against Bryan Caraway last May and is now 12-2 in his professional career. No. 4-ranked Assuncao improves to 24-5.
Both tried to establish the kicking game early in the first round with Sterling maintaining his distance and Assuncao attempting to keep it close. Midway through the round, Assuncao went for an inside leg kick, but caught Sterling in the groin. After a quick break to recover, Sterling began to press the action a bit more while Assuncao looked to counter, landing some of the better strikes of a fairly even round.
Early in the second round, Sterling took a kick that appeared to hit the groin again, but the referee was not in position to see it clearly. While the referee did not stop the action, Assuncao did not pounce and Sterling had time to recover. As both men looked to counter again, Assuncao was able to start landing with power. Sterling was able to land his kicks, especially to his opponent’s legs, but couldn’t significantly connect with his hands and didn’t look for a takedown until late in the second round.
The final round saw Sterling press the action, but again he had trouble landing anything with much significance. There was much more activity from Sterling in the final round, but his punches continued to come up short. His kicks continued to be effective with a few strong ones landing to the body late.
A finish never appeared to be a real possibility as this one progressed. While FightMetric determined Sterling landed more significant strikes in each round, Assuncao was declared the winner on two of three scorecards.