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UFC Phoenix: Aljamain Sterling cements place in title picture with win over Jimmie Rivera

Aljamain Sterling punches Cody Stamann at UFC 228

Aljamain Sterling punches Cody Stamann at UFC 228 at American Airlines Center on September 8, 2018 in Dallas, United States.  Photo Credit: Getty Images/Ronald Martinez

Aljamain Sterling believes he’s close to a shot at the UFC bantamweight title.

His performance Sunday night confirmed just that.

LI's Sterling cruised by Jimmie Rivera in the featured preliminary bout at UFC on ESPN 1 in Phoenix, winning each round on all three scorecards for a unanimous decision victory.

“The division is kind of crazy right now, but I’m a real threat to this bantamweight division,” Sterling said. “So you better put some respect on my name.”

Sterling, who grew up in Uniondale, moves to 17-3 (9-3 UFC) with the victory. The LIer entered the bout at No. 7 in the UFC’s official bantamweight rankings, but should see that number change after beating No. 5-ranked Rivera in a long-awaited grudge match.

“Jimmie’s a tough, tough opponent,” Sterling said. “I knew his takedown defense was going to be on point, he’s a good wrestler in his own right.”

Sterling shot for a takedown immediately to open the bout, pushing Rivera into the cage and fishing for a trip. Rivera kept the fight standing and turned Sterling against the cage before creating some separation and returning to striking range, only for Sterling to soon engage against the fence soon after. While Sterling appeared to be working for a better position, the referee separated the fighters with about 1:20 left in the round. Rivera took advantage of a Sterling kick attempt to shoot for his own takedown, but couldn’t get the fight to the mat before the round’s conclusion.

A big kick attempt by Sterling early in the second round led to Rivera being on top briefly, but it wasn’t long before Sterling again looked for a takedown against the cage, using knees to soften up his opponent. Sterling continued looking for big head kicks and landed, but hit a bigger shot with a spinning back fist on his follow through. He immediately turned up the pressure, looking for the finish, but Rivera recovered and Sterling exercised patience. The fighters were willing to trade strikes as the round reached its conclusion, going to a third round after a competitive back-and-forth.

Rivera began the third round by pressuring Sterling, but the LIer was quick to responds to his opponent’s strikes. Sterling didn’t have much luck with a takedown attempt, but he continued to control the cage and avoid Rivera’s biggest shots. Sterling slipped to the canvas after a kick attempt, allowing Rivera on top, but he soon reversed the position and worked his way back to his feet. With Rivera bleeding from his nose in the final minute of the fight, Sterling kept his distance, working off a late submission attempt and coasting his way to a decision victory.

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