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Aljamain Sterling makes long-awaited return in UFC Fight Night 80

UFC fighter Aljamain Sterling trains others and works

UFC fighter Aljamain Sterling trains others and works out at the Longo-Weidman MMA Training Center in Garden City on Aug. 14, 2015. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

LAS VEGAS — A simple phrase lives on loop like a Vine video in the mind of Aljamain Sterling during fight week.

Whether he’s cutting weight two days before the fight or behind the curtain before weigh-ins the next day, or in those moments right before the fight starts, it’s there. Over and over and over again.

“I’m too tough, too strong, too quick and I can’t be broken,” the No. 5 UFC bantamweight tells himself.

“It’s just one of those things where if I keep telling myself over and over and over, it helps me grow stronger every single step I take closer to the octagon,” said Sterling, a Serra-Longo fighter from Uniondale.

Sterling takes those next steps to the octagon on Thursday night when he fights No. 10 Johnny Eduardo at UFC Fight Night 80. The card at The Cosmopolitan airs on Fight Pass, the UFC’s digital streaming network, and is headlined by women’s strawweights Paige VanZant and Rose Namajunas.

Sterling puts into practical application what he teaches as a coach for the Uniondale wrestling team.

“I tell my high school kids this all the time: you step on that mat, you’re facing a guy of the same weight, you’re facing a guy who knows the same moves, the same high-crotch, the same double-leg, the same stand-up. It’s a battle of will. Who’s gonna want it more?”

Sterling (11-0, 3-0 UFC) last fought in April when he submitted Takeya Mizugaki in the third round. Since then, Sterling struggled to book his next fight.

There was, of course, the matter of hernia surgery and recovery shortly after that fight. He began training again in July, hoping and waiting to get on one card after the next. He took to Twitter to call out fighters. No luck.

“I was pretty much training from mid-July until now, so this has been by far the longest fight camp I’ve ever had.”

Frustrated by how things were playing out, he tweeted that he might retire from fighting — he’s 26 — and get a normal job just to pay his bills.

“I want to progress through the sport so I can secure my future and not waste my prime years of being an athlete,” Sterling said. “I don’t plan on fighting when I’m well into my 30s.

“And if I’m fighting two times a year, which is not very good, then it’s not going to be enough to set myself up. And that’s where my frustration came from.”

Shortly thereafter, Sterling booked his next fight against Eduardo (27-9, 2-1), a Brazilian who last fought in May.

Sterling found confidence after submitting Mizugaki, who at the time was ranked No. 7 in the division. It helped propel him from “fast-rising prospect” to “legitimate contender” at 135 pounds.

“He stays focused and on the path,” trainer Ray Longo said, “he’s a future champion.”

New York Sports