A year ago, Aljamain Sterling was in a hotel gym in Las Vegas telling anyone who’d listen that he wanted to fight Bryan Caraway.
This Sunday, Sterling will be inside the octagon in Las Vegas fighting Caraway.
At nearly all points in between these two moments on the calendar, Sterling found a way to call out Caraway. Twitter. Instagram. Facebook. News conferences. Whatever.
“If someone calls you out that many times, you either step to the table and fight, or you back down and tell them you don’t want none of that,” Sterling said. “That’s what I was trying to get out of it. So, I got the fight. So we’ll see who the bigger, stronger man is in this division.”
Sterling, a Serra-Longo fighter from Uniondale, and Caraway will meet — finally — at UFC Fight Night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center. Sterling (12-0, 4-0 UFC) is the No. 4-ranked bantamweight in the division. Caraway is No. 8.
Don’t mistake Sterling’s harsh words for hatred of Caraway, he said.
“I actually don’t hate Bryan Caraway,” Sterling said. “The only thing I don’t like about him is that he doesn’t fight. He’s just taking up space on the roster. It’s like, if you’re gonna do that, go somewhere else and just retire. Go be a housewife. What’s wrong with that? You got one of the hottest girls in the game, that’s cool. Just don’t pretend to be a fighter. If you’re gonna be about it, you know, do something. Man up.”
Caraway (20-8, 5-2) is both a longtime coach and boyfriend of Miesha Tate, who won the UFC women’s bantamweight title last March. He last fought on July 25, 2015, beating Eddie Wineland by unanimous decision.
Sterling owes his entry into the UFC to Caraway, if only based on serendipitous reasons. Caraway pulled out of a scheduled fight against Lucas Martins at UFC 170 in February 2014, and on three weeks’ notice, Sterling signed with the UFC and became the replacement fighter. Martins ended up pulling out of that fight, and Sterling fought and beat Cody Gibson by unanimous decision in his UFC debut.
While the verbal battle with Caraway has been more one-sided, the physical altercation inside the cage could be more interesting. Both Caraway and Sterling are good grapplers. Sterling said he is excited about the challenged of facing a person of Caraway’s considerable ground game.
“I want to see where I’m at and make sure I’m taking the right steps to get myself prepared for that championship belt,” Sterling said. “I’m on a journey to be great.”
Sterling headlines the prelims on Fight Pass, UFC’s digital streaming service, while two other well-regarded young bantamweights fight in the main event of the night on Fox Sports 1. Thomas Almeida (21-0, 4-0), ranked No. 7 in the UFC’s bantamweight division, fights Cody Garbrandt (8-0, 3-0).
“It’s going to be interesting to see who puts on the better show that night,” Sterling said. “I’m looking to go guns blazing and make my fight a statement. I want to prove to people that my fight was the main event, my fight was the headliner for this card. I want people to see the ‘Funkmaster’ is for real and he’s got some legitimiate skill to threaten the champ.”
UFC FIGHT NIGHT
Sunday, May 29, at Mandalay Bay
Main card, 9 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1
Thomas Almeida vs. Cody Garbrandt
Renan Barao vs. Jeremy Stephens
Tarec Saffiedine vs. Rick Story
Chris Camozzi vs. Vitor Miranda
Lorenz Larkin vs. Jorge Masvidal
Josh Burkman vs. Paul Felder
Prelims on FS1, 7 p.m.
Jessica Eye vs. Sara McMann
Jordan Rinaldi vs. Abel Trujillo
Jake Collier vs. Alberto Pereira Uda
Shane Campbell vs. Erik Koch
Prelims on Fight Pass, 6 p.m.
Bryan Caraway vs. Aljamain Sterling
Chris DeLaRocha vs. Adam Milstead