This probably was the biggest test in the UFC and MMA career of Uniondale’s Aljamain Sterling.
Sterling faced Renan Barao, the former UFC bantamweight champion who once was among the top pound for pound fighters in the sport.
Sterling passed the test with ease, winning by unanimous decision over Barao at UFC 214 on Saturday night at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California. The judges scored it 29-28, 29-27, 30-26, for Sterling.
It was the second win in a row for Sterling (14-2) after back-to-back losses by split decision.
The bout was contested at a 140-pound catchweight instead of the usual 135-pound limit for bantamweight. The California State Athletic Commission wouldn’t license Barao at 135 pounds given his past history with weight cut issues, but 140 pounds was deemed acceptable last month.
Sterling took control on the fight in the second round. He took Barao down and was able to control him for the remainder of the round. He mixed in several submission attempts with a body triangle and some strikes that opened a small cut on Barao (36-4, 1 no contest).
Sterling kept up the pressure in the third round by throwing more punches than he had in previous rounds and fights.
“I made a mental mistake and timed a kick wrong in the first round and he was able to capitalize, he’s a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, he’s a former world champion and his resume speaks for itself,” Sterling said. “I overcame adversity, I picked it up in the second and third round in a big way and I felt him break in there in the second round when I had him on his back. My shots landed and I felt the steam deflating out of him. Cody Garbrandt has said I’m overrated and Bryan Caraway keeps running away from me. I want a fight with one of them.”