ATLANTIC CITY — Aljamain Sterling has given himself plenty of nicknames over his UFC career.
“The Human Backpack” was the most appropriate at UFC Fight Night 128 on Saturday at Boardwalk Hall.
Sterling picked up a win over Brett Johns in a bantamweight bout, winning a convincing unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) with a strong grappling game to maintain his position in a crowded bantamweight division.
“This fight was to let everybody know that I’m still here,” Sterling said. “I’m one of the top bantamweights in this division.”
Uniondale’s Sterling opened the first round cautiously, picking his shots and setting up his takedown attempts. Sterling initiated a scramble midway through the round and wound up in the dominant position. Sterling continued to control the grappling battle, but Johns defended well despite being bloodied. Sterling had the advantage on the feet as well with Johns shooting for a takedown late in the round, but nothing coming of it.
Johns landed a knee to Sterling’s body early in the second and followed up with a takedown, but Sterling recovered and controlled the position. Two minutes into the round, Sterling began to land his punches and swarmed, putting a combination together that woke up Johns. The pair exchanged blows, but Sterling worked well to break up the action with takedown attempts. Sterling landed some front kicks to keep Johns at distance late in the round, but couldn’t land a difference-making shot.
Johns applied pressure to open the third round, but it wasn’t long before Sterling was on Johns’ back against the cage. Sterling spent much of the round looking for the takedown against the cage, but couldn’t get the fight down to the mat. A big spinning elbow missed late, but Sterling secured the clinch soon after and continued controlling the fight. He brought it to the ground and took Johns’ back again in the closing seconds, swinging both arms with everything he had left at Johns’ head, but couldn’t get the finish.
Sterling made his intentions at 135 pounds known after the bout, calling for a fight with former champion Dominick Cruz.
“I want to fight the best guys and I want to prove that I can be and will be a UFC champion,” Sterling said. “I think everyone else is booked up and I think if I beat [Cruz], I’m right there for the title shot. I just want to show everybody that those few hiccups, split decisions, you get a different judge in there, there’s a good chance I could be damn near undefeated, maybe one loss because of the hiccup with Marlon [Moraes], but outside of that, who has beaten me definitely, decisively to show me I can’t compete with these guys? It’s been a mental thing and I think I’ve gotten over that hump. I’m ready, man, I’m ready for those big names again and I want to put my name in that hat.”