Former UFC lightweight Yves Edwards remembers a training session he once had with Aljamain Sterling.
It didn’t go well for Edwards.
“I’ve trained with Aljamain before he got to the UFC and I was like, ‘Who is this little guy and why he is holding me up like this? I don’t like this at all,’” said Edwards, now a UFC analyst for Fox Sports.
Edwards will be on the studio desk for Fox’s coverage of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night in Atlantic City, where Uniondale’s Sterling hopes to cement his status as one of the UFC’s top bantamweights in a matchup with unbeaten prospect Brett Johns.
“His creativity is impressive,” Edwards said of Sterling’s ground game. “His submissions are solid, but it’s the creativity with the submissions. He’s trained under Matt Serra and learned a lot from Matt and the submission game is strong, but Aljo’s creativity with that, he mixes his wrestling in well with it, getting wrestling position, scrambling. He’ll start a scramble and it’ll look like a wrestling scramble and he’ll turn it into a jiu-jitsu scramble and I think that’s the most impressive thing about it, the way he’s so aware of what’s going on when he’s on the ground. He can see submissions, he can see escapes and see all these different options at the same time and react accordingly.”
Edwards is looking forward to watching his matchup with Johns.
“Brett Johns is kind of the same guy,” Edwards said. “This is going to be a fun fight, especially when it hits the mat because both of these guys are real confident in the ground game and the submission game. It should be a chess match. I really hope it hits the ground for a good 10 minutes of this fight because that’ll be a fun, fun grappling session to watch. It’ll be like watching a high-level grappling match with punches and elbows.”
Sterling sees this fight as a chance to propel himself into the conversation of top bantamweights, but following a knockout loss to Marlon Moraes in his last bout, Edwards believes he has some work to do before getting into the title picture.
“Those other guys (at the top of the division) are all quality wrestlers, big punchers, and I believe that’s where Aljo becomes a thought in the conversation but not necessarily a big part of it,” said Edwards. “Aljo can kickbox, yes, but those guys can wrestle also and when his striking gets to a higher level, that’s when he’s a big part of that conversation. But as of right now, his grappling game is solid, he’s definitely a threat to all of those guys, but I know they all feel as long as they can keep him off of them and keep some distance between them, they’ll have a big advantage in this fight. That’s the only hole Aljo needs to fill.”
Edwards also is anticipating the return of another former training partner from Long Island on the card in Ryan LaFlare, who faces Alex Garcia in a welterweight bout.
The analyst said he believes LaFlare has all the talent to compete with the best welterweights the UFC can offer, but he needs to put it all together on fight night. Edwards said he’s always been impressed with all aspects of LaFlare’s game, but his biggest strength is his tenacity and toughness.
“He’s one of these guys who doesn’t break and doesn’t quit. To be a guy who doesn’t break and doesn’t quit, you have to be a thinker, and Ryan is a thinker,” said Edwards. “He’s a guy who assesses, makes adjustments, sometimes he makes the wrong adjustment, but he has a lot more wins than losses and the reason for that is he usually makes the right one. Ryan’s got a good fight IQ, he just has to be cognizant of what’s going on in the fight and take advantage of things as they present themselves, not necessarily force things but try to make things happen, be able to make those adjustments and change tactics as he needs to. I believe Ryan is able to do that.”
Edwards thinks LaFlare matches well with Garcia, but he’ll have to avoid the big punch after being knocked out by Alex Oliveira in his previous bout.
“He has to use the right tools at the right time. He has to use his kickboxing skills to set up his takedowns. If he can get Alex Garcia to plant his feet and run through him with a double or get good position and chain wrestle him to the mat, I believe Ryan will have a good time when he’s on top and he’ll be really successful if he can put Alex Garcia on his back,” Edwards said. “He can compete with him in the standup department, but the thing about a guy like Alex Garcia is that he has that power. You don’t want to play in that realm for much longer than you have to because it only takes one from a guy with that kind of power.”