Aljamain Sterling offers no shortage of nicknames in describing his grappling and wrestling style.
“The human backpack, the human anaconda, the human octopus, the human leech, Mr. Jansport,” said Sterling, who uses “Funkmaster” as his official fighter nickname.
He was all of those in his last fight, but just for the first round in a split-decision loss to Bryan Caraway at UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas last May.
That loss, his first as a professional MMA fighter, stuck with Sterling for a week or two. It also taught the Serra-Longo bantamweight from Uniondale a valuable lesson.
“When the training is done, it’s done,” Sterling said, adding that he went “over the top” even during fight week with two-a-day or three-a-day training sessions. “I wanted to make a statement.”
Sterling gets his next chance at that on Saturday when he faces fourth-ranked Raphael Assuncao at UFC Fight Night in Denver.
“A win over him lets everyone know I’m still legit and I’m here to stay and I’m here to still be a contender in this division,” Sterling said.
Hmmm, a fight at mile-high altitude? Coming off a fight where Sterling (12-1, 4-1 UFC) gassed out after the first round?
Sterling took steps to make sure fighting more than 5,000 feet high in a city with 17 percent less oxygen than those at sea leavel. He went to Colorado three weeks prior to the fight to acclimate his body to the altitude.
“The first day didn’t feel so bad, it was when I trained the very next day,” Sterling said. “I definitely felt the difference. Yeah, I can see this thing is no joke. It was a relief for me to know I came out here early and I did the right thing to give myself the best opportunity to win, the best advantage to win.”
Assuncao and Sterling were supposed to fight last month in Albany, but Sterling had to withdraw because of an injury.
Assuncao (23-5, 7-2) had his seven-fight win streak stopped at UFC 200 last July in a decision loss to former bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw.
“I match up statistically well on paper with Raphael Assuncao,” Sterling said. “Striking, I think I match up well with him in that department. Kicks, I think I match up well with him in that department. I’m the longer fighter, I’m the younger fighter, I got the wrestling pedigree. I got just as good jiu-jitsu, if not better. My ‘funk jitsu’ is a lot better than his traditional jiu-jitsu. It’s gonna be catch wrestling versus the old-school style. It’s cool, people want to count me, it’s fine. I believe in myself. I don’t need nobody to believe in me but me and my team.”
UFC FIGHT NIGHT DENVER
Main card on Fox, 8 p.m. Eastern
Valentina Shevchenko vs. Julianna Pena
Donald Cerrone vs. Jorge Masvidal
Andrei Arlovski vs. Francis Ngannou
Alex Caceres vs. Jason Knight
Prelims on FS1, 5 p.m.
Nate Marquardt vs. Sam Alvey
Raphael Assuncao vs. Aljamain Sterling
Bobby Nash vs. Li Jingliang
Henrique da Silva vs. Jordan Johnson
Eric Spicely vs. Alessio Di Chirico
Marcos Rogerio de Lima vs. John Phillips
Early prelims on Fight Pass, 4 p.m.
Alexandre Pantoja vs. Eric Shelton
Jason Gonzalez vs. J.C. Cottrell