Amid the tweets and the calling out of Bryan Caraway, Aljamain Sterling made sure to explain his reasoning: the challenge of facing a top grappler.
A fight against Caraway, the UFC’s No. 8 ranked bantamweight, would help No. 4 Sterling see where he stands among the 135-pounders inside the cage rather than on some list voted on by select members of the media.
In the first round, Sterling got one answer, followed by a different one in the second and third rounds.
Sterling lost by split decision to Caraway at UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas on Sunday, with the judges scoring it 29-28, 28-29, 29-28.
“This is a warning to the bantamweight division, I’m coming for that belt,” Caraway said after the fight. “I’m the underdog in every fight I’m in.”
Sterling (12-1, 4-1 UFC), from Uniondale and a two-time All-American wrestler at Cortland, outgrappled Caraway in the first round. He secured a body triangle on Caraway and held onto it for the final three minutes of the round, attempting various submissions throughout. Caraway (21-8, 6-2) was able to defend them all, and eat a few punches along the way. Sterling ended the first round with a full nelson hold on Caraway.
“I thought I had him with the full nelson in the first round,” Sterling said. “He was able to tolerate it better than most because he isn’t as muscular so he could bend and maneuver. I feel like I burned myself out in that first round and that did it for me.”
Caraway and Sterling had several good exchanges on the ground, but Caraway was able to assert his grappling skills in the second round and again in the third, ending the fight by hanging onto the back of a standing Sterling for most of the final 80 seconds of the fight.
It is Sterling’s first career loss and the second straight win for Caraway.
“I got off to a slow start, he’s obviously a good grappler himself, I was just too cautious at first, and when you let someone get to a dominant position he’ll take advantage,” Caraway said. “I think the theme of this fight was heart over hype. He’s the No. 4 guy and the only ones ahead of him are Dillashaw, Faber and Barao, so I think I should be the next guy up for a shot at the title.”