Aljamain Sterling reflects on negotiations for Sean O’Malley fight: ‘You almost tie my hands behind my back’

Aljamain Sterling feels he was pressured by UFC brass to defend his title against Sean O’Malley.

Three months after he retained his bantamweight title in a five-round battle against Henry Cejudo at UFC 288 in May 2023, Sterling (24-4 MMA, 16-4 UFC) was booked to defend his title against O’Malley (18-1 MMA, 10-1 UFC) at UFC 292 in August 2023. Sterling wanted more time to recover from nagging injuries, but ultimately accepted the fight. He was knocked out in Round 2.

In hindsight, Sterling thinks he shouldn’t have accepted the relatively quick turnaround. Sterling’s negotiations with UFC executive vice president and chief business officer Hunter Campbell were included in recent documentary series “Fight Inc: Inside the UFC.” Looking back, he did not like how the situation was presented.

“I know we’ve seen the video circulating all over social media, (the) conversation between myself, my management (Tiki Ghosn), and Hunter,” Sterling said on his YouTube channel. “I wasn’t really excited to see that clip again because I had to relive all those emotions again. It kind of riled me up a little bit because it really did piss me off in that moment of time. Just kind of how everything unfolded.

“If you look at the series of events, I had just fought. I had a really hard training camp to make that weight cut. I fought one of the greatest combat athletes of all time in Henry Cejudo. Five rounds, hard fight, and then the night of the fight – and this is just the series of events. They don’t make fights the night of the fight, but somehow, for whatever reason, my fight in particular just happened to be made that night.”

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Sterling admits the better man won on the night, but doesn’t think he got a fair shake. He wanted an opportunity to heal and see how his body holds up, but says he succumbed to the pressure when he was in the hot seat with Campbell.

“You’re telling me I can sit out, but then you’re also telling me, ‘Well, if you don’t fight, then you don’t fight for almost a year,’ and that’s not cool either,” Sterling said. “So you almost tie my hands behind my back, but I take the path where I was like, ‘You know what? If I’m going to roll the dice because my teammates and my managers are all pushing me to do it, I’m going to roll the dice.’”

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