Next Contender? ‘If He Takes Out Max, He’s Next’

 Nickal v Woodburn
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Aljamain Sterling’s move to the Featherweight division is imminent.

After his original plans were thwarted against Sean O’Malley at UFC 292 in August 2023 (watch highlights), Sterling remained hopeful for an instant rematch with the new Bantamweight champion. Unfortunately for him, the promotion went in the direction of another rematch, matching O’Malley with Marlon “Chito” Vera for “Sugar’s” first title defense at UFC 299 in March 2024.

Sterling targets his return to action around the same time as UFC 299, but now plans to go to Featherweight regardless of his place atop the Bantamweight ranks as the former champion. For his UFC debut at 145 pounds, “Funk Master” wants to face a fellow former titleholder, Max Holloway. With Ilia Topuria set to challenge the reigning champion, Alexander Volkanovski, at UFC 298 in February 2024, “The Great” doesn’t see many options awaiting him afterward.

“He’s a good fighter,” Volkanovski said of Sterling on The MMA Hour. “I can see what he’s doing. He knows, ‘Alright if I want a title fight anytime soon ...’ Look, if he takes out Max, he’s next. It’s that simple, and he knows that. Good on him. He’s game. He knows the clear path to that title. ‘I’m not getting it now, I lost my title, there’s no way I’m going for champ-champ right now. But if I fight, I can be one fight away from a title if I take out Max.’

“I’m sure he knows it’s a tough fight, but he just looks at it, ‘That’s how I get to the title.’” he concluded. “Good on him. You gotta respect that. I think it will be an exciting fight if it happens, but we’ll see what happens.”

Before Sterling’s loss to O’Malley, he tied the record alongside his best friend and teammate, Merab Dvalishvili, for the longest winning streak in UFC Bantamweight history at nine. Volkanovski, on the other hand, remains undefeated as a Featherweight, having won all 16 of his bouts in the division (26-3 overall). Meanwhile, Holloway has also been perfect at 145 pounds outside of his three collisions with Volkanovski. “Blessed” has won two straight over Arnold Allen and Chan Sung Jung (watch highlights) since his unanimous decision trilogy loss to Volkanovski in July 2022.