26-year-old bantamweight Aljamain Sterling has been one of the best prospects in the division, but he may move on from the UFC if he’s not paid as such.
In an interview with MMAJunkie.com ahead of his fight with Johnny Eduardo on Thursday’s UFC Fight Night 80 event, Sterling revealed that he turned down a recent contract renewal from the UFC, and he’s interested in testing the free agent market.
“I don’t want to make it sound like I’m gambling against the UFC, but at the same time, the offer they made me just wasn’t that compelling,” Sterling said. “I will say that. For what I’ve done and what I plan to do to this next guy, I just don’t think it’s a compelling enough offer for where I’m going to be compared to the other guys who are ranked in the top five in their division. So I look at those kinds of things to see where I’m at and what’s reasonable.
“… It sucks because I’ve been offered a full-time teaching job, and starting salary here on Long Island for a physical-education teacher is $56,000, and that would’ve been more money than I made between my two fights from last year, 2014. So, it just kind of sucks when you look at the numbers like that. I’m 26. I got in the UFC when I was 24, and I only had three fights from Feb. 22  until now.”
The undefeated fighter has won those three fights in the Octagon thus far, impressively submitting longtime vet Takeya Mizugaki from the bottom in his most recent outing. That win was another source of frustration for him, because as impressive as he’s been, it’s failed to secure him any bonus money on top of what he feels is a less than ideal salary.
“I told [UFC President Dana White], ‘Yo, I had a submission that hasn’t been done before, and you gave the [bonus] to Rockhold, for a rear-naked choke or whatever,” Sterling said. “I mean, that was a highly contested fight between two high-level guys. But you had an unranked guy (Sterling) do that to the No. 6-ranked guy in the world. I don’t know. I just figure if you’re going to go by performance, you’ve got to keep it by performance.”
Penick’s Analysis: This is where the UFC needs to be paying more. This is the level of competitor they can lose if they fail to compensate them as the elite professional athlete they happen to be. Sterling’s a guy who could legitimately be a title challenger within the year if given the right fights, and a win over Eduardo places him in that camp. If the UFC is unwilling to pay him like he’ll be there, he can get that type of money elsewhere given what he’s done already. He’s someone worth holding onto, and the UFC would be fools to let him go.
[Photo (c) Bill Streicher via USA Today Sports]