Aljamain Sterling suffered the first loss of his MMA career last month at UFC Fight Night 88, dropping a decision to Bryan Caraway. That came after nearly finishing the fight in a dominant first round, and he simply couldn’t keep his pace up as the fight wore on.
Sterling wrote about dealing with that first loss earlier this week in a piece penned for Champions.co, and addressed his emotions in the moment and after the event that night.
“I felt like I had the world by the nuts, and I blew it,” he wrote. “I asked for this big push, for this opportunity. I asked for everything. I put in so much effort in terms of the training, and after such a dominant first round, the way I had that adrenaline dump, especially in my arms… it felt like I was swinging two cinder blocks around. It was pretty disheartening.
“All I could think when the fight was over was that I’d had a great first round — I’d almost pulled it off. I was just so disappointed that I had everything I ever wanted and could ask for with that fight, and I came up short. I know I wasn’t blown out or beaten up. It was more about what I wasn’t able to do or what I didn’t do than anything else.
“I’ve got to credit Bryan for his toughness and being able to capitalize on my mistakes and my over-eagerness to try to entertain too much, instead of doing what we’re supposed to do, which is to win.”
Sterling said he tried to get things off his mind at his after party that night, but had a friend continue to badger him somewhat about the way the Caraway fight played out. The subsequent swell of emotion took him over that night, but now that he’s gotten through it he’s trying to move past it to start again.
“Throughout the night, as I walked around, his words kind of stuck with me, ‘Get back on your shit. You’re too smart to let someone beat you at your own game.’ The more I thought about it, the more it rubbed me the wrong way. Later, about an hour before closing time, one of my other friends came over and then he starts talking about it — the same song and dance. It was like pulling out the right Jenga block, and in doing so it brought the tower down. It just overflowed inside me, and I couldn’t hold it together anymore. I legit broke down and just started babbling and crying inside of this club.
“It hit me so hard. I know it’s a natural feeling, but I just didn’t think it was going to happen that night, in the club, of all places. I thought it would have been a delayed reaction, maybe a day or two down the road, but no, it had to be tonight. In the days following, I watched the fight, several times, and now that all that raw emotion was out, I could finally start looking at it with a clear head.”
Penick’s Analysis: Sterling’s still a young, immensely talented fighter, and that loss to Caraway was as much about overconfidence and him getting overzealous in the first round as anything else. Caraway’s an extremely tough vet, and he made Sterling pay for any mistakes he made in the fight. He’s going to come back stronger from this, and it’s a significant learning experience for him in a still young career. The key is recognizing what went wrong and making the adjustments to avoid that in the future, because this loss wasn’t about Caraway being the more talented or even “better” fighter overall. He survived and took advantage, which is huge in its own right, but I think Sterling’s going to be the type of fighter who doesn’t let that happen to him again anytime soon.
[Photo (c) Joshua Dahl via USA Today Sports]
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