The old saying goes, “He who laughs last, laughs best,” and there is little doubt that Aljamain Sterling is having a good laugh now.
A guy who was disrespected by large swathes of the fan base, particularly after he was the victim of an illegal knee in his title-winning effort, showed that maybe those who criticized him and called him a winner were classless no-nothings.
Sterling defeated one of the greatest fighters in UFC history Saturday when he won a split decision over Henry Cejudo at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Two judges had it 48-47 for Sterling and the third had it 48-47 for Cejudo. Yahoo Sports had Sterling, 48-47.
Since winning the title via disqualification from Petr Yan in 2021, Sterling has beaten Yan in a rematch, dominated T.J. Dillashaw and on Saturday scored his greatest victory by outlasting Cejudo. Add in the submission win over Cory Sandhagen in the fight that earned him a title shot and that’s one of the best runs in recent times.
Sterling’s length gave Cejudo difficulty and Sterling’s wrestling was surprisingly effective against the 2008 Olympic gold medalist. But it was in the clinch where Sterling was at his best.
“I wish I could have done a bit better, but Henry’s a dog,” Sterling said of Cejudo, who came out of a three-year retirement to fight him.
Sterling was able to push the pace and use his range to cause Cejudo problems. But when they got into the clinch, Sterling used knees and elbows to secure the victory.
Swelling and welts aren’t on the scoring criteria, but Sterling noted, “Look at his face and look at mine.” Sterling had no visible marks, though Cejudo had a big welt under his right eye.
Sean O’Malley will be Sterling’s next challenger and he came into the ring. They talked trash to each other and O’Malley said, “You better look better than that. You looked like s***.”
Sterling shouted, “September! Signed, delivered and sealed, baby. September.”
Lost in all of this was the fact that Cejudo removed his gloves and said he’s contemplating making this a one-fight comeback and going back into retirement.
He didn’t seem to have the explosion he once had and that cost him Saturday.
“I think we go back and think about it,” Cejudo said. “If I’m not first, I’m last. I’m going to talk to [UFC president] Dana [White]. I’m going to talk to my wife. Who knows, this may be the last you see of me in this Octagon.”
If it is, it was a marvelous run and he’ll wind up in the Hall of Fame. But for Sterling, the man so often and so unfairly derided, it’s only going to get bigger and better.