New York bantamweight Aljamain Sterling returns to the Octagon tonight (July 29) in a 140-pound catchweight fight with former UFC champion Renan Barao. First, though, he sat down with Fighters Only contributor Tony Reid to discuss a number of subjects ranging from hot chocolate lava cakes and the delight he’d feel choking out Justin Bieber to LeBron James at a dinner party and his resemblance to Jax from Mortal Kombat.
Q: If you could choose one fight from your career that every MMA fan should see, which fight would you choose and why?
Aljamain Sterling: I would want everyone to watch my debut fight. In that fight I think I tried every single move I’ve ever seen on TV and every single move I’ve tried in practice. I was so nervous, but it ended up being a great performance, from what I was told, because I did so much flying and spinning stuff.
Q: If you could fight anyone in any weight class, who would you choose to fight and why?
AS: I would want to fight ‘Big Country’ Roy Nelson because I think I can run circles around him until he gets dizzy. Then I can jump on his back and choke him; or he’ll throw me off and squish me.
Q: What is the most memorable moment from any training session you have been involved in?
AS: The most memorable moment for me was from my first sparring session back from surgery. I was thrown to Johny Bonilla-Bowman and got the JBB test for the new guys. I had a great first round and then, about two minutes into the second round, he kept coming forward, my breathing was off, I was easily taken down and got beat on for the last round and a half. I was livid because of the shape I was in and the beating I took. It only made me fix things and work harder.
Q: Who has the heaviest hands of anybody you have fought or trained with?
AS: The heaviest hands of anyone I fought in competition goes to Hugo Viana because he landed a really solid punch on me. The heaviest hands of anyone I ever sparred with in training is definitely James Jenkins. I think I saw stars and those were 16-ounce gloves we were using! Wait until he gets on national TV.
Q: If you could fight anyone outside the world of MMA, who would you choose to pick a fight with and why?
AS: Oh, I would have to say Justin Bieber because the kid just annoys me with how fake he seems to be. I don’t hate him, I just think he tries too hard to be different and tries too hard to cool. I think that is a solid reason to kick him, or at least challenge him to grapple, so I can sub him 20 times in five minutes.
Q: Who are the people that inspire you most, personally and professionally?
AS: I would say Chris Weidman inspires me because he’s a family man with a tremendous amount of confidence in himself and his ability to achieve the goals he sets for himself. Also, Dr. Dre and 50 Cent because of all the business avenues they’ve explored, everything they have been successful with and all the major deals they have landed over the course of their careers.
Q: If you weren’t a professional mixed martial artist what would you be doing for a living?
AS: If I wasn’t fighting, I would more than likely be coaching wrestling and teaching physical education.
Q: Who are your favorite fighters to watch and why? Conversely, who are your least favorite fighters to watch?
AS: My favorite fighters to watch right now are Jon Jones, Chris Weidman, the Diaz brothers, Anthony Pettis, Josh Thompson, Dominick Cruz, Dennis Bermudez, Al Iaquinta, Robbie Lawler, Matt Brown and Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson. There aren’t many guys I don’t like to watch, because I enjoy all aspects of fighting and the fight game. I only dislike it when there is a very low output of strikes in a fight or if guys blatantly hold position and show no signs of trying to do damage or pass guard. That’s really wack and there should be a yellow card system for that.
Q: Many professional athletes have strange superstitious habits. Do you have any we should know about?
AS: My routine is that I always have to have a long and ridiculous warm-up, run sprints, and stretch like there’s no tomorrow.
Q: What is the most amazing thing you have seen in regards to the growth of MMA?
AS: The most amazing thing I have seen during my time in the sport is just MMA being recognized as a legitimate combat sport and corporate companies accepting it as the new era of combat and providing a platform for it to be shown on a national and international level.
Q: What is the best thing nobody knows about you?
AS: The best thing nobody knows about me is that I can cook. I can cook rice and chicken, fish, pasta, and my favorite of all – hot chocolate lava cakes!
Q: Best advice you could give to a younger you?
AS: The best advice I would give a younger me is that if you truly want something, everything you do, everything, should be prioritized around that desire. You need to remind yourself everyday of what the main goal is.
Q: Best inspiration to fight?
AS: My inspiration to fight is just to be the best bantamweight of this era, to be the best bantamweight in the world.
Q: Best memory from your first fight?
AS: The best memory from my first fight was a straight right I landed that opened up my opponent’s eyebrow. It was a crazy sight to see for my first regulated scrap.
Q: Best way to get pumped before a fight?
AS: The way I get ready before a fight is that I say my little chant and that gets my blood pumping.
Q: Best job before becoming a fighter?
AS: The best job I had was teaching back in my hometown. Also, coaching in my hometown.
Q: Best cartoon character resemblance?
AS: I would have to go with Jax from Mortal Kombat (Laughs).
Q: Best three dinner guests?
AS: The three people I would want to have over for dinner are comedian and actor Kevin Hart, Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player LeBron James, the best basketball player on the planet, and the actor Will Smith.
Q: What’s your guilty pleasure?
AS: My guilty pleasure is food. I love food; pizza, chocolate and milk chocolate especially.
Q: What’s the best lesson life has handed you?
AS: The best life lesson I have been handed is simply perseverance.