It might not be the matchup that either man was begging for, but there’s plenty of heat between Cody Stamann and Aljamain Sterling.
Following a win over Brett Johns in April, Sterling resumed his ongoing quest to book a fight with former UFC champion Dominick Cruz, while Stamann, who is 3-0 inside the Octagon so far, sent out the feelers for a different top-10 opponent, Brazilian slugger John Lineker. However, Stamann and Sterling have repeatedly traded verbal shots with each other on social media and in interviews, so the matchmakers decided that they would have to deal with each other in the cage before moving on to other opportunities.
Stamann fights Sterling in a bantamweight bout on the FX preliminary portion of UFC 228 this Saturday at the American Airlines Center in Dallas and the 28-year-old Michigan native is looking to give “Funk Master” a reality check.
“It’s past the point of just being a fight. I legit want to whup this dude’s ass because I think he’s a cocky little s**t,” Stamann told MMA Fighting. “I think he really believes the s**t he says, I think he’s a little out of touch with reality.
“I don’t know, the way he talks about his MMA game, the s**t he can do, it’s like, dude I’ve never seen you do any of the things you talk about in the cage. He talks about how he’s the best grappler in the bantamweight division and I just don’t know how you could say that. Bryan Caraway rode him around like a prom date and I’ve seen other guys out-wrestle him. I mean, he could barely out-wrestle a guy from Wales, so in my head it was either someone like him, someone on the back end of the rankings, or I would go after a guy like John Lineker. Someone that was a really big name and really, really high up the rankings and kind of push myself up a little bit faster.”
Heading into UFC 228, Stamann and Sterling are 10th and 8th in the promotion’s official rankings, respectively. It’s Sterling who has been booked against the more well known competition and though he’s fallen short against the likes of Marlon Moraes and Raphael Assuncao, he was able to outpoint former bantamweight champion Renan Barao last year.
The one common opponent that Stamann and Sterling have is Bryan Caraway and they both battled him to a split decision; Stamann won, Sterling didn’t. It’s this MMA math that has Stamann somewhat confused as to why Sterling would think that he’s somehow above their matchup.
“I feel like I’m probably not the greatest guy for him to overlook,” said Stamann. “I’m beating guys that beat him in my third UFC fight and I’m just going to continue to get better and more comfortable in the Octagon.
“Obviously, I think after his last fight he went out and called for Dominick Cruz, and I think he — in his head — thinks that he’s some kind of contender. The issue with that is that he’s lost to guys that are contenders and guys that could have been contenders and you can’t exactly be the best guy in the world if you’re losing those fights. Those fights you actually have to win. So he kind of hit me with that whole ‘big brother’ thing, like I don’t deserve this, I don’t deserve to be here, but I’ve already beat a guy ranked higher than him so his whole claim to fame is based on him having 10 UFC fights and having been there and done that. That really doesn’t mean anything in the long run.”
It’s not as if Stamann has a problem with trash talk in general. He’s not afraid to sling mud as shown in his current feud with Sterling, but he thinks his peers need to work on their verbal game if they’re going to try and raise their profiles in that manner.
He pointed to a recent public confrontation between bantamweight contenders Moraes and Jimmie Rivera as being particularly uninspiring.
“You can tell when someone’s being genuine, you can tell when someone’s not, so it’s really, really easy to pick out the guys that are trying to talk s**t and it’s not working,” said Stamann. “Was it when Moraes and Jimmie Rivera were up on stage trying to talk s**t to each other, and Moraes could barely speak English and Rivera was probably that dorky kid in high school that got picked on and just put his head in his book bag. It was the most awkward s**t-talking experience I’ve ever seen.
“You guys need to stop. Why are you guys up here trying to do this? You don’t have that. That’s not part of the hand that you were dealt. Don’t fake it.”
With 17 wins in 18 fights so far, including three decision victories in three UFC appearances, Stamann expects his fight with Sterling to inch him closer to a championship opportunity in a division that has no shortage of worthy challengers. When the time comes, he’ll have a head start on preparing for a title fight having trained with both current champion T.J. Dillashaw and former champion Cody Garbrandt.
Stamann was paying close attention to their rematch at UFC 227 and couldn’t help but wonder how he’d stack up against his past sparring partners.
“I’ve trained with T.J. at Roufusport for a week and I trained with Garbrandt for a few weeks. I did a training camp at Team Alpha Male. So I’ve trained with both of them, so I kind of know — and I’m sure that we’ve all gotten better since that time, this was a few years back — but I kind of know what to expect out of that level of competition,” said Stamann. “It was one of those things mentally that made me realize I actually could compete in the UFC and I could be successful if the gap between me and them was small at that time, I felt like I still had a lot of upside.
“To see those guys fight, they’re two of the best guys in the world, so I respect their ability and they’re really good, but I also look at them like, ‘Okay, how would you beat this guy? How would you fight this guy?’”
A victory on Saturday gets Stamann one step closer to answering that question.