Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight grapplers Aljamain Sterling and Brett Johns dueled last night (Sat., April 21, 2018) at UFC Fight Night 128 from inside Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Sterling had the misfortune of winding up on the wrong side of one of 2017’s most violent knockouts, which set him back from the title mix considerably. Sterling returned to the cage for the first time since that loss last night, and he hoped to return to the win column as well. Alternatively, Johns entered the cage undefeated. 3-0 inside the Octagon, Johns also recently scored a ridiculously slick calf slicer in his last bout. Safe to say that the European athlete had some momentum behind him, but he was also taking the biggest step up in competition available.
Sterling opened the fight by taking advantage of his range, attacking the lead leg and working the jab. Johns pressured in response, looking to answer with counters. Early on, Sterling did a great job of hand-fighting from the opposite stance, occupying his foe’s lead hand before landing with his cross or kick.
A clinch takedown attempt from Sterling led to a mount from Johns, but the end result of the immediate scramble remained that Sterling gained top position. Johns worked up quickly and freed himself from the clinch with a minute remaining int he round, chasing Sterling and trying to make up lost ground.
Johns finished the round with a single leg takedown, but he clearly lost the opening five minutes.
“The Pikey” opened the round with a lot of aggression, and he soon found his way into another single leg attempt. It was a deep shot, but Sterling defended well then flurried, landing heavy shots to chin and body. Johns ate some nasty shots, but he fared better in the brawl than the kickboxing match, stinging Sterling with some power of his own and a nice left hook to the body.
Sterling got the better of the exchanges but shut them down with a brief double leg takedown. The fight moved into the clinch, where Sterling kept his foe jammed into the cage.
The second ended with more exchanges, but Sterling’s range allowed him to land the cleaner blows.
Neither game plan changed moving into the final five minutes, but Sterling’s kicks-and-takedowns combination was a lot for Johns to deal with. It led to another clinch along the fence, but this time Sterling was able to complete the takedown and briefly take the back. Johns was never in the much trouble, but the back take and continuing clinch transitions cost him a huge chunk of time, something the Welsh athlete needed for any type of comeback opportunity.
Johns didn’t gain separation until there were 90 seconds remaining in the bout. Johns immediately tried to attack, but Sterling smartly jammed him back in the fence at every opportunity.
Sterling finished the bout in style, slamming Johns, taking his back, and dropping some heavy ground strikes before the bell rang.
This was a dominant performance from the New Yorker and an excellent way to bounce back. From the first bell to the final second, Sterling imposed his will and executed a very smart game plan. He made a game fighter with legitimate skills look out-classed, which is exactly what a top 10 fighter should do.
Sterling’s range was brilliant. Johns wanted to get into the pocket and land big shots, but Sterling only allowed him into that distance when he wanted it there. Otherwise, Sterling was stinging Johns with hard kicks and long punches then shooting when Johns tried to step forward. Furthermore, Sterling used the clinch very well, winning large portions of the fight and frustrating his opponent by stuffing him into the cage.
The only thing missing was a finish, but Sterling came somewhat close in the final 10 seconds. “Funk Master” called out Dominick Cruz in his post-fight interview, which would be a reasonable match up IF Cruz has working knees, elbows, and feet.
Johns faced a step up in competition, and it showed. A few times, he was in deep on a takedown, a position he usually finishes right away. When faced with a far better defensive wrestling than usual, Johns was slow to react, and that allowed Sterling to gain the advantage in 50-50 situations.
On the whole, Johns was not aggressive enough, which is definitely the result of Sterling’s excellent game plan. At the same time, Johns should have reached a point where he just let loose and chased the win. Keeping a high pace was a major key for Johns here, but he allowed Sterling to dictate that, and any potential cardio edge never came into play as a result.
Last night, Aljamain Sterling out-classed his opponent for 15 minutes. Who will Sterling face next?
For complete UFC Fight Night 128: “Barboza vs. Lee” results and play-by-play, click HERE!