By Raphael Garcia
Mixed martial arts is just as much a form of entertainment as it is a sport. There’s a certain mixture of characteristics that is needed for an individual to become a crossover star. This is why individuals such as Conor McGregor, Chael Sonnen, and Ronda Rousey were able to mix their personalities with their fighting careers and create opportunities both within and outside of the sport to further their respective brands. When these elements come together, professional athletes can find themselves positioned to not only excel within their respective venues, but transcend sports itself. UFC Fight Night 88 features a fighter with qualities that can launch him into a new tier of recognition. Aljamain Sterling may be ready for the limelight, but first he must pass a tough test tomorrow night.
While Sterling himself has an extremely long way to go before he can be included in the list of stars whose names are bigger than the games they play, he has shown some of the elements for stardom. First and foremost, Sterling is a successful fighter, boasting a record of 12-0. And in his Octagon career, he’s become the kind of highlight-reel type of fighter that the UFC loves to have on its roster, finishing three of his last four opponents. Not only has he defeated highly touted prospects such as Cody Gibson, but he’s stopped veterans and title contenders such as Takeya Mizugaki.
An attractive, 26-year old male Sterling certainly has the look that promoters can get behind. He’s can be pushed to many different audiences, much the way the UFC hoped to with Anthony Pettis before his recent defeats. The UFC recently put together a promotional campaign for this bout that features Sterling and hip-hop legend Eric B, which is one of the most original and enjoyable promotional efforts from the organization as of late.
Also, Sterling is well aware of his value. He recently had a public battle with the UFC when he decided against re-signing with the company before his contract ended. After learning of the paydays fighters such as Sage Northcutt and Paige VanZant were receiving, Sterling decided to try his luck in free agency. Even though he would eventually re-sign with the UFC, this move showed that he has the wherewithal to treat his fighting career as just that, a professional career. The UFC is looking to leverage his growing star power by placing his bout on UFC Fight Pass in a featured prelim bout, and this is a true opportunity for him to further develop his brand.
Heading into tomorrow night’s bout, Sterling is in the perfect position to push himself into the title picture. If he can defeat Bryan Caraway, and do so in a way that leaves fans excited, there’s no reason to think he couldn’t be the next man to challenge for the title. Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber are fighting at UFC 199, and if the UFC can avoid its penchant for booking rematches, a victorious Sterling is surely the right way to go.
The UFC has struggled to develop a steady stream of stars that can grab attention outside of hardcore circles. However, Aljamain Sterling has the potential to do it for himself, to become a face that fans recognize and a name that draws attention from the masses. But the first step is a big win tomorrow night on UFC Fight Pass.
UFC Fight Night 88
• Bryan Caraway vs. Aljamain Sterling
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UFC Fight Night 88: Almeida vs. Garbrandt takes place on May 29, 2016 at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.