Sterling lost his bantamweight title following a second-round TKO defeat to O'Malley in the UFC 292 headliner earlier this month. Going into the fight, “Funk Master” declared it would be his last at bantamweight before he moved up to featherweight.
However, with the loss, he changed his tune and wanted an immediate rematch. Whether he gets it remains to be seen but if it's not him, Sterling believes his teammate in Dvalishvili deserves the next crack.
“I think there’s only one name that comes to mind, and that’s Aljamain Sterling in the rematch,” Sterling said about O’Malley’s next opponent on his Weekly Skraps podcast (via MMA Fighting). “All jokes aside, I think if I don’t get the immediate rematch — if they were to offer me that immediate rematch for December, I’m just going to have to respectfully decline; but if they were to do it early next year like January or February, I would accept it in a heartbeat.
“But if I’m not going to get the rematch, the next guy in line has to be Merab Dvalishvili. Has to be. No. 1 contender. I don’t think any other matchup makes more sense than him.”
If Dvalishvili does get the next title shot, Sterling would naturally be in limbo. What he would do in that scenario ultimately depends on how things shape up.
“Of course, that would put me in limbo,” Sterling said. “I know people are going to be like ‘Where does that leave you Aljo?’ I don’t know.”
“Maybe I stick around at [135 pounds] and take like a fight or two and then maybe I explore [145 pounds], or maybe I just go right to 145. It just really depends. Let’s just see how things shape up before we just start jumping to conclusions and getting all crazy with all this other stuff.”
O'Malley, meanwhile, has called for a rematch with Marlon Vera in December. Given their history, it certainly makes plenty of sense.
However, Sterling believes Dvalishvili is the most logical matchup.
“I think that is the most logical matchup,” Sterling explained. “Whether or not that’s a fun fight for the fans, I don’t know. I think it’s another interesting matchup with a guy who can get takedowns over and over and over again and exhaust his opponents. I mean, look what he did to [Petr] Yan. Look at how the fight with Yan and O’Malley went. It just makes things interesting, and then my fight with Sean until it was over, it leaves a lot of interesting questions to be answered.”