Aljamain Sterling has had one of the most bizarre title reigns in recent MMA memory, but to his credit none of it has been his own doing -- and all he does is keep winning.
Sterling beat former champion TJ Dillashaw via TKO at 3:44 of the second round in the co-main event of UFC 280 on Saturday in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Sterling retained the UFC bantamweight title with the victory, though there were some other circumstances at play that were out of his hands.
Dillashaw's left shoulder popped out of its socket early in the first round, was put back in by coach Duane Ludwig in between rounds and then came out again in the second round. Sterling kept the pressure on, took Dillashaw down and used big punches and elbows from back control to get the TKO.
"I had no idea," Sterling said of Dillashaw's injury. "I was just in the zone. I knew he could get back on top and do damage. I made sure I kept the pressure on, do what I need to do. Anaconda, human backpack. I take you down, it's a f---ing wrap wrap."
Dillashaw said in his postfight interview that he blew out his shoulder in April and dislocated it maybe as many as 20 times during his training camp.
"It popped out right away [in the fight]," Dillashaw said. "I've got to apologize to the weight class. I held it up. ... It's a stacked weight class, man. I took up a position. But I wasn't going to wait another year for a shot."
UFC president Dana White said in the postfight news conference that Dillashaw needed to disclose the injury to the UFC, which was acting as its own regulatory body in Abu Dhabi.
"How could the athletic commission know if he doesn't tell us?" White said. "You got to tell us. He looked good. He was in great shape. It's not like he came in out of shape. ... That's something that he should have told us."
The first round mainly consisted of Sterling taking Dillashaw down, keeping him there and doing some damage from top position and the back. It was more of the same in the second until referee Marc Goddard stepped in to stop it when Dillashaw stopped intelligently defending himself with Sterling on top raining down blows.
"I full mounted him, I rolled his arms up," Sterling said. "I flattened him out. I'd like to think I'm the one that caused that to come out of the socket again. He can say whatever he wants. I don't think, socket or not, that fight was going to get any better for him, honestly."
Coming in, ESPN had Sterling ranked No. 8 on its MMA pound-for-pound list. At bantamweight, Sterling was ranked No. 1 and Dillashaw was at No. 3.
Sterling (21-3) has won eight straight fights. The Long Island, New York, native won the title with a disqualification loss against Petr Yan at UFC 259 in March 2021 -- the first time a UFC fighter has ever won a championship due to DQ. Sterling, 33, defended the belt successfully in a rematch against Yan in a split decision at UFC 273 in April.
Dillashaw (17-4) held the bantamweight title previously from 2014 to 2016 and then again from 2017 to 2019. The California native was coming off a split decision over Cory Sandhagen in July 2021 before needing knee surgery.
Dillashaw, 36, had won five of his past six fights coming in, but during that time also served a two-year suspension for testing positive for EPO which forced him to give up the 135-pound belt in 2019.
White, when asked, mentioned former UFC bantamweight and flyweight champion Henry Cejudo as a potential challenger next for Sterling, though he was noncommittal. Cejudo retired last year and gave up the belt, but is coming out of retirement and has already spent the required six months in the USADA drug-testing pool.
Sterling said he'd be open to Cejudo or any other options, but didn't have any preference.
"Any of those guys are good," Sterling said. "This bantamweight division, literally anyone can be champ on any given day depending on the matchup and the night. ... Tonight was my night, but it could have easily been TJ Dillashaw's night."