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Sterling undermined because ‘he’s not a conventional fighter’

Ray Longo thinks Aljamain Sterling is underappreciated because of his unorthodox style.

Bantamweight champion Sterling (23-3 MMA, 15-3 UFC) recently retained his title when he edged out Henry Cejudo at UFC 288 and broke the record for most title defenses in the division’s history.

Despite his accolades, Sterling continues to be dismissed by many. Longo, his head coach, has a theory for why that may be the case. He thinks “The Funkmaster’s” style isn’t understood by everybody.

“When you look at him, he’s not a conventional boxer. He’s not Sugar Ray Leonard,” Longo said on Morning Kombat. “He’s got his own thing, and I think from the outside looking in, it looks like you could capitalize on a lot of things. And I told this to Aljo: Henry will go back to that fight and go, ‘Man, I could have did A, B and C.’

“He knows it, but he didn’t for whatever reason. But then Aljo would have adjusted to that. He’s not a conventional fighter. He’s his own guy. That’s what makes him Aljo. He’s way harder to hit. They were telling him, ‘Why didn’t you just elbow him?’ He’s moving his head. All of that stuff that looked optically bad in the fight.”

Cejudo was frustrated by Sterling crouching on all fours during their grappling exchanges, leaving him unable to capitalize on those positions because he could not strike a grounded opponent.

Longo understands why the visual bothered a lot of people.

“I think ‘(Matt) Serra did a great job with the all fours thing’ has got to go,” Longo said. “It just doesn’t look good. I think optically, it didn’t look good and then Henry kind of said, ‘I couldn’t do nothing.’ I see him do that sh*t in the gym all the time, so to me, it’s normal. To other people, when he’s down there moving his head, it looks crazy.

“You don’t see that a lot from people on all fours. He’s just not a conventional-looking fighter, and I think he’s always going to have problems if you don’t know what you’re looking at. I think people look at him, he’s dipping his head, they think they could get him and then when they’re in there with him, they can’t find him and that causes frustration for them.”

Sterling is expected to defend his title against Sean O’Malley next at UFC 292 on Aug. 19. Sterling expressed concern that he may not physically be ready by then, which has caused a slight rift between him and UFC president Dana White.

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 292.

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