“It’s just super weird, kind of the messages I’m getting,” Sterling said Monday on The MMA Hour. “No one wants to be like, ‘This is what you should do,’ because no one wants to be at fault if it’s wrong. They don’t want to say ‘get surgery,’ because they don’t know if PT is going help, and they don’t want to say ‘do PT and then not waste time,’ and then PT fails and then we have to get surgery anyway. So it’s kind of like this weird spot that I’m in.
“I told the [UFC] matchmakers, like, ‘Hey man, I’m already feeling better. Let’s just stay on this and see what happens.’”
Sterling is no stranger to the injury. The UFC bantamweight champion suffered a complete tear of his right bicep back in 2016, which required surgery and a seven-month timeline to recover. The current tear in his left bicep isn’t as bad — Sterling expects a worst-case scenario with corrective surgery could keep him sidelined for potentially five months — however he’s hoping to avoid that scenario entirely and work his way back to defend his title against Henry Cejudo at UFC 285. Sterling said he is currently able to run and kick the heavy bag, but he remains hopeful that a March 4 date could be viable for his return.
“I think it’s a possibility,” Sterling said. “My weight’s coming down. I was 165 this morning. And again, I’m not training every day, so that weight could come down relatively quick once I get clearance to use my arm, and actually be able to wrestle and things like that.
“[UFC 285 is] a monster card,” he continued. “I would love to [be on it]. So there’s a bunch of enticing things. That’s why I’m trying my best to make sure I could get to the fight. And if I can, I will. And if I can’t, let’s just give me some time to see where everything is at.
“I think we’re going to find out this week. I’m very optimistic about it.”
Sterling is no fool. He knows what he could be up against.
Cejudo may present himself with an odd persona on social media — aka “The King of Cringe” — but the 35-year-old former two-division champion offers a mighty challenge. Cejudo is not only an Olympic gold medalist wrestler, but also one of only a handful of fighters in UFC history to capture simultaneous belts in two different divisions.
Cejudo hasn’t fought since his retirement in May 2020, but he still isn’t the type of opponent any UFC champion should face at half strength.
“Henry might be corny, and I don’t mind corny,” Sterling said. “Corny is kind of funny because it’s different and it’s not like everyone trying to be, ‘Oh, I’m cool.’ So I get Henry. I get it him, I understand him. But don’t let that fool you. The guy is a legitimate athlete, a legitimate fighter, and he’s dangerous — and I want to make sure if I’m going to fight a guy like that and risk it again, that I’m going to do it [right]. And if I lose, I lose. I don’t want to have excuses like, ‘Oh, well, I fought injured,’ and have like this built-in excuse.
“I’m not going to go the T.J. [Dillashaw] route. I’m not going do all these things. If I have a good training camp and I can fight and I can compete in the room, I should be able to theoretically compete under the lights, and that’s the risk that we take. None of us go into these fights 100 percent, and I’ve got to make sure if I’m going to do it, the juice has got to be worth the squeeze. That’s pretty much where I’m at.”
While Sterling remains optimistic that UFC 285 could still be in the cards for him, he’s also realistic in knowing that the situation is out of his control.
So if his injury ultimately keeps him sidelined and Cejudo wants to fight top contender Sean O’Malley for an interim bantamweight title first, Sterling won’t complain.
“I’m either fighting Henry or Sean,” Sterling said. “If Henry wants to wait for me, he can wait. Or if he wants to take the easier fight, what he thinks to be the easiest fight, and fight Sean if he wants to go beat up Sean, go beat up Sean.
“But if he wants to say, ‘I don’t want to wait any longer, give me a fight right now,’ maybe they do an interim. I’m not mad at an interim. At the end of the day, an interim means both guys get paid, right? Because they’re going to now have a belt and they’re entitled to pay-per-view points. I’m in favor for anyone on pay-per-view on the main card to get pay-per-view points, even if it’s 25 cents, or 50 cents per buy. I think there’s a reason why you’re on the pay-per-view card, so it’s like, why not? That’s just how I look at it.”