Aljamain Sterling isn't shy when explaining how he truly believes he is the best bantamweight in the UFC right now but may end up fighting somewhere else if the promotion isn't willing to offer him a fair contract.
Sterling most recently fought at UFC Fight Night in Las Vegas where he submitted top-10 ranked bantamweight Johnny Eduardo in the second round, which marked his fourth straight win inside the Octagon while moving his overall record to 12-0.
It was also well documented before the fight that Sterling would become a free agent following his bout with Eduardo after contract negotiations with the UFC fizzled in the weeks leading up to the show. Since that time, Sterling has been given permission to seek deals with outside suitors although the UFC retains the right to match any offer he's given.
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Sterling knows without a shadow of a doubt that he's the uncrowned champion at bantamweight and it would be a blow to the division if he signed with another promotion and went elsewhere for his next fight.
"I think I am the best guy in the division right now and not excluding the champ or the former champ. I, hands-down, truly do believe I am the best guy in my division and if I end up having to leave or go somewhere else, I will be the best guy in whatever organization I go to," Sterling told FOX Sports last Tuesday following his fight.
"I have no desire to be somewhere I'm highly underpaid for my skill set and the amount of talent that I possess. I think I've put in a lot of work and I've gone about it the right way. I think I'm a well-spoken guy and I have my education. I feel I'm an exciting fighter, I'm a finisher and I deserve to be paid more and I think that's the best way to answer that question. Whether that's with the UFC, I have no idea."
Sterling takes no offense to the UFC offering him less money than he's willing to sign for because that's just business, but he also knows what he's worth as one of the top bantamweight fighters in the sport.
The risk comes down to the UFC's willingness to let a top-five athlete slip out of the promotion when he's closing in on a title shot and might be one of the best fighters in the world in his weight class.
"My thing is I stick around the UFC, I become the UFC champ. My thing is are they willing to let the future champ walk away to another organization? That's on them," Sterling said. "It's business at the end of the day, it's nothing personal. They own the organization, I don't own the organization, I'm just a contracted employee.
"It would be a huge loss. It would be a loss for the fans to get robbed of a lot of great fights with me in it. If that's the way it goes, that's the way it goes. At the end of the day, I've got to look out for my future."
When Sterling looks at the current atmosphere in the division, he doesn't see anyone around him more deserving of a title shot currently with the kind of attention he's received recently on top of his win streak.
In a perfect world, Sterling would get paid from the UFC and then go on to challenge the winner of the upcoming bantamweight title fight between TJ Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz. Sterling has no doubt that when it comes to skill and marketability, he's the guy sitting at the top of the list with the best chance to dethrone whoever is champion after their fight in January.
"I do think that I am the guy," Sterling said. "I think (Urijah) Faber had a really close fight. I think the legitimate contender to take the belt -- I think that's me right now, whether it's (Dominick) Cruz or (TJ) Dillashaw. My last performance and Urijah's last performance, I think I'd finish Frankie Saenz and I wouldn't have let him off the hook if he was hurt.
"100-percent confidence. If I get another fight, it's all buildup. It's not a big deal. I do feel confident and ready so if somebody got hurt and I was the guy to have to jump in and fill in, I feel like I could definitely do that and put on a great performance."
Sterling isn't sure what will happen in the immediate future although right now he's focused on healing up some nagging injuries that plagued him leading up to his last fight. Being healthy is paramount to Sterling because without that there are no wins and no chance at a championship.
Once his body is healed, Sterling is excited about a very fruitful 2016. Whether or not that's with the UFC remains to be seen.
"I do believe I am the guy right now. I'm in a unique position and fortunate to be where I'm at. I just want to make sure I'm taken care of. I know I can be the champ. I know I can and I know I will be. It's just a matter of time," Sterling said.
"Hopefully the UFC realizes they need to do right by me and that's what I've been saying before the fight and I'm saying after the fight. If they're smart enough they will and if not, I'll take the big-money fight somewhere else and start making paydays with another company."