Aljamain Sterling is expected to challenge for a UFC title in the very near future, but his journey to become one of the top bantamweight fighters in the promotion began long before he stepped into the Octagon for the first time.
In “Not Broken,” a short film directed by Rory Karpf and produced by Corey Frost, Sterling shares the story of a difficult childhood in which he and his family were verbally and physically abused by his father.
“I don’t have a lot of positive memories of my dad. He made us feel small, weak, stupid, useless,” Sterling says in the film.
Many household duties – including taking care of his siblings – fell on Sterling’s shoulders at a young age, but he was too small to step in when his father became physical with his mother.
“One of the things about him that I don’t think I could ever forgive is the domestic violence with my mom,” Sterling says. “One time they were fighting in the kitchen and my dad was beating my mom up. I remember him going outside, trying to leave, coming back and going for a knife.
“I just remember her calling for me. Just hearing her voice, calling for me screaming in pain like that – her voice pretty much gone. It was scary. It’s f---ed up.”
As Sterling grew older, he found an outlet on the wrestling mats after a friend convinced him to try the sport. Eventually, he would go on to become a two-time Division III All-American wrestler at Cortland. Even then, Sterling said his father tried to discourage him attending practice and meets, but he would not be deterred.
“I was a broken kid with no direction. I found wrestling and that helped change the course of my life,” Sterling says. “To see the bond and camaraderie that those guys had, that I didn’t have, it felt more like a family to me. I felt like I belonged. Having that, I think it helped chip away at that shell, making me just a little bit more confident in myself and what I was able to do as a person. That was what I needed.”
Fast forward to the present day, and Sterling is the UFC bantamweight division’s No. 1 contender. A date with reigning 135-pound king Petr Yan looms, but the man known as “Funkmaster” for his unusual wrestling style has already come further than most could imagine.
“When I step in the Octagon, I feel free,” Sterling says. “Free of self-doubt, free of all these things. Belt, no belt – I feel I’m a winner.”