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Aljamain Sterling tapped to make special appearance on Polaris card in 2023

First up, it's T.J. Dillashaw at UFC 280, but 'Funk Master' is set to enter the metaverse next year and will grapple as part of the deal.
aljamain-sterling

Aljamain Sterling is taking his talents to Polaris.

The reigning UFC bantamweight champion will grapple in a special Polaris match next year. Sterling will be repping GFL X Vulcan Forged, testing his skills against the winner of the upcoming Ashley Williams-Carlos Condit fight at Polaris 22 on Nov. 5.

This is part of Sterling's new deal with the Galactic Fight League, which is engaged in a multi-year deal with Polaris Pro Grappling. The Galactic Fight League is a new video game by Vulcan Forged that will serve as the intersection of MMA and the metaverse. Alongside Demetrious Johnson, who is a character in the game and an advisor in its creation, Sterling is beginning a new role as a primary GFL ambassador.

"This is my first time stepping into the metaverse," Sterling says. "I've been trying to educate myself about it and learn more about the space, and I'm excited to partner up with these guys. Anything is possible in the metaverse. If you're wondering if I'll be in the video game, we'll have to wait and see."

Sterling (21-3 MMA, 13-3 UFC) spoke with Sports Illustrated from Abu Dhabi, where he will defend the bantamweight title against T.J. Dillashaw (17-4 MMA, 13-4 UFC) this Saturday at UFC 280. A former two-time champion, Dillashaw stained his reputation three years ago when he was suspended by USADA for two years after testing positive for a banned substance.

"T.J.'s a cheater, and I don't care for him," Sterling says. "This one is going to mean even more given what he did."

Sterling's last two bouts were both against Petr Yan, who is also on the 280 card in a bout against Sean O'Malley that will determine the next top title contender. Eternal rivals, Sterling and Yan were spotted together last week in Abu Dhabi, shaking hands and exchanging mutual respect.

"There is a respect for each other about what we do," Sterling says. "We're both super competitive, but that fight is over. Now I'm focused on T.J."

That focus will soon change, as a third bout against Yan is looming. In order for the title to be on the line, Sterling first needs to dispatch Dillashaw and extend his reign as champ.

"I think back to what Dominick Cruz said – you don't want to attach yourself too much to the title because eventually you're going to lose it, so you don't make it your entire identity," Sterling says. "For me, this title is something I've added to my legacy and history, and it's something I've always wanted to achieve.

"I never won a national championship in wrestling. I had a chip on my shoulder entering the UFC, and it's been a blessing to become champion here. I'm enjoying the journey and the ride, even the times I've been crushed on social media. I'm so honored to fight as champion."

Opportunities repeatedly present themselves for Sterling as champion. That will continue to be the case as long as he defeats Dillashaw on 280, which will not be an easy task. But it is well worth the punishment he will have to endure, as the championship perks are extremely alluring.

"A lot comes along with being champion," Sterling says. "Mark Zuckerberg and I, we've been talking. He wished me good luck for the fight. When the UFC has its first Meta event, it's going to be pretty cool. I definitely want to be part of that."

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.