When it comes to the public falling out (and eventual reconciliation) between Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight titleholder Aljamain Sterling, and day-one coach Matt Serra, even “Aljo’s” newest trainer and cornerman Eric Nicksick was caught off guard by the situation.
During an appearance on the Jason Burgos Back Talk podcast to talk about his role as lead cornerman for Francis Ngannou in his heavyweight title fight at UFC 260, Nicksick spoke in-depth about the surprising issues that came up between the Long Island, New York natives, after cornering “Funkmaster” at UFC 259.
“I felt awful for Matt because I definitely empathize with his situation. When Aljamain sat and talked to me [after] he moved to Vegas, that was brought up. He just said, ‘hey, this is what I plan on doing. I plan on bringing Serra-Longo, and they’re going to be in the corner. Are you comfortable running my camp until they get here?’ Nicksick said. “My understanding, was I would just bridge the gap between Vegas and Long Island. All the way up until fight night. He also discussed something with me about who was going to be in his corner, and I was always under the assumption Matt was going to be there. To the point where I actually did an interview with Matt and Jim Norton and I was like, alright coach, I’ll see you in a few weeks. And he was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to be coming out.’ That caught me off guard too. That’s between Matt and Aljamain. I don’t know what conversations were had at that time.”
The Las Vegas native eventually heard the audio of Serra explain the “upsetting” turn of events that led to him not being in Sterling’s corner for the biggest fight of his long-time pupil’s career. The tale compelled Nicksick to call the former UFC welterweight champion, and Hall-of-Famer, to make sure there were no hard feelings between the two.
“From my standpoint, yes, I would feel slighted if I was Matt. And when I heard that interview after the fact, I immediately got a hold of Matt. I wanted to make sure he wasn’t mad at me. I had nothing to do with it,” said Nicksick. “And Matt was very apologetic to me too. He was like, ‘I’m sorry if you felt like I was trying to be rude and out you. That wasn’t the case.’ I could imagine how he would’ve felt, being involved in a man’s career for nine years, all the way to the title point, and not to be in his corner. To be fair, I was happy with being the third, and taking a step back and just watching the show. Or even not being in the corner.”
During the conversation, Nicksick also spoke on the performance of the new bantamweight champion during his controversial disqualification win over Petr Yan. Admitting Sterling’s frenetic style, and poor shot selection left him looking fatigued late in the fight. It’s an issue he expects the team will remedy in an eventual championship rematch.
“I think there’s a lot of things that he could change. I felt like he set such a hard [and] high pace in his sparring rounds, and he sparred some great training partners from Xtreme Couture and Serra-Longo. But I don’t think those guys are going to be near the level of experience in the style of Petr Yan. So a little bit of that might have been a false sense of security thinking that he could push that type of pace, but not necessarily to that level either,” Nick says. “And you’re absolutely right, there are places of rest in our top-side half-guard, or against the cage with an underhook. Places we knew we had good position and were able to rest in. I also feel like Aljamain was forcing some of the takedowns. He was trying to shoot his shot in spots that weren’t really available for him, and that was aesthetically looking like he was more tired. At the end of the day, we saw the blueprint of what we’re capable of doing, and some of those tweaks I think you’ll see in that rematch.”
You can check out the full interview below. Including Nicksick talking preparation with Ngannou for his title fight against heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic. Kamaru Usman’s addition to the corner on Saturday night, and the bond he has with the Cameroonian goliath.
While finishing up his degree in Journalism at Lehman College in New York, Burgos first started covering the sport of MMA in 2016. Contributing for sites such as LWOS MMA, MMASucka (where he served as a Senior Editor) and eventually landing a gig in 2018 with Sherdog. Over the years, he has also produced and co-hosted several MMA-themed podcasts, and currently works as a freelance contributor for several sites including MyMMANews.