The fight was actually at 140 pounds because the California State Athletic Commission wouldn't allow Barao to compete at bantamweight after a disastrous weight cut forced him out of a previous bout in the state.
Ultimately, the weight didn't seem to matter much, as Sterling pushed the pace over three rounds, while Barao looked exhausted by the time the final horn sounded.
Some early striking gave way to a scramble on the ground where Sterling looked to grab onto a leg lock while Barao was able to stay patient before escaping to land on top. From there, Barao opened up his offense with an active striking game on top, landing several hard punches from inside Sterling's guard.
Sterling countered with a very active jiu-jitsu game from the bottom where he attempted an arm bar and a triangle choke, but both came up short as Barao was more than ready for the submission attempts before he slipped free.
The second round saw a shift in momentum as Sterling took advantage of an early Barao submission attempt, as he quickly latched onto the former bantamweight champion and moved to take the back. Barao had never been taken down previously in his UFC career, but Sterling was determined to drag him to the mat where he locked onto the back and started to go to work.
— FOX Sports: UFC (@UFCONFOX) July 30, 2017
Sterling searched for submissions but eventually transitioned to just landing punches until Barao was able to slip free, but he still couldn't get back to his feet.
With Barao stuck on the bottom, Sterling started blasting away with punches and elbows as he absolutely bludgeoned the Brazilian until the round came to an end.
Sterling continued to pour on the punishment with a beautifully timed front kick that blasted Barao directly in the face as the third round got underway and it was clear that the American was really starting to take over.
While Sterling didn't do a ton of damage in the final five minutes outside of that early combination that hurt Barao, the former champion was gasping for air with very little offense offered up in an attempt to steal away the fight.
When it was over, Sterling was still as fresh as he was in the first round while Barao looked like he had been through a grueling battle, which told the whole story from the fight.
The judges agreed with Sterling earning the decision 29-28, 29-27, 30-26 on the scorecards.
“This is the Funk-jitsu era!” Sterling shouted after the win.
Following a pair of split decision losses to Bryan Caraway and Raphael Assuncao, Sterling has bounced back with two wins in a row but none bigger than defeating a former champion in Barao, who falls to just 1-3 in his past four fights.