Having already conquered Petr Yan and T.J. Dillashaw, UFC Bantamweight champion, Aljamain Sterling, takes on another former monarch this Saturday (April 29, 2023) when he welcomes Henry Cejudo back to the Octagon after nearly three years away. Meanwhile, 35 pounds north, Gilbert Burns makes a rapid turnaround against the ever-scorned Belal Muhammad to potentially earn himself a title shot, while Movsar Evloev squares off with Bryce Mitchell in a battle of elite Featherweight grapplers.
Four of UFC 288’s nine “Prelims” undercard bouts will air on ESPN/ESPN+ (check out the first batch here), and we’ve broken them down for you below ...
155 lbs.: Drew Dober vs. Matt Frevola
Drew Dober (26-11) — who first joined UFC as a late-notice replacement in 2013 — bounced back from a 3-4 (1 NC) Octagon start to win nine of his next 12 bouts. His current three-fight knockout streak most recently saw him flatten Bobby Green with one punch (watch it) for his second consecutive post-fight bonus and sixth overall.
His 19 professional finishes are split 10/9 between knockouts and submissions.
Consecutive upset decisions over Jalin Turner and Luis Pena gave Matt Frevola (10-3-1) a good head of steam, only for Arman Tsarukyan and Terrance McKinney to drop his UFC record below .500 in a misfortune-plagued, three-year stretch. Undaunted, he’s since returned to form with first round finishes of Genaro Valdez and Ottman Azaitar.
He’ll have one inch of height and reach on Dober.
Frevola is going to have to fight every instinct in his body if he wants to win this fight. Slugging it out with Dober is a losing proposition. That’s because Dober’s got sharper boxing, arguably heavier hands and definitely the better chin. Frevola is tough as nails, sure, but Dober’s only suffered knockdown in the last decade was a flying knee from McKinney that he shrugged off to win the fight.
Thus, Frevola has to lean on his wrestling, but even that might be a losing proposition considering how hard it is to control Dober when you’re not named Islam Makhachev. More likely, some good shots from Dober rouse Frevola’s fighting spirit before a few more put it (and him) to sleep.
Prediction: Dober via first round technical knockout
205 lbs.: Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Devin Clark
Kennedy Nzechukwu (11-3) rebounded from a UFC debut loss to Paul Craig by winning three straight, among them a pair of bonus-winning knockouts of Carlos Ulberg and Danilo Marquez. Consecutive losses to Da Un Jung and Nicolae Negumereanu followed, though “African Savage” enters the cage this Saturday on the heels of knockouts over Karl Roberson and Ion Cutelaba.
All eight of his professional finishes have come via (technical) knockout.
A knockout loss to Azamat Murzakanov dropped Devin Clark (14-7) to 1-3 in his previous four, the lone win a third-round finish of the hapless William Knight. “Brown Bear” entered his subsequent clash with Da Un Jung as a sizable underdog, but wound up dominating “Sseda” over three rounds for his eighth Octagon victory.
He gives up five inches of height and eight inches of reach to Nzechukwu.
There is a seemingly unbreakable line in the Light Heavyweight rankings above which Devin Clark’s approach stops working. He’s too undersized, fragile and technically limited to beat anyone above the line, but his bottomless gas tank and persistent takedown attack are Kryptonite to those below it.
I’m not entirely sure where Nzechukwu stands. It wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Nzechukwu use his freakish dimensions to steadily dismantle Clark on the feet, but Cutelaba found some success spamming takedowns on “African Savage” before his customary implosion. I say Clark does enough in the deep waters to edge out a deeply stupid fight.
Prediction: Clark via split decision
170 lbs.: Khaos Williams vs. Rolando Bedoya
A 4-1 UFC start saw Khaos Williams (13-3) rack up three knockouts, all of which earned him “Performance of the Night.” Despite a late knockdown, he couldn’t quite keep the momentum going against Randy Brown, who edged out “The Oxfighter” via split decision.
He fights for the first time in almost exactly one year.
Rolando Bedoya (14-1) — a training partner of former Lightweight champ Charles Oliveira — hasn’t tasted defeat since his fourth professional fight in 2015. He’s spent the bulk of his career in Peru’s Fusion FC, ultimately claiming its interim Welterweight title in March 2022.
This marks his first appearance in nearly 14 months.
I just cannot envision this going well for Bedoya. Striking defense is his biggest bugbear, and it’s not like his offense is so devastating that he can overwhelm Williams in a straight-up fire fight. “The Machine” relies on aggression and output to mask his technical deficiencies, which is the exact wrong approach to have against someone who can put your lights out in an instant.
Heck, Bedoya nearly got knocked stiff by a 17-6 journeyman two fights back.
Bedoya does have a great top game, but he hasn’t shown off enough offensive wrestling chops to make me think he can consistently drag Williams to the mat. Odds are they slug it out from the moment the bell rings to the moment Bedoya’s unconscious body hits the canvas.
Prediction: Williams via first round knockout
115 lbs.: Marina Rodriguez vs. Virna Jandiroba
Undaunted by a narrow loss to Carla Esparza, Marina Rodriguez (16-2-2) put herself back on the brink of a title shots with four straight wins, among them a bonus-winning knockout of Amanda Ribas and a main event victory over Mackenzie Dern. Then came Amanda Lemos, who bludgeoned Rodriguez into submission early in the third round.
She boasts a three-inch height advantage and a one-inch reach advantage
Virna Jandiroba (18-3) — the former Invicta Strawweight champ — put a UFC debut loss to Carla Esparza behind her by scoring two straight submissions. She’s since alternated losses and wins, most recently cruising past fellow onetime titlist Angela Hill in May 2022.
Thirteen of her 14 stoppage wins have come via submission.
Rodriguez’s questionable grappling, which has dogged her since her UFC debut draw with Randa Markos, looks to be her undoing here. Jandiroba is a physical beast with excellent wrestling and a top-notch top game; considering Rodriguez has given up at least one takedown in each of her last seven fights, “Carcara” will have plenty of opportunities to ply her craft.
That said, Jandiroba is prone to cardio issues and questionable gameplans, so it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Rodriguez do what she did against Amanda Ribas and flatten her fellow Brazilian after a lengthy stretch of being dominated on the mat. Still, there’s enough going Jandiroba’s way for me to confidently call a repeat of last May’s win over Angela Hill. She neutralizes Rodriguez on the mat for two rounds and survives a late comeback attempt to claim the win.
Prediction: Jandiroba via unanimous decision
UFC’s Bantamweight division really is the gift that keeps on giving. See you Saturday, Maniacs.
Current Prediction Record for 2023: 61-33-1
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 288 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
To check out the latest and greatest UFC 288: “Sterling vs. Cejudo” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.