Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling will clash opposite returning 135-pound kingpin Henry Cejudo TONIGHT (Sat., May 6, 2023) at UFC 288 inside Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Few would have predicted following Sterling’s ascent to the title via disqualification that he would score his revenge on Petr Yan or defend his title twice. His current eight-fight win streak comprises nothing but excellent fighters, and he’s looking to add another former champion to his resume this evening. Cejudo, meanwhile, is attempting something pretty audacious. Bantamweight is not a division known for being kind to older fighters, yet Cejudo is still going to dive headfirst into title contention at 36 years of age following a three-year layoff. “The Messenger” is a special fighter, but this is surely a tall task even for the Olympian.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:
Key Wins: Petr Yan (UFC 273, UFC 259), Corey Sandhagen (UFC 250), Pedro Munhoz (UFC 238), Jimmie Rivera (UFC on ESPN 1), Renan Barao (UFC 214), TJ Dillashaw (UFC 280)
Key Losses: Marlon Moraes (UFC Fight Night 123), Raphael Assuncao (UFC on FOX 23), Bryan Caraway (UFC Fight Night 88)
Keys to Victory: Sterling is one of the best backpacks in mixed martial arts (MMA). An excellent wrestler, he’s implemented his Brazilian jiu-jitsu into his grappling in stellar fashion, and his stand up is a frustrating and varied assault of constant distance strikes.
Sterling’s range is such a huge advantage here. Cejudo’s got a nice right straight and solid round kicks, but that’s the extent of his distance arsenal. There’s a reason Marlon Moraes was thoroughly abusing him at range with low kicks. Primarily, it’s because Cejudo is not a big Bantamweight, and size disadvantages matter in kickboxing.
Sterling should be jabbing and kicking often, looking to keep Cejudo off him. When Cejudo bursts forward, that’s the time to wrestle. Here’s a lesson the fighting world continues to not learn: wrestling accomplishments are great but don’t guarantee much. Sterling can absolutely take down and/or off-balance Cejudo with a well-timed shot.
If that happens, he can jump the back, and there’s no way Cejudo is escaping that position.
Key Wins: T.J. Dillashaw (UFC on ESPN+ 1), Demetrious Johnson (UFC 227), Marlon Moraes (UFC 238), Dominick Cruz (UFC 249), Sergio Pettis (UFC 218), Jussier Formiga (UFC Fight Night 78)
Key Losses: Demetrious Johnson (UFC 197), Joseph Benavidez (UFC TUF 24 Finale)
Keys to Victory: More than anything else, Cejudo is a tremendous competitor. He’s got a great mind for fighting, incredible athletic gifts, and an iron will to win. The last time he stepped into the cage opposite Cruz, Cejudo’s wrestling remain immaculate, and his kickboxing was at its sharpest level yet.
I actually think Cejudo has to wrestle aggressively here, as its his best tool to close the distance and exhaust Sterling. Trying to navigate the range against a longer and higher volume opponent sounds difficult, even if Cejudo probably has more pop in his punches.
Historically, Sterling gets tired when forced to continually wrestle. When he takes the back, it’s an opportunity to rest, but Sterling tends to find that position off his own shots. If Cejudo is making him transition defensively, the opportunities for Sterling to jump his back and wrestle should be minimal, meaning Cejudo can keep force a high wrestling pace.
It’s no secret that Sterling cuts a lot of weight. If Cejudo wrestles at a hard pace, the momentum will start to shift in his favor ... provided Cejudo can still wrestle well at 36 years of age, which is far from a guarantee.
The Bantamweight belt is on the line.
Sterling isn’t yet spoken about as a potential greatest Bantamweight of all time. There’s too much controversy in his title wins, which amount to a disqualification, a split-decision, and a one-armed fighter. That’s dismissive, but it’s the narrative, and Sterling could really use a clean, clear win over a former champion to help dissipate the noise.
As for Cejudo, his ascent to double champion status is similarly complicated, but winning via knockout really helps mitigate the criticism. Returning after a huge layoff at his age would be pretty undeniable, however, and perhaps it really would create a path towards a Featherweight title shot as well.
At UFC 288, Aljamain Sterling and Henry Cejudo will go to war in the main event. Which man walks away as champion?
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.
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