Bantamweight champion, Aljamain Sterling, collided with returning former 125- and 135-pound kingpin, Henry Cejudo, TONIGHT (Sat., May 6, 2023) at UFC 288 inside Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Sterling’s ascent to the title was stained with controversy back in 2021. He hoped that a “legitimate” title defense against Petr Yan in their rematch 13 months later would silence the haters, but the split decision “robbery” just poured more grease on the flames. The most-recent T.J. Dillashaw dumpster fire? Forget about it.
In other words, Cejudo sensed weakness in “Funkmaster” and felt that he could jump right back into the cage after a three-year layoff and win back his belt. “The Messenger” is a special fighter, but this was surely a tall task even for the Olympian.
And, in the end, it did not go his way.
Live updates will begin to flow below the moment the two fighters make their way to the Octagon ...
“Triple C,” the challenger, was the first to make the walk:
The return of Triple C is HERE!@HenryCejudo coming to reclaim bantamweight gold at #UFC288! pic.twitter.com/Arc6FLbn9F— UFC (@ufc) May 7, 2023
Then, it was time for “Funkmaster” to do his thing:
The 135-lb king ready to defend his throne @FunkMasterMMA ready to make a statement at #UFC288! pic.twitter.com/5oJhERxDFc— UFC (@ufc) May 7, 2023
HERE. WE. GO.— UFC (@ufc) May 7, 2023
Our #UFC288 main event starts NOW pic.twitter.com/0VAT4wYgfA
Aljo was the aggressor early — putting the pressure in Cejudo straight out the gate. Cejudo circled and tried to get his bearing before finally getting close enough where he could use a body lock to get the fight to the ground. Aljo tried to create space with his legs, getting Cejudo into a north-south position. Cejudo cranked on the surgically-repaired neck as Aljo got back to his feet midway through the round. Cejudo whiffed on a huge right cross — his distance management was way off. The pair locked up again and Aljo went to his knees in defense. He pressed Cejudo up against the fence when he returned to his feet, angling for a trip, which he secured. Aljo got behind Cejudo with the takedown and drilled his belly with knees. Cejudo tried to shuck him off, but Aljo was all over him. Aljo drilled him with a nice shot at the bell.
Big close to the first round for @FunkMasterMMA #UFC288 pic.twitter.com/1TxHvVgLKm— UFC (@ufc) May 7, 2023
Cejudo missed bad with a right hand, with Aljo all over him early once again. Nice low kick from Cejudo, then a nice right hand, beating back the champion as best he can. Big high kick landed for Cejudo, which Aljo wore well. Cejudo continued to score with low kicks, with Aljo firing back in-kind. Missed shot from Cejudo, while Aljo clips him with a left. Cejudo’s right eye began to swell as Aljo continued to attack his legs. Nice overhand left from Aljo, with Cejudo responding with a right cross. Another high kick from Cejudo finds its mark, but Aljo doesn’t appear to be feeling them. Cejudo caught a kick late and put together a nice combination. He tried a body lock takedown at the end that didn’t materialize, opting for a hard right hand instead. There was a scramble at the end, with Cejudo ending on top when the buzzer blared.
Cejudo’s corner implored him to win the next three rounds, perhaps feeling the second stanza was not enough. And their fighter complied — uncorking a flying knee early and drilling Aljo with a hard left hand. Aljo went to his knees, as always, to defend and eventually worked his way back to his feet. Nice knee to the body from Cejudo, with Aljo countering with a crisp elbow. Aljo tried to press him against the cage and angle for a takedown, but Cejudo reversed as they battled for position along the fence. Aljo won the war of attrition, once again finding himself behind Cejudo, landing hard knees and shots to the body. Cejudo finally got Aljo infront of him, but “Funkmaster” was determined to bring the fight to the floor. Cejudo finally broke free with 90 seconds on the clock, with Aljo going for a single-leg takedown almost immediately. Cejudo was in the north-south position once again, cranking on Aljo’s neck as his on-the-knees, flopping defense was once again on display. The pair got back to their feet as the round concluded, only for Cejudo to trip him as it came to a close.
We're headed to Championship Rounds!!— UFC (@ufc) May 7, 2023
Who's winning on your scorecard? #UFC288 pic.twitter.com/pLf8daJxSp
Aljo’s corner wasn’t happy about him being on his knees so much, which is odd since that’s his style, imploring him to continue beating up Cejudo on the feet. Both fighters traded shots for the first two minutes, with Cejudo getting the best of the exchange with a big right hand. Sterling scored with a low kick and a shot upstairs of his own. Cejudo trapped him up against the fence around the three-minute mark and drilled him with a hard right. Aljo eventually circled out, but Cejudo was still in hot pursuit. Low kick from Aljo scored once more, but Cejudo continued to march forward. Nice knee to the body from Aljo along the fence as Cejudo continued to hunt. Knee to the body from Aljo, but Cejudo scooted him to the side and locked up a head lock. Aljo was able to reverse and then takedown Cejudo — who did a full split to try and defend it — at the buzzer.
This flexibility from Cejudo #UFC288 pic.twitter.com/AyvoRNEHvi— UFC (@ufc) May 7, 2023
This defence from Cejudo is wild #UFC288 pic.twitter.com/PPgxwUmeqj— UFC (@ufc) May 7, 2023
It was a super close fight heading into the final frame — it was either 2-2 or 3-1 Aljo if you listened to the ringside announcers. Cejudo opened up the action with a high kick that was blocked, with Aljo circling and looking to damage that lead leg some more. Nice body work from Cejudo, with Aljo countering with a kick. Nice body kick from Cejudo, who continued to push the pace two minutes in. Spinning back kick from Aljo is blocked, but the winging left hook he landed moments later wasn’t. Nice left hand from Cejudo off an Aljo kick, then another ... with a right cross kicker. Cejudo with low kicks — he’s really mixing up his attack late. Aljo with a takedown attempt, sprawling and then brawling until they were tied up along the fence once more. Huge takedown from Cejudo with less than one minute on the clock, but Aljo was back to his feet quickly. Cejudo kneed him from behind as the seconds melted off the clock.
We go the distance!— UFC (@ufc) May 7, 2023
Who's taking the decision on your scorecard?? #UFC288 pic.twitter.com/NUF6K8zmVr
Final result: Sterling def. Cejudo via split decision
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