Last night (Sat., May 6, 2023), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) traveled to Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., for UFC 288. For the second time in as many weeks, the event was really plagued by injuries and cancelations. Fortunately, the main event remained unaffected, so at least the undisputed Bantamweight crown was on the line. The addition of Belal Muhammad vs. Gilbert Burns certainly helped the main card, but there were additional quality fights throughout the undercard, too.
Let’s take a look at UFC 288’s standout performances and techniques:
Aljamain Sterling vs. Henry Cejudo really proved an interesting and entertaining match up, one that finally proved quite a bit about each athlete.
Sterling may be willing to coast — taking the fifth round off was a BOLD move — but he really proved his conditioning here nevertheless. He got after Cejudo for three straight rounds, stayed ahead on the punch count, and occasionally manhandled Cejudo along the fence. His creativity on the feet is great, and while I’ll never be a fan of his diving at the legs takedowns, Cejudo never managed to actually do anything with those failed shots.
On the feet, Sterling landed the hardest kicks and best punches upstairs. He deserved the decision.
Still, Cejudo really proved that he can still hang at 36 years of age. More than that, he really showed that he can stand up to one of the biggest Bantamweights on the roster. He landed his own takedowns with better accuracy than Sterling, but the problem remains that he’s not a particularly good top player. His takedowns didn’t lead to any damage or dominant position.
One particularly impressive aspect of Cejudo’s performance was just how quick his kicks are. The calf kick was working for Cejudo, and he managed to put his foot upside Sterling’s head several times with incredible accuracy and speed. It wasn’t enough to dethrone the champ, but it was a valiant effort from “Triple C,” and I hope he sticks around at 135 pounds.
Muhammad Secures His Title Shot
Belal Muhammad did what needed to be done last night. He managed distance really well, switched stances, and really punished Gilbert Burns with his kicking arsenal. He beat up Burns body, and really, Muhammad has never looked faster than he did last night. Unfortunately, the fight was marred a bit by Burns’ apparent injury, which sucked most of the potential fun and drama from the contest.
Yan Shocks The World
Jessica Andrade is not a technical striker. She’s an effective one, certainly. She became world champion because she throws tremendously hard, significantly harder than most of her division. She also employs good tactics, like targeting the body and lead leg to slow her opponents down and leave them vulnerable to her huge swings.
Her attack, however, is predictable. Remember in 2017 when Joanna Jedrzejczyk spent 25 continuous minutes side-stepping Andrade’s bursts and sticking her with right hand counters? That still works, because nothing about Andrade’s game has really changed. Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to diffuse Andrade. Rose Namajunas is one of the most talented female strikers in MMA history, but Namajunes still ended both of her fights with “Bate Estaca” bloodied and battered.
Xiaonan Yan executed perfectly. She was moving laterally the entire time, refusing to give Andrade an easy target for her overhand or hook. As Andrade tried to advance, Yan worked the jab up and down the body, halting her approach. When Andrade reached with hooks, Yan poked her with the counter right, often letting Andrade provide most of the force.
Then, Yan really sat down on her right, firing an overhand that sent Andrade’s eyes into the back of her head. A few follow up punches sealed the deal, and this is the type of dramatic win that should really secure a title shot.
1993 Or 2023?
Kron Gracie’s performance was so bad, he managed to make a Charles Jourdain fight unwatchable. It’s shocking that we’re still watching this storyline play it out in 2023, a frustrating situation I wrote more about HERE!
Frevola Cracks Dober
It was going to happen at some point.
You don’t become known for having an iron chin without testing it a few times. Drew Dober has knocked out quite a few UFC Lightweights, and very often, walking through the fire is a significant part of his strategy. He doesn’t move his head all that much, and Dober’s movement can be timed — that’s how Bobby Green was picking him apart until the exact moment Dober shut off his lights.
Still, most wouldn’t have expected Matt Frevola to be the man to hand Dober his first UFC knockout loss. He’s got some pop in his hands, sure, but he’s not a known knockout artist. “Steamrolla” bet big on himself from the first bell, striking hard right away. As soon as Dober pressed, Frevola was firing back with huge overhand swings and ripping body kicks.
Committing fully to his power shots right away may have backfired. Dober can push a pace after all, and if his foe tires, he’ll probably tee off and score his own stoppage. Fortunately for Frevola, his early shots were doing damage. Dober was bloody midway through the first, and perhaps having his brain rattled a few times early left him more vulnerable to the right hand that detonated on his chin.
It was a pretty perfect land, one not even Dober’s brick of a chin could withstand. It’s the best win of Frevola’s career by a long shot, but the real question here is how well Dober rebounds at 34 years of age from a significant amount of damage?
Kennedy Nzechukwu just might be a Light Heavyweight dark horse. That’s a strange statement to make about a jacked man standing 6’5” with an 83-inch reach. For as long as he’s been on the roster, “African Savage” has clearly had the physical tools to become an elite talent.
Slowly but surely, Nzechukwu’s technical game is coming along. He’s not a marvel on his feet, but he’s so durable, powerful and long that it’s not terribly important. What does matter is that his takedown defense has improved considerably, and he’s gotten better at creating big offensive moments.
When Nzechukwu lands, his opponents feel it. Devin Clark actually managed to stun Nzechukwu with a perfect right hand counter, but when he tried to empty the tank, the Nigerian talent patiently covered up and then paid him back. It was a brutal barrage featuring heavy elbows and knees, an assortment of strikes that really broke “Brown Bear.”
He’s now won three fights in a row. At 30 years of age, he’s really coming into his own and is ready for a Top 15 foe next.
- Ikram Aliskerov defeats Phil Hawes via first round knockout (HIGHLIGHTS): Aliskerov was far and away the most hyped prospect debuting last night, a combat Sambo veteran whose shared the cage with Khamzat Chimaev. He lived up to the hype by delivering one of the best knockouts of the year so far, overcoming Hawes’ early lands to crack him with a nice right hand-right high kick combination. Hawes absorbed the shot well enough, but he slipped directly into a follow up right hand that had him asleep before he hit the floor. Middleweight division, consider yourself warned!
- Parker Porter defeats Braxton Smith via first round knockout: This fight is why Porter has a position on the Heavyweight roster. He’s not a tremendous athlete or overwhelming technician, but Porter can maintain a good pace, has a well-rounded skill, and doesn’t crumble at the first sign of adversity. Smith emptied his gas tank in roughly two minutes, at which point a knee to the gut from Porter really sapped the rest of his will. Porter quickly gained top position and pounded his foe out, showing Smith needs more seasoning before he can succeed in his UFC career.
- Claudio Ribeiro defeats Joseph Holmes via second round knockout (HIGHLIGHTS): This may have been the last walk to the Octagon for “Ugly Man Joe,” who has now lost three of four UFC fights and missed weight ahead of this one. It wasn’t pretty, but Ribeiro effectively wrestled him to the floor and beat him up once there. Holmes’ defensive wrestling and grappling just isn’t there yet, and it cost him another loss.
For complete UFC 288: “Sterling vs. Cejudo” results and play-by-play, click HERE.