UFC Bantamweight Champion Aljamain Sterling will battle Olympic gold medalist and former champion Henry Cejudo in the main event at UFC 288 on Saturday, May 6, from inside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Sterling (22-3 MMA, 14-3 UFC) captured the bantamweight title in 2021 via disqualification after taking an intentional illegal knee from Petr Yan in the fourth round. However, the New York native cemented his status as champion with a split-decision win over Yan in a rematch. He also tallied a second-round TKO win against former champion TJ Dillashaw last year at UFC 280 to secure his first victory by strikes in almost eight years.
The 33-year-old is a former Ring of Combat and Cage Fury Fighting Championship bantamweight champion, and has an impressive resume with wins over Pedro Munoz, Renan Barao, Brett Johns, and Jimmie Rivera. The "Funk Master" also delivered a submission win in 2020 against top contender Cory Sandhagen in the first round to earn his first Performance of the Night.
A former NCAA Division III wrestler, Sterling is a Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under former UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Serra. He is currently riding an eight-bout winning streak and has not tasted defeat since a loss to Marlon Moraes in 2017.
Cejudo (16-2 MMA, 10-2 UFC) returns to the title scene after retiring three years ago to focus on his family. The former UFC flyweight and bantamweight champion defeated former UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominik Cruz in his last match in 2020 at UFC 249.
The 36-year-old suffered a first-round TKO loss to UFC Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson in his first title matchup at UFC 197 in 2016. But the California native regrouped to earn a split decision win over Johnson in a back-and-forth rematch at UFC 227 two years later to capture the Flyweight Championship. Besides earning the Fight of the Night award, Cejudo became the first Olympic gold medalist to win UFC gold.
One of the most decorated combat athletes of all time, the "Messenger" defeated Moraes via TKO in the third round at UFC 238 in 2019 to claim the vacant UFC Bantamweight Championship. With the win, Cejudo became one of four fighters in UFC history to hold two titles simultaneously in two weight divisions. He has also collected wins over Dillashaw and current Bellator Bantamweight Champion, Sergio Pettis.
Cejudo opened as a favorite to win bantamweight gold against Sterling at UFC 288, but online sportsbooks have the odds close.
Currently, many markets - including DraftKings and FanDuel - have the fight even at -113.
Despite a three-year hiatus from the Octagon, Cejudo remains a dangerous fighter who seriously threatens Sterling's championship reign. The former champion never stopped training and returns in a highly-anticipated matchup in a stacked bantamweight division.
Cejudo is an elite wrestler who also has displayed knockout power. Although seeing the effects of a long layoff will be interesting, Cejudo possesses the talent to reclaim the bantamweight gold.
Johnson, who lost the Flyweight title to Cejudo, believes the former Olympian will capture the gold over Sterling. "I think he poses a lot of problems to Sterling because, one, his wrestling is legit, his hands are legit, and Henry Cejudo, he's a gamer," added Johnson. "Like, he'll go out there and push the pace and try to win the fight."
Sterling's wrestling and jiu-jitsu skills form the foundation of an impressive ground game. The champion has also improved his boxing and movement, which could give the aging Cejudo significant problems.
The opening odds suggest that this fight could go either way, and both fighters have something to prove to themselves. Cejudo is the hungrier fighter and will overcome rust and father time to reclaim his spot atop the division.
Betting Pick: Henry Cejudo win by a Decision
The UFC Bantamweight Title fight will occur on Saturday, May 6, at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Fans in New York can stream the fight exclusively on ESPN+ PPV.
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