UFC 288 Preview: Sterling vs Cejudo

Bantamweight Champion Aljamain Sterling defends his title this Saturday against combat sports icon Henry Cejudo on PPV. Photo Credit: ESPN.com/UFC.com

The UFC is back this weekend with a massive PPV fight card from Newark, New Jersey. Bantamweight Champion Aljamain Sterling is set to defend his title against combat sports legend Henry Cejudo. Cejudo is the youngest Olympic gold medalist (wrestling) in the history of the United States and was also a two-weight world champion in the UFC before vacating his belts three years ago. Since Cejudo’s departure, Sterling has captured gold at 135-pounds dethroning former champion Petr Yan and defending against T.J. Dillashaw. In the UFC 288 Co-Main event, Welterweight contenders collide when Belal Muhammad takes on Gilbert Burns. Muhammad is an extremely well-rounded fighter who is currently on a nine-fight unbeaten streak inside the UFC. Burns is a Jiu-Jitsu world champion who possesses one of the most dominant ground games in the sport.

Also on the UFC 288 main card, the always entertaining Charles Jourdain will welcome Gracie family member Kron Gracie back to the octagon. Gracie is the grandson of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Co-founder Hélio Gracie and a former ADCC world champion.

(C) Aljamain Sterling (22-3) vs Henry Cejudo (16-2)

In the Main Event of UFC 288 current champion Aljamain Sterling faces world-class wrestler and former champion Henry Cejudo. Sterling is a tremendous grappler who has dominated his opponents on the ground in recent fights and is a Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt. Sterling trains at team Serra-Longo in New York where his main sparring partner is No.1 Bantamweight contender Merab Dvalishvili. Cejudo is set to return after a near three-year layoff from the sport, in which he vacated his Flyweight and Bantamweight titles. Cejudo started his career at 125 pounds where he had a competitive rivalry with all-time great Demetrious Johnson. In their first meeting, Johnson was able to finish Cejudo who was (10-0) at the time but would lose a rematch with the Olympic champ two years later.

Once Cejudo captured UFC gold he successfully defended his title against T.J Dillashaw before moving up in weight to defeat Marlon Moraes and Dominick Cruz. On the feet, Cejudo has constantly improved since his UFC debut and is the most credentialed wrestler to ever step foot in the promotion. Although Cejudo has the ability to take his opponents down, he surprisingly has never finished a fight by submission. Sterling has eight wins by submission and may give Cejudo problems on the ground due to his constant threat of dangerous grappling techniques. Neither fighter is known as a striker but Sterling will enjoy a seven-inch reach advantage on the feet. Cejudo will enter this contest as a slight betting favorite (-115) at online sportsbooks.

#4 Belal Muhammad (22-3) vs #5 Gilbert Burns (22-5)

In the Co-main event, top five ranked Welterweights go to battle with a title opportunity at stake. Skilled grappler Gilbert Burns is back for his third fight in 2023, this time taking on the surging contender Belal Muhammad. Burns is 2-0 so far this year with wins over UFC veteran Neil Magny and Jorge Masvidal. Burn’s last defeat came at the hands of undefeated Russian phenom Khamzat Chimaev, although Burns lost he fought valiantly against the fastest-rising star in the sport and was the first man to ever make it to the judge’s scorecards against Chimaev. Recently Burns has looked in top form positioning himself into this championship eliminator.

Chicago’s Muhammad has long been deserving of a title opportunity on his extended winning streak and will have a chance to prove himself this weekend. In his last fight, Muhammed finished highly touted prospect Sean Brady by TKO in what was the best performance of his career so far. On his nine-fight unbeaten streak, Muhammed also defeated former title challengers Stephan “Wonderboy” Thompson and Demian Maia.

Muhammed will want to keep this fight standing and away from the ground. On the feet, Muhammed has had success against grapple-heavy opponents in the past. Burns is not only a Jiu-Jitsu ace but has shown flashes of excellent standing as well. Burns actually has more knockout victories on his record than Muhammed. This is an extremely close fight which is represented by the betting lines for this matchup. Currently, Burns is a (-125) favorite at online sportsbooks.

Kron Gracie (5-1) vs Charles Jourdain (13-6)

This is a fight that MMA fans have been anticipating since its announcement. This matchup will represent the return of the Gracie fighting family to the promotion that they helped build. Kron Gracie is an extremely talented fighter who found success in Japan under the Rizin banner before entering the UFC. In Rizin Gracie submitted Japanese legend, former Pride/UFC veteran Tatsuya “Bonecrusher” Kawajiri. In the UFC Gracie started well winning his debut against Alex Caceres before losing by decision to Cub Swanson. After his loss to Swanson, Gracie took a four-year sabbatical from the sport and will be fighting for the first time since 2019. Gracie is not a finished product on the feet and will need to show improvements in his striking if wants to stay on the feet with Jourdain.

Jourdain is on a two-fight losing streak having dropped back-to-back contests against respected contenders Nathanial Wood and Shane Burgos. Jourdain is known for his aggressive style having finished four fights in the first round over his career. On the ground, Jourdain is a very competent grappler but will not want to go to the floor with Gracie. This is a classic striker vs grappler contest that should entertain fans from the Prudential Center in New Jersey. This is an extremely important and historic fight with contention at 145 pounds and family pride on the line.

UFC 288 Prelims:

The UFC 288 prelims are filled with many potentially entertaining matchups. At Lightweight Drew Dober and Matt “The Steamroller” Frevola will go to battle in the final preliminary fight. Dober is a Colorado native who has had mixed results during his UFC tenure. Dober has competed against current champion Islam Mackachev and ranked contender Beniel Dariush. Having tremendous power in his left hand Dober is always ready to stand and throwdown on the feet. Frevola is a product of team Serra-Longo and has knocked out his last two opponents. Also on the UFC 288 Prelims, UFC veteran and former collegiate wrestler Phil Hawes will welcome Combat Sambo world champion Ikram Aliskerov to the promotion. Aliskerov is a highly thought of Russian Prospect whose only professional loss came at the hands of Khamzat Chimaev on the Russian regional scene. The UFC 288 prelims will begin at 5 p.m. CT with the Main card starting at 9 p.m. CT.

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