UFC 288 Review: Sterling vs Cejudo

Aljamain Sterling defended his Bantamweight title Saturday night beating Henry Cejudo by Split Decision. Photo Credit: (Getty Images)

At UFC 288 Aljamain Sterling outlasted Henry Cejudo in a highly competitive Main Event. Sterling started strong winning the first round but Cejudo would rebound and make this a very hard fight to score. In the Co-Main event, Belal Muhammed cruised to a unanimous decision victory over Gilbert Burns. Muhammed was able to defend against the takedown attempts of Burns, while out landing him on the feet in almost all five rounds. After his victory, UFC president Dana White declared that Muhammed would receive the next title shot at 170 pounds where he will face the winner of Leon Edwards vs Colby Covington. Also on the UFC 288 Main card, Charles Jourdain outclassed Kron Gracie over three rounds. Gracie looked largely one-dimensional throughout the contest having no answer for the striking of Jourdain.

(C) Aljamain Sterling (23-3) Def. Henry Cejudo (16-3)

UFC 288’s Main event was a technical chess match between two world-class mixed martial artists. Both fighters had tremendous moments on the ground but defending champion Aljamain Sterling was able to find a way to separate himself on the feet out landing Henry Cejudo 186-143 over five rounds. Sterling entered this title match having defeated former champions T.J. Dillashaw and Petr Yan in his last two fights. Cejudo was making his return after a near three-year layoff and is a former two-weight world champion. Cejudo won an Olympic Gold medal before entering the UFC and holds impressive wins over Demetrious Johnson, Dominick Cruz, and Marlon Moraes.

In the first round Sterling looked to damage the lead leg of Cejudo with disrupting low leg kicks. Cejudo looked stiff in round one, struggling to find his timing while chasing Sterling around the cage. Sterling was able to avoid the powerful punches of Cejudo early, outpointing him with jabs and kicks at distance while on the retreat. Cejudo was able to successfully take Sterling down midway through round one helping him find his rhythm in the fight.

Sterling then reversed position and landed hard elbows on the ground as the round ended. In rounds two and three Cejudo began to open up with his striking while mixing in takedown attempts. Cejudo landed a lighting fast head kick in round two that got the attention of Sterling. A large portion of this fight took place against the cage with each fighter fighting for position. Thirty seconds into round three Cejudo threw a flying knee that stunned the champion. I had Cejudo up two rounds to one entering the championship rounds.

Championship Rounds and What’s Next?

In the final two rounds, Sterling faced serious adversity and needed to separate himself to retain his title. The team Serra-Longo product was able to do just that taking down the former Olympian 4 times. Coming into this fight Cejudo had only been takedown down twice in his career. Sterling tallied up kicks to the body and legs of Cejudo in round four in what was a decisive round for the champion. Heading into the final round I had the fight even at two a piece.

Round five was highly competitive with both fighters having their moments. Sterling largely won the exchanges standing but was running into right hands from Cejudo at times. In the final stages of round five Cejudo was able to take Sterling down along the fence. After five hard-fought rounds, the judge’s scorecards were split. One judge saw the contest 48-47 for Cejudo with the other two scoring the fight for Sterling 48-47.

Following this highly competitive main event, Bantamweight standout Sean O’Malley (16-1) confronted Sterling in the cage to set up a potential next title fight. This would be a huge fight for the 135-pound division between an established champion and a popular rising star.

No. 4 Belal Muhammad (23-3) Def. No. 5 Gilbert Burns (22-6)

In the UFC 288 Co-Main event veteran contenders Belal Muhammed and Gilbert Burns competed to determine the next challenger for the Welterweight title. Muhammed was coming off the biggest win of his career against highly touted prospect Sean Brady. Burns has been very active in 2023 picking up wins over Jorge Masvidal and Neil Magny. In round one Muhammed attempted a takedown attempt that was successfully defended by Burns, but as Burns landed he badly damaged his left shoulder. This made Burns a sitting target for Muhammed, because of his limited offense. Burns was unable to take the fight to the ground where he is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu World champion.

As the fight progressed Muhammed started to pull away by outstriking Burns 132-81 over five rounds. Muhammed fought cautiously knowing that Burns was injured and easily won this fight by Unanimous decision (50-45, 49-46, 49-46). Burns injury caused this fight to be one-sided as Muhammed will be next in line to challenge for gold at 170 pounds. Muhammed will face the winner of Leon Edwards and Colby Covington. Muhammed matches up favorably with Covington and has previously faced Edwards but the fight ended due to an eye poke.

Charles Jourdain (14-6) Def. Kron Gracie (5-2)

Opening up the Main card, Charles Jourdain welcomed Gracie family member Kron Gracie back to the octagon after a four-year layoff. Jourdain is a very competent contender in the Featherweight division but has struggled with top-flight competition at times. Jourdan was 2-2 in his last four coming into this fight and needed a win to stay relevant at 145 pounds. Gracie excelled overseas in Japan before heading to the UFC where he went 1-1 before his extended break from the sport. Jourdain was a slight favorite (-180) at online sportsbooks before this fight.

In round one it was obvious that Gracie had only one way to win the fight. Jourdain was slick on the feet and fired combinations at Gracie who had no answer for his striking. Gracie would attempt to take the fight down out of desperation but would wind up on the bottom in his guard. Gracie had ample amount of time to find a submission on the ground but was unable to threaten anything significant. Jourdain controlled this fight throughout racking up six minutes of control time and outstriking Gracie 80-32 in significant strikes. After three rounds the judges scored the fight unanimously for Jourdain (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).

UFC 288 Prelims:

The UFC prelims were entertaining with a few memorable finishes. In the final prelim of the night New York’s Matt “The Steamroller” Frevola (11-3) picked up the biggest win of his career knocking out longtime UFC veteran Drew Dober (26-12) in the first round. Frevola is a training partner with Bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling at Team Serra-Longo and is now on a three-fight winning streak in the Lightweight division. After the fight, Frevola called out Paddy Pimblett as a potential next opponent. Also one the UFC 288 Prelims, Parker Porter (14-8) finished UFC newcomer Braxton Smith by first-round knockout.

The UFC will be back next weekend with a Fight Night card from Charlotte, North Carolina with a Heavyweight main event between Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Jailton Almeida.

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