UFC 288 Report: Aljamain Sterling defeats Henry Cejudo by split decision to retain title
On Saturday night, UFC 288 took place from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The card was headlined by UFC Bantamweight Champion, Aljamain Sterling, as he looked to defend his title against Henry Cejudo, who was making his return to the sport after retiring as the UFC Bantamweight Champion in May of 2020. Cejudo is one of the most decorated combat sports athletes, with an Olympic gold medal in freestyle wrestling to his name, as well as reigns with the UFC Flyweight and Bantamweight Championships. He ended his career on one of the more impressive win streaks in UFC history, defeating the likes of Demetrious Johnson, Dominick Cruz, and T.J. Dillashaw before vacating his titles, and Cejudo was looking to pick up where he left off by knocking off another champion in Aljamain Sterling. For Sterling, a win against Cejudo would mark the third defense of his UFC Bantamweight Championship, and his ninth consecutive win, which would be a tremendously impressive feat in the UFC’s talent-stacked bantamweight division. UFC 288 also featured an additional five-round bout, as on just two weeks’ notice, Gilbert Burns and Belal Muhammad agreed to a five-round fight to determine who would get the next shot at welterweight gold. Burns actually competed at UFC 287 just a month ago, where he defeated Jorge Masvidal, while Muhammad last fought in October of 2022, where Muhammad was able to stop Sean Brady in the second round. Taking this fight on such short notice was a tremendous risk for both fighters, but a win would likely secure a title shot for either elite welterweight fighter.
The commentary team for this card consisted of Jon Anik, Joe Rogan, and Daniel Cormier. Performance of the Night bonuses were awarded to Yan Xiaonan and Matt Frevola. Fight of the Night bonuses went out to Movsar Evloev and Diego Lopes. The announced attendance for this event was 17,559, with a gate of $5,182,210.36.
- Claudio Ribeiro def. Joseph Holmes by TKO at 3:21 of Round 2
- Ikram Aliskerov def. Phil Hawes by KO at 2:10 of Round 1
- Parker Porter def. Braxton Smith by TKO at 2:10 of Round 1
- Virna Jandiroba def. Marina Rodriguez by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
- Khaos Williams def. Rolando Bedoya by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 27-30)
- Kennedy Nzechukwu def. Devin Clark by guillotine choke at 2:28 of Round 2
- Matt Frevola def. Drew Dober by TKO at 4:08 of Round 1
- Charles Jourdain def. Kron Gracie by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
- Movsar Evloev def. Diego Lopes by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
- Yan Xiaonan def. Jessica Andrade by TKO at 2:20 of Round 1
- Belal Muhammad def. Gilbert Burns by unanimous decision (50-45, 49-46, 49-46)
- Aljamain Sterling def. Henry Cejudo by split decision (48-47, 48-47, 47-48) to retain the UFC Bantamweight Championship
JOSEPH HOLMES (8-3, 189) VS CLAUDIO RIBEIRO (10-3, 185) – MIDDLEWEIGHT
Holmes missed weight by 3 lbs, and was fined 20% of his purse.
Ribeiro came out swinging, but it was Holmes who landed the first heavy strike, immediately taking Ribeiro down after the shot connected. Ribeiro quickly returned to his feet, and the fighters started wrestling against the cage as Holmes looked to take Ribeiro back to the ground. Eventually, the fighters separated, and Ribeiro landed a big leg kick before swarming Holmes with heavy strikes. Ribeiro’s flurry backed Holmes into the cage, and Ribeiro opted to secure a takedown of his own with just over a minute remaining in the round. Ribeiro started throwing down brutal ground and pound strikes, but the round ended just before Ribeiro could secure the finish.
The fighters quickly returned to their battle in the clinch against the cage in the second round, as both men looked to take the fight back to the ground. After roughly ninety seconds, Ribeiro created some separation and eventually landed a powerful right hand that was the biggest moment of the round to that point. Moments later, Ribeiro threw a knee down the middle that sent Holmes to the ground, and Ribeiro proceeded to finish the fight with ground-and-pound strikes.
WINNER: Claudio Ribeiro by TKO at 3:21 of Round 2
Ribeiro began the fight very aggressively, and while Holmes initially handled that pressure well, eventually, Ribeiro’s attack began to overwhelm him, and towards the end of the first round, Ribeiro began to take complete control of the fight. Honestly, I would not have been opposed to the fight being stopped at the end of the first round, as I thought Holmes looked as though he was done before the horn sounded, but we got a second round regardless, where Ribeiro secured his win with a big knee to the head of his opponent, picking up his first win in the UFC. Ribeiro’s UFC record improved to 1-1 following this win, with that prior loss coming to Abdul Razak Alhassan, a tough outing for anyone making their debut in the promotion.
PHIL HAWES (12-4, 185) VS IKRAM ALISKEROV (13-1, 186) – MIDDLEWEIGHT
Hawes was active with his kicks throughout the opening minutes of the fight, tagging Aliskerov repeatedly with heavy kicks to the body. Aliskerov seemed to be getting overwhelmed by Hawes on the feet, and he started fighting back rather wildly as a result. Aliskerov’s change in strategy quickly paid off, as he began to land damaging strikes at a much higher rate, and soon enough, a straight right hand from Aliskerov found its target, and Hawes crumbled to the ground unconscious.
WINNER: Ikram Aliskerov by KO at 2:10 of Round 1
This was an absolutely brutal knockout and the exact result that Aliskerov was looking for to make an impression in his UFC debut. Hawes found early success with his attack on the body of Aliskerov, but that aggression led to Aliskerov picking up the pace out of desperation, and once Aliskerov went on the attack, the momentum of the fight quickly shifted in his favor, and he secured the huge knockout just moments later. After the fight, Aliskerov called out Bo Nickal, who is currently scheduled to fight Tresean Gore at UFC 290.
BRAXTON SMITH (5-1, 262) VS PARKER PORTER (12-8, 249) – HEAVYWEIGHT
Smith began the fight with a looping right hand that backed Porter up. Smith was swinging for the fences every time that he threw, and he was cracking Porter with some bombs as a result, but Porter’s chin held up well, and he quickly tired Smith out. Once Smith had tired, Porter landed a knee to the body, before easily dragging Smith to the ground, where he took top position and threw down ground and pound shots until the fight was stopped.
WINNER: Parker Porter by TKO at 2:10 of Round 1
Smith was looking for the early sentence, swinging with all of his power, but this strategy quickly backfired, as he gassed out after roughly ninety seconds. It was a very poor performance from Smith, and one has to wonder if he would benefit from a bit more time on the regional scene before another fight against even the lowest-level UFC heavyweights. Regardless of Smith’s future, Porter deserves credit for weathering the early onslaught from Smith, before capitalizing on his opponent’s exhaustion to secure the finish, which marked Porter’s first finish since joining the UFC in 2020. Following this win, Porter’s UFC record stands at 4-3.
MARINA RODRIGUEZ (16-2-2, 115) VS VIRNA JANDIROBA (18-3, 115) – STRAWWEIGHT
Jandiroba quickly secured a takedown, taking Rodriguez to the ground with well over four minutes to work. Jandiroba began to climb up the back of Rodriguez, which forced Rodriguez to turn into her, allowing Jandiroba to take half guard. Jandiroba postured up slightly, allowing her to land several short left hands, although the shots did not seem to be doing much damage. Eventually, Jandiroba started hunting for a kimura, but she abandoned the attempt, and postured up instead, where she connected with a pair of heavy elbows. 10-9 Jandiroba.
Jandiroba began the second round with a Ben Askren-esque spinning back fist. Rodriguez defended Jandiroba’s first takedown attempt of the second round, before desperately grabbing onto the cage to defend Jandiroba’s second attempt. Despite defending the takedown attempts, Jandiroba eventually got the fight to the ground by rolling for a kneebar, before taking top position after Rodriguez stopped the submission. Jandiroba was able to control Rodriguez on the ground for the remainder of the second round, easily taking this one on the scorecards as well. 20-18 Jandiroba.
Rodriguez was fighting aggressively in the third round, knowing that she needed a finish to win this fight. At one point, Rodriguez landed a flying knee that backed Jandiroba up, but Jandiroba’s grappling ability proved to be too much for her, as once again, Jandiroba was eventually able to change levels and take the fight to the ground. Jandiroba attempted to sink in an arm triangle, but the positioning was somewhat off, and she was unable to finish the choke, instead, opting to posture up and throw down elbows once more. Late in the round, Rodriguez landed several up kicks, but it was too little too late, and the fight went the distance. 30-27 Jandiroba.
WINNER: Virna Jandiroba by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
There have been fighters who have found success grappling with Rodriguez in the past, but this was perhaps the most dominant grappling-focused performance by a fighter over Rodriguez to date, and this was arguably Jandiroba’s best outing since joining the UFC in 2019. While Jandiroba did not secure a finish here, as she has throughout the majority of her UFC wins, Rodriguez marked her highest-ranked opponent to date, and after headlining three of the last four events she has competed in, Rodriguez’s profile has risen to a point that Jandiroba’s win over her could very well catapult Jandiroba into strawweight title contenders.
KHAOS WILLIAMS (13-3, 169) VS ROLANDO BEDOYA (14-1, 170) – WELTERWEIGHT
The fighters traded hands early, with both fighters landing heavy shots. Williams appeared to be packing more power behind his punches, but Bedoya was landing some clean shots whenever Williams flurried forward, and Bedoya was getting some big reactions out of Williams whenever he landed one of those big counters. The fighters traded leg kicks in the round’s final minute, before Williams started to explode with huge flurries, perhaps securing a wild round in its final seconds. 10-9 Williams.
Another heavy leg kick from Williams got a reaction out of Bedoya at the start of the second round. Williams continued to attack the lead leg of Bedoya until he started flurrying forward once more with some wild combinations of punches. Bedoya connected with a solid right hand before Williams pushed him into the cage, where they started grappling as Williams looked for a takedown. Eventually, the fighters broke apart, with Williams landing an uppercut as the fighters reset. Late in the round, Bedoya landed a head kick, but Williams just ate the shot, and he continued to push the pace until time expired. 19-19.
Bedoya and Williams continued to show off their resilience in the third round, trading hands at a very high rate. Bedoya seemed to be pulling ahead in terms of overall output in this final round, finding his target more consistently, while doing considerable damage to the lead leg of Williams, but it continued to be a very close fight. Eventually, Bedoya attempted to take Williams to the ground, but Williams was able to defend the attempt, keeping the fight on its feet for its final minute. Bedoya and Williams traded heavy right hands before Bedoya landed a heavy jab. Williams landed one last heavy leg kick before a hook from Bedoya seemed to find its target. Ultimately, the fight went the distance, and I scored the fight 29-28 for Bedoya.
WINNER: Khaos Williams by split decision (29-28, 29-28, 27-30)
This was a wild fight, where the fighters largely just traded hands for the better part of fifteen minutes. I scored the fight for Bedoya, as I thought he landed the more damaging shots throughout the final two rounds, but it was certainly very close, and I do not think many people will have a huge problem with Williams getting his arm raised in the end here. Williams came into this fight as a massive favorite, so this was certainly an impressive outing for Bedoya considering the odds. This marked Bedoya’s UFC debut, and I will be interested to see what he looks like in his next bout, as while this fight played out entirely on the feet, his record indicates that he is a skilled grappler as well. For Williams, this was an important win after being on the wrong end of a split decision in his last outing, and he now holds an overall record of 5-2 since joining the UFC in 2020.
DEVIN CLARK (14-7, 205) VS KENNEDY NZECHUKWU (11-3, 205) – LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT
Nzechukwu pressured forward early in the fight, looking to trap Clark against the cage, where he would not have room to shoot for takedowns. Nzechukwu’s strategy was unsuccessful, as Clark eventually changed levels and took Nzechukwu to the ground. Nzechukwu quickly returned to the feet, where he surprisingly opted to continue wrestling with Clark against the cage, in search of a takedown of his own. That takedown did not come, and Clark connected with a big elbow after they broke apart that rocked Nzechukwu. Nzechukwu started covering up against the cage as Clark went on the attack, looking to finish the fight, until Nzechukwu returned fire, badly hurting Clark with a series of elbows and uppercuts. Suddenly, it was Clark who was on the verge of being finished, as he did his best to survive a never-ending series of elbows from Nzechukwu against the cage. Clark managed to make it out of the round, but Nzechukwu had him in deep trouble going into the second round.
The fighters continued to battle in the clinch in the second round, where Nzechukwu attacked the body with several brutal knees. Clark attempted to take the fight to the ground, changing levels as he shot for a takedown, but Nzechukwu defended the attempt and caught Clark with a standing guillotine choke against the cage. Clark did his best to escape, but eventually, Nzechukwu choked him unconscious, securing the second-round finish.
WINNER: Kennedy Nzechukwu by guillotine choke at 2:28 of Round 2
Clark’s strategy was clearly to close the distance and get the fight to the ground, but Nzechukwu has made some drastic improvements to his game over the years and proved much harder to take down than Clark was likely expecting. Nzechukwu did strong work from the clinch, attacking the body with heavy knees, until he eventually forced Clark to shoot for takedowns, as the clinch battle was playing out in Nzechukwu’s favor. Nzechukwu countered the level change with a solid guillotine, choking Clark unconscious to secure his first career win by submission. Nzechukwu now holds a record of 6-3 in the UFC, and he has won three consecutive fights.
DREW DOBER (26-11, 1 NC, 205) VS MATT FREVOLA (10-3-1, 155) – LIGHTWEIGHT
Dober and Frevola immediately started trading hands, just as you would assume they would. A heavy right hand from Frevola caught Dober clean, but Dober took the shot well and pressed forward, defending a takedown attempt from Frevola in the process. Frevola was countering well as Dober threw his heavy combinations, getting the better of some of the early exchanges, but the body shots from Dober were adding up, opening up opportunities for Dober to land his heavy hooks to the head as well. A superman punch from Frevola seemed to stumble Dober, and as Dober attempted to continue pressing forward, a huge right hand from Frevola dropped Dober hard. Frevola followed Dober to the ground, and he threw down vicious ground-and-pound strikes until the fight was stopped.
WINNER: Matt Frevola by TKO at 4:08 of Round 1
This was an entertaining fight while it lasted. Dober and Frevola are both fighters who are always down for a brawl, but it was Frevola who got the better of this one, doing a good job throughout the fight of catching Dober on his way in whenever Dober looked to pressure forward with his heavy flurries. Dober is an extremely resilient fighter, but Frevola managed to put him away here, and despite Dober’s protests, I did think that this was a good stoppage from the referee. This marked the fight time Dober has been finished with strikes since 2011, which is quite remarkable when you consider how many wild wars this man has been in, but Frevola put an end to that streak and picked up the biggest win of his career to this point as a result. Frevola is now on a three-fight win streak (with all three of those wins coming by way of first-round knockout), and after the fight, Frevola called out Paddy Pimblett.
KRON GRACIE (5-1, 145) VS CHARLES JOURDAIN (13-6-1, 145) – FEATHERWEIGHT
Jourdain began the fight with a sharp jab, which he followed with a quick combination of hooks. Jourdain defended an early attempt from Gracie to take the fight to the ground and caught him with an uppercut moments later. Gracie’s striking was not looking great, and he was being caught repeatedly by Jourdain whenever he attempted to pressure forward. Eventually, Gracie opted to pull guard, where he started looking for submissions off of his back. Jourdain defended himself well and returned to his feet where they spent the final minute of the round. 10-9 Jourdain.
Gracie pressed Jourdain up against the cage at the start of the second round, where he successfully pulled guard once again. Gracie was unable to make much happen off of his back, and Jourdain spent a considerable portion of the round in top position until he opted to return to his feet, where he continued to get the better of Gracie on the feet. At one point, Jourdain landed a sharp elbow as Gracie pressed forward, which was one of the best shots of the fight to that point, and Gracie pulled guard once more as he desperately tried to get Jourdain to engage him on the ground. Jourdain ended the round in top position, and this was another round in his favor. 20-18 Jourdain.
The crowd had completely turned against Gracie due to his repeated guard pulls, and he was being booed heavily whenever he attempted to bring the fight back to the ground. Jourdain was miles ahead of Gracie on the feet, just brutalizing Gracie’s body with heavy shots whenever the opportunity presented itself. Eventually, Gracie successfully pulled guard one more time, where once again, Jourdain maintained top position for some time before returning to his feet. In the end, the fight went the distance, and I scored it 30-27 in favor of Jourdain.
WINNER: Charles Jourdain by unanimous decision (30-27 all)
Gracie had nothing to offer Jourdain in this fight, and it led to a rather dull fifteen minutes. Gracie pulled guard repeatedly throughout the bout but was unable to accomplish much after getting the fight to his comfort zone, and Jourdain was able to stand back up every time, where he would proceed to easily dismantle Gracie on the feet, mixing up his attack to the head and body. It was an excellent performance from Jourdain against an extremely dangerous grappler, but far from the most entertaining fight, and the crowd voiced their displeasure throughout the bout. After the fight, Jourdain called out Edson Barboza, which sounds like a phenomenal fight and would provide Jourdain with an opportunity to take Barboza’s spot in the featherweight rankings.
MOVSAR EVLOEV (16-0, 145) VS DIEGO LOPES (20-5, 146) – FEATHERWEIGHT
Lopes rocked Evloev with a big right hand in the opening minute, before Evloev took the fight to the ground, avoiding a kneebar attempt from Lopes in the process. Lopes was in a rough position, but he managed to transition into an armbar attempt, nearly finishing the fight in shocking fashion, but Evloev managed to escape the submission and regained top position. Evloev landed some strong strikes from top position before time expired, but I thought Lopes had the bigger moments in the round, and I narrowly scored it for him. 10-9 Lopes.
Evloev began the second round with a strong right hand as he attempted to press Lopes into the cage. Evloev seemed to be getting the better of their exchanges on the feet here but eventually decided to take the fight back to the ground, where he still had over two minutes to work. Evloev postured up and landed some solid shots, attacking the body as well to open up the head. It was a strong round for Evloev, who tied the fight up on my scorecard. 19-19.
Evloev continued to control the striking exchanges on the feet, although Lopes was still landing the occasional strong counter. Much like round two, Evloev opted to take the fight to the ground around the halfway point of the round, where he was largely able to control him from the advantageous position, until Lopes countered with another armbar attempt, once again coming close to locking the submission in. Evloev escaped the submission, but Lopes rolled for a knee, nearly securing the late kneebar finish before time expired in the fight. The submission attempts made this a very close round, but I gave the edge to Evloev. 29-28 Evloev.
WINNER: Movsar Evloev by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Evloev was originally scheduled to fight Bryce Mitchell on this card, but Mitchell was forced to withdraw from the event on fight week due to a shoulder injury, and Lopes took this fight on extremely short notice, making his promotional debut. Despite the circumstances, I thought Lopes gave a great account of himself here, pushing Evloev (the tenth-ranked featherweight contender) to his limit with constant submission attempts, as well as an early right hand that seemed to rock Evloev. Evloev managed to survive all of Lopes’ attempts to finish the fight, and he found enough success on the feet as well as with his wrestling to win the bout, but this was far from the one-sided beatdown that the odds would have led you to believe that this fight would be. Evloev is now 7-0 in the UFC following this win and mentioned fighting the Korean Zombie in his post-fight interview, who was in attendance.
JESSICA ANDRADE (24-10, 115) VS Yan XIAONAN (16-3, 1 NC, 115) – STRAWWEIGHT
Andrade pressured forward to begin the fight, attacking Yan with her usual aggressive style. Yan was doing a good job of circling Andrade, landing some solid counters whenever Andrade went on the attack, and was very down to play Andrade’s game here. Andrade was flurrying forward recklessly with a series of looping left hooks, which allowed Yan to plant her feet and fire back, dropping Andrade hard with a right hook. Yan followed Andrade to the ground, and quickly ended the fight with ground-and-pound strikes.
WINNER: Yan Xiaonan by TKO at 2:20 of Round 1
The finish resembled Stipe Miocic’s knockout of Fabricio Werdum, with Andrade just charging right into the knockout blow from Yan. It was an excellent finish, and a career-defining win for Yan to this point, becoming just the second fighter to finish Andrade at strawweight. This was very much the type of performance that could catapult Yan directly into a title fight against Zhang Weili, although strawweight is a deep division with multiple legitimate options in terms of Zhang’s next opponent. Regardless of what is next for Yan, this was a tremendous finish against a former champion, and she has rebounded strongly from her title eliminator loss to Carla Esparza two years ago, re-establishing herself as one of the division’s top contenders.
BELAL MUHAMMAD (22-3, 1 NC, 170) VS GILBERT BURNS (22-5, 171) – WELTERWEIGHT
Both fighters were somewhat hesitant to commit to big actions in the opening round, with Burns attacking the led leg of Muhammad as the fighters exchanged short combinations. Burns shot in for a takedown at one point, but Muhammad countered with a knee and stopped the attempt. Muhammad landed a pair of powerful kicks to the body of Burns, before catching Burns off balance with a sharp jab. In the round’s final seconds, Muhammad caught Burns with a head kick, ending the round strongly. 10-9 Muhammad.
Muhammad continued to attack the body of Gilbert Burns with heavy kicks, which were doing significant damage by this point in the fight. Burns found a home for a right hand, which was probably his best shot to that point, but he was still not in a great rhythm offensively. Burns loaded up a right hand that connected, as Muhammad attempted to respond with a short right hook. Muhammad was largely the advancing fighter throughout the round, and I thought he was getting the better of the majority of their exchanges, so I scored this round for him as well. 20-18 Muhammad.
The pace of this fight was rather slow, and the crowd was starting to get restless by the third round. Muhammad continued to advance, peppering Burns with short strikes, while Burns was very inactive, fighting defensively for the majority of the round. Eventually, Burns let loose with a big right hand, which prompted Muhammad to respond with another kick to the body. The commentators were speculating that Burns was injured, largely based on his Corners advice, urging Burns to work through whatever was bothering him, as well as his general inactivity. I thought this was another round for Muhammad, and Burns was looking completely dejected between rounds. 30-27 Burns.
Burns attacked the lead leg of Muhammad at the start of the fourth round, and he landed a pair of right hands moments later. The most damaging strikes continued to be the body kicks from Muhammad, and Burns did not have many answers for that particular attack. A right hand from Burns caught Muhammad on his way in, but Muhammad took the shot well. Burns continued to beat up the lead leg of Muhammad, before shooting for an unsuccessful takedown that caused Burns to visibly wince as a result of his injury. Burns landed one more big right hand before the end of the round, and I thought this was the closest round of the fight to this point, as Burns may have done more damage than Muhammad throughout, but things were not looking good for Burns regardless of the scoring going into the fifth round. 40-36 Muhammad.
Muhammad continued to get the better of the action in the final round, as Burns continued to fight very tentatively due to his injury. Muhammad did just enough offensively to ensure that he was ahead in the round while dodging the more telegraphed strikes from Burns whenever Burns attempted to land a fight-changing blow. The fight went the distance, and I scored the bout 50-45 in favor of Belal Muhammad.
WINNER: Belal Muhammad by unanimous decision (50-45, 49-46, 49-46)
Burns injured his shoulder after a failed takedown attempt in the first round and did not have much to offer Muhammad for the remainder of the fight, showing clear frustration regarding his injury throughout the next four rounds. It was a very disappointing outing for Burns, especially after taking the fight on such short notice, but for Belal Muhammad, a win over a top contender was exactly what he needed to solidify his case for a title shot, and he did just that here. Muhammad is now on a ten-fight undefeated streak, a streak with nine wins as well a single no-contest that came as a result of an eye poke against the division’s current champion, Leon Edwards. After the fight, Muhammad called out Edwards as well as Colby Covington, who is expected to fight for the title later this year, and I do imagine Muhammad will get the fight he is looking for the next time that he steps into the octagon.
ALJAMAIN STERLING (22-3, 134) VS HENRY CEJUDO (16-2, 135) – UFC BANTAMWEIGHT
Sterling pressured forward to begin the fight, attempting to back Cejudo into the cage. Cejudo recorded a takedown about a minute into the bout and maintained roughly a minute of control time before Sterling escaped to his feet. Sterling continued to fight with aggression, which prompted Cejudo to look for another takedown, but this time Sterling defended the attempt, before Sterling shot for one of his own, eventually taking Cejudo down near the cage. Sterling landed a pair of knees to the body as Cejudo picked himself up, and Sterling took the back of Cejudo in the process, ending the round on Cejudo’s back. 10-9 Sterling.
The fighters traded kicks to the body at the start of the second round, before they exchanged right hands. A head kick landed for Cejudo, but Sterling took the shot well and continued to press forward. Sterling connected with several kicks to the body before Cejudo began to pressure forward, finding success with his hands as well as with his low kicks. Cejudo began to pull ahead in this round as it progressed, mixing up his offense well, tagging Sterling with another head kick at one point. Cejudo connected with a solid right hand before time expired in the round. 19-19.
Sterling and Cejudo continued to trade kicks at the start of the third round until Cejudo flurried forward and took the fight to the ground after sprawling on a takedown attempt from Sterling. Cejudo allowed Sterling back to his feet, where Sterling engaged Cejudo against the fence, where he wrestled Cejudo to the ground momentarily. Sterling landed a solid knee to the head of Cejudo as he picked himself back up before the fighters broke apart with under two minutes remaining in the round. Cejudo secured a takedown before the end of the round but was unable to do much with it before time expired. 29-28 Sterling.
Sterling was doing good work at the start of the fourth round, applying pressure and mixing up his strikes well, but this was a fight that seemed to shift towards whichever fighter was advancing, and Cejudo began to find success when he went on the attack later in the round. Sterling defended a takedown from Cejudo before Cejudo easily stopped one in return from Sterling. Sterling landed a solid jab after several calf kicks, and the leg kicks from Sterling were starting to get noticeable reactions out of Cejudo. Sterling tagged Cejudo with a solid elbow after Cejudo caught a kick, but Cejudo eventually completed the takedown that he was looking for. Sterling was not content to give up bottom position however, and quickly escaped before securing one last takedown of his own, in what was a very close round. 39-37 Sterling.
The fighters touched gloves to begin the final round. Cejudo was the advancing fighter throughout the first two minutes of the round, and he found success as a result. A big left hand from Cejudo connected before he grabbed after a single left that Sterling shrugged off (although he ate a short combination in the process). Sterling changed levels as he attempted to take Cejudo to the ground, but Cejudo defended the attempt, before landing a pair of knees to the body of Sterling. Cejudo secured a big takedown in the round’s final minute, but Sterling quickly escaped once again, ending the fight on his feet. 48-47 Sterling.
WINNER: Aljamain Sterling by split decision (48-47, 48-47, 47-48) to retain the UFC Bantamweight Championship
The fight was very close, and I was not surprised to see it result in a split decision, but I scored the fight for Sterling, and in the end, two of the three judges agreed. This was very much a fight that was determined by who was advancing, as whenever either man pressured forward, they seemed to be getting the better of their opponent. Both fighters were able to take the other to the ground, but they were both strong enough grapplers to return to their feet while escaping damage every time. It was a very high-level fight, and this was one of the very few times that I have watched a five-round MMA and came away from it wishing that the fight was a round or two longer. After the fight, Sterling called out Sean O’Malley, and he was brought into the cage to face off with the champion, setting that one up for a later date in the year. Cejudo seemed unsure as to his future in the sport after his loss here, but I believe that we will see him again, and despite the loss, Cejudo proved that he remains one of the more talented bantamweight fighters in the sport.