Oh my. What a fight we have on our hands, ladies and gentlemen.
UFC 288 comes to us live from Newark, New Jersey on Saturday, May 6th, 2023. Headlining this event is a truly mega main-event, starring the reigning UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain “Funkmaster” Sterling taking on the returning might of “Triple C” himself, Henry Cejudo. Read on below to find our prediction for this epic main event!
Aljamain Sterling v Henry Cejudo: The Background…
Aljamain Sterling. What an…eventful reign it has been for the current king of the bantamweights. Sterling, of course, won said title in one of the most controversial fight finishes of all time against Petr Yan in March 2021 at UFC 259. An illegal knee led to a DQ finish, and the first time ever that a title had changed hands in this manner. His title reign has gone on to include a split decision rematch defence against Yan, as well as a dominant dismantling of bantamweight great TJ Dillashaw at UFC 280 last year.
Henry Cejudo has also had an equally eventful time over the last few years. As one of the few men who can claim a win over Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson (for flyweight gold in 2018), Cejudo defended said title against TJ Dillashaw (notwithstanding that whole EPO thing…), and then moved up to bantamweight to claim the title vacated by Sterling. A win over “Magic” Marlon Moraes saw Cejudo obtain coveted “Champ-Champ” status (again, in elite company), whilst a win in May 2020 over Dominick Cruz saw Cejudo announce his retirement.
Aljamain Sterling: Embracing The Ground Game
Aljamain Sterling is still seen by many to be an illegitimate champion. Right or wrong, that is a fact. Unfortunately, each of Sterling's defences have been shrouded in controversy. His first defence – a split decision which did little to quell doubts about him being a true champion. His second – a TKO victory against an injured TJ Dillashaw who dislocated his shoulder in the first round. Be under no doubt at all – Aljamain Sterling wants to make a BIG statement in this fight.
Aljamain's path to victory in this fight mainly revolves around two things: forward pressure and his submission game. His most recent win (against TJ Dillashaw) saw a first finish via punches in EIGHT years. That tells you a little something about how much he embraces the fight on the ground. For all the criticism of Aljamain Sterling's title reign so far, there are few who can match him when the fight hits the deck.
Aljamain's second key factor is forward pressure. Aljamain Sterling's forward pressure has always been pretty stifling, but even more so in his most recent fights. In his rematch against Petr Yan, Sterling was much more confident and forward in putting his opponent on his heels. This was a big factor in those early rounds, as you may remember. The same story stands true against TJ Dillashaw. A big factor in Sterling's win was his relentlessness in driving forward and driving hard against TJ, forcing him into errors, and ultimately, playing a part in causing the shoulder dislocation. Pressure will be key in stopping Cejudo before he can get any momentum going in this fight.
Henry Cejudo: Olympic Gold Pedigree Wrestling
We don't need to regurgitate Henry Cejudo's extremely impressive resumé. Not only because you have no doubt heard it many times by now, and also because Henry Cejudo will happily do that for you (at every given opportunity.) Nonetheless, the self-proclaimed “King of Cringe” is a truly remarkable athlete, and one of the most accomplished that we have ever seen in an octagon.
Henry Cejudo's main route to reclaiming the bantamweight title is his Olympic gold winning wrestling. That sounds a tad oversimplified, but when you're as good as Henry Cejudo, why overcomplicate the game plan? Cejudo's wrestling pedigree is truly second to none, and there is no doubt that he has every intention of putting it to good use on Saturday night. Aljamain Sterling will have to be very wary of the variety of Cejudo's offensive wrestling, as well as his pressure that he can bring to bear also.
Another important factor that must be kept in mind is the addition of serious knockout power to Cejudo's arsenal. As witnessed against Messrs Dillashaw, Moraes and Cruz, Henry Cejudo now possesses very real knockout power, something Aljamain Sterling would do very wise to pay very close attention to.
Aljamain Sterling v Henry Cejudo: Who Wins?
My prediction might surprise you. And that is because I think Aljamain Sterling will retain his UFC bantamweight title. Hear me out, hear me out. There are two main reasons why I think this will happen, and they are as follows:
Firstly, Henry Cejudo is coming off a three-year layoff. THREE years! That is a huge amount of time to have been out of the loop, especially in a division as deep and as dangerous as bantamweight. Ring rust is a very real thing, and I think it could definitely be something that affects Henry Cejudo. Personally, I would argue that jumping straight into a title fight is not only undeserving, but also extremely dangerous. Which leads me on to part two of my reasoning.
Aljamain Sterling is EXTREMELY motivated. Nobody should underestimate just how focused and determined Aljamain Sterling is on making a statement in this fight. As mentioned earlier, many have ridiculed and mocked “Funkmaster”, arguing the very legitimacy of his being champion in the first place. His first two defences have been open to question, and he will want to be emphatic with this one.
I think this fight could very well be finished within three rounds, but I am extremely intrigued as to what happens when this fight hits the deck, because I think it will. If/when that does happen, Henry Cejudo will be there with someone who embraces being in that position – and I think this might catch Henry out. My official prediction is Aljamain Sterling to retain his UFC bantamweight title with a third round submission.