Check out UFC 288 tips and previews for all five main card fights from Newark, including the UFC Bantamweight Championship headliner bout between Aljamain Sterling and Henry Cejudo.
- Sterling – 22-3 (3 wins by KO/TKO)
- Cejudo – 16-2 (8 wins by KO/TKO)
- Sterling def TJ Dillinshaw – Rd 2 TKO – UFC 280, October 2022
- Cruz def Cejudo – Rd 2 TKO – UFC 249, November 2020
Analysis: Aljamain Sterling defends the UFC Bantamweight Championship for the third time against former champion Henry Cejudo, who has rescinded a three-year retirement to take another shot at the belt.
The 36-year-old Cejudo, an Olympic gold medal wrestler in 2008, won his last seven fights in the UFC. He won the Flyweight Championship then switched to bantamweight, winning the title from Marlon Morales in his next bout. ‘The Messenger’ defeated Dominick Cruz by TKO in May 2020 – his first title defence – before vacating due to announcing his retirement.
Sterling became the next champion of the division courtesy of a disqualification win over Petr Yan. In a rematch with Yan last April, he claimed a split decision victory then defended the belt in more emphatic fashion in October with a Round 2 TKO against TJ Dillinshaw. The 33-year-old is on an eight-fight winning streak.
Sterling’s strength is pushing his opponents into grappling exchanges and forcing the pace to put them under pressure, but Cejudo’s wrestling prowess, durability and speed is a good counter. Both have improved their striking over the course of their decorated careers, though Cejudo has traditionally been the more potent at stopping rivals with his punching power.
It’s a hugely important fight for both competitors’ legacies – a win over a former champ gets a major tick in the division’s G.O.A.T. – conversation – but the ring rust factor puts ‘Funk Master’ Sterling in the box seat in a pick ’em.
- Muhammad – 22-3-1 (5 wins by KO/TKO)
- Burns – 22-5 (6 wins by KO/TKO)
- Muhammad def Sean Brady – Rd 2 TKO – UFC 280, October 2022
- Burns def Jorge Masvidal – Unanimous decision – UFC 287, April 2023
Analysis: Added to the UFC 288 docket only a couple of weeks ago, this is an absolute ripper as the curtain raiser to the main event. Top-five welterweight contenders Belal Muhammad or Gilbert Burns is certain to come into the frame for a title challenge against Leon Edwards.
Incredibly, Burns – who came up short in his title fight against Kamaru Usman (Rd 3 TKO) in early-2021 – is already lining up for his third fight in 2023. He forced Neil Magny to submit in the first round in January at UFC 283 and won a unanimous decision in a three-round fight against legendary veteran Jorge Masvidal just a month ago.
Muhammad has won his last eight completed fights (interrupted by a no contest when he was accidentally poked in the eye against Edwards in 2021 and couldn’t continue). He fought twice in 2022, getting a unanimous decision over Vicente Luque last April and earned a Performance of the Night bonus for a Round 2 TKO of Sean Brady in October.
These two are hard to split, with Burns a narrow $1.80 favourite. It’s a battle between Burns’ power and Muhammad’s pace and patience. The latter is great value to win out, but either way expect these quality fighters to go the distance.
- Andrade 24-10 (9 wins by KO/TKO)
- Yan 16-3-1 (7 wins by KO/TKO)
- Andrade lost to Erin Blanchfield – Rd 2 submission – UFC Fight Night, February 2023
- Yan def Mackenzie Dern – Majority decision – UFC Fight Night, October 2022
Analysis: A former champion in the divisions, Jessica Andrade takes on Yan Xiaonan square off in a key clash to work towards a shot at the Women’s Strawweight Championship.
Andrade, who won the Strawweight title in 2019 but lost it to current champ Zhang Weili in her first defence, is currently the fourth-ranked contender. But she is coming off a submission loss to Erin Blanchfield in February – though backing up a mere four weeks after her unanimous decision over Lauren Murphy could have been a factor.
Yan’s six-fight winning streak since entering the UFC in 2017 was halted by consecutive losses to Carla Esparza (TKO in May 2021) and Marina Rodriguez (split decision in March 2022). But she got back on track in October with a majority decision win against Mackenzie Dern; she’s the sixth-ranked contender.
Yan is a great mover on her feet and has a super-fast kick, so the more aggressive, powerful Andrade will have her work cut out. Andrade has only gone the distance in two of her last 10 fights – one way or another this is likely to finish early. Back the veteran to hunt down her prey for a statement win.
- Evloev 16-0 (3 wins by KO/TKO)
- Lopes 21-5 (8 wins by KO/TKO)
- Evloev def Dan Ige – Unanimous decision- UFC Fight Night, June 2022
- Lopes def Angel Rodriguez – Rd 2 KO – Lux Fight League, November 2022
Analysis: Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert Diego Lopes makes his UFC debut as a late replacement against Movsar Evloev.
Lopes last fought in the Lux Fight League and has built a respectable MMA record, while he boasts the unknown-quantity factor. But coming in at five days notice is a challenge for any fighter – let alone one stepping into the bright lights of the UFC for the first time.
Undefeated Russian Movsar Evloev linked with the UFC in 2019 and has won six fights under that banner, all by decision. He has fought just once in the past 22 months, taking a unanimous decision over Dan Ige. But his efforts have seen him push into the top 10 in the UFC’s Featherweight rankings.
This is a tough spot for Lopes but he is capable of at least going the distance with Evloev.
- Gracie – 5-1 (0 wins by KO/TKO)
- Jourdain – 13-6-1 (8 wins by KO/TKO)
- Gracie lost to Cub Swanson – Unanimous decision – UFC Fight Night, October 2019
- Jourdain lost to Nathaniel Wood – Unanimous decision – UFC Fight Night, September 2022
Analysis: Kron Gracie returns from more than three years out of the octagon to take on Charles Jourdain in this featherweight duel.
Decorated grappler Gracie had just six MMA bouts and only two under the UFC banner. He earned a Performance of the Night bonus on UFC debut in early-2019 against Alex Caceres (his fifth submission win is as many fights) but stepped away from the sport after his decision loss to Cub Swanson in October that year.
Jourdain, a former featherweight champ in the TKO promotion, joined the UFC in 2019 and has a 4-5-1 record since then. He is out to snap a two-fight losing streak, going down to Shane Burgos and Nathaniel Wood by decision after forcing Lando VAnnata to tap out during a busy 2022.
Gracie was a quality competitor and this shapes as a fascinating battle between two submission specialists. The returning underdog might just have the edge, despite the ring rust worry.