UFC 288: Sterling vs. Cejudo Fight Card, Predictions, & Odds

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Henry Cejudo, right, kicks Marlon Moraes during their bantamweight title mixed martial arts bout at UFC 238.
(AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
Anatoly Pimentel @AnatolyPimentel May 03, 2023, 8:22 PM
  • Aljamain Sterling is the slight betting underdog at -105.
  • Henry Cejudo is the slight betting favorite at -115.
  • The winner will be crowned as UFC’s undisputed bantamweight champion.

The third title defense of Aljamain Sterling’s (22-3) UFC bantamweight belt goes down this Saturday, May 6, inside Prudential Center in New Jersey, where he faces former title holder Henry Cejudo (16-2). This is Cejudo’s official return inside the Octagon after announcing his retirement in May 2020 following his title defense over Dominick Cruz via a second-round TKO finish.

The UFC odds between the two bantamweight royals are almost identical, but Cejudo will be the slight betting favorite at -115 despite his three-year hiatus from the sport. On the other hand, oddsmakers see reigning champion Sterling as the slight betting underdog at -105, even with his eight-fight winning streak, which includes three title victories.

Two other primary reasons why Cejudo has a slim edge in UFC betting lines: He is one of only four UFC fighters who’ve become simultaneous two-division champions, and his superior fight IQ can be used to break down and beat his opponent. Additionally, several fights and pundits are still skeptical of Sterling’s title reign since he won the belt in March 2021 via disqualification.

Aljamain Sterling Recent Fight Results

Aljamain Sterling racked up a perfect 8-0 MMA professional record, including five finishes before joining the UFC in 2014. He made his Octagon debut against Cody Gibson in February 2014 with a unanimous decision victory, then followed it up with three successive stoppage wins over Hugo Viana (third-round TKO), Takeya Migugaki (third-round submission), and Johnny Eduardo (second-round submission).

This winning streak by the “Funk Master” was halted by Bryan Caraway and Raphael Assuncao after they beat Sterling via close split decision results in May 2016 and January 2017. They were the first back-to-back losses sustained by the 33-year-old in his career. Following these setbacks, Sterling returned to the winning column by unanimously beating Augusto Mendes in April 2017 and Renan Barao in July 2017.

Sterling’s rise to the upper echelon of the 135-pound division has hit another roadblock because Marlon Moraes gave him his first MMA knockout loss in December 2017. Moraes timed a picture-perfect knee strike to knock Sterling out cold. It was a hard pill to swallow, but the Serra-Longo Fight Team representative used it as motivation to move forward.

After that devastating loss to Moraes, Sterling went on a five-fight streak with victories over Brett Johns (unanimous decision in April 2018), Cody Stamann (second-round submission in September 2018), Jimmie Rivera (unanimous decision in February 2019), Pedro Munhoz (unanimous decision in June 2019), and Cory Sandhagen (first-round submission in June 2020).

These wins became Sterling’s pass to earn a title shot against Petr Yan in March 2021. The result of their bantamweight title showdown was anti-climatic as Yan hit Sterling with an illegal knee strike in the fourth round. The fight ended in a controversial disqualification for the “Funk Master,” declaring him the new 135-pound champion.

Sterling sustained a neck injury because of that illegal strike from Yan and needed a year off to recover. In April 2022, the highly anticipated rematch happened between the two. Sterling proved his victory was not a fluke after outpointing Yan via a split decision to retain his belt. In October 2022, Sterling fended off the challenge from former title holder T.J. Dillashaw after a dominant second-round TKO finish.

Henry Cejudo Recent Fight Results

After bringing home the gold medal in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Henry Cejudo transitioned to become a professional MMA fighter in 2013. He debuted in March 2013 and piled up six wins with four stoppages. “Triple C” collected these wins under three different MMA promotions outside the UFC.

In December 2014, he finally competed under the Las Vegas-based promotion as a flyweight. He instantly won four decisions against Dustin Kimura (unanimous decision), Chris Cariaso (unanimous decision in March 2015), Chico Camus (unanimous decision in June 2015), and Jussier Formiga (split decision in November 2015).

Because of these four consecutive wins, Cejudo earned the right to challenge Demetrious Johnson for the flyweight title in April 2016. Johnson was too much for him in their first meeting as “The Mighty Mouse” TKO’ed him in the second round of their championship showdown to deny Cejudo the title.

The former Olympic gold medalist lost again in his next fight, with Joseph Benavidez in December 2016. Benavidez eked out a close split-decision victory. Despite the back-to-back losses, the 36-year-old was still hungry to achieve his dream of becoming a world champion. He proved this hunger by recording wins against Wilson Reis (second-round TKO) and Sergio Pettis (unanimous decision in December 2017).

Those two-straight victories were enough for the Fight Ready athlete to challenge Demetrious Johnson for the second time. In August 2018, Cejudo avenged his loss to Johnson by beating him via split decision and becoming the new champion in the 125-pound weight class. The newly-minted champion immediately defended his flyweight crown over T.J. Dillashaw in January 2019.

In June 2019, a chance to become a double-weight title holder came to Cejudo’s way as the bantamweight title was up for grabs. He was matched against Marlon Moraes for the vacant title, and Cejudo maximized the opportunity by stopping Moraes in the third round via TKO. “Triple C” stamped his status as one of the best MMA fighters ever with a successful title defense against former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz in May 2020.

Sterling vs. Cejudo: Tale of the Tape

Aljamain SterlingHenry Cejudo
Reach71 inches64 inches
Leg Reach39 inches37 inches
Fighting StyleBrazilian Jiu-JitsuWrestling
Finishing Rate50%50%

Sterling vs. Cejudo: Fight Analysis

The tale of the tape for this UFC Bantamweight title showdown favors Sterling, as he is taller by three inches and has a seven-inch reach and two-inch leg reach advantage over Cejudo. Cejudo’s only edge is a better record of only losing twice in 18 bouts, while Sterling already has three defeats in 25 fights.

In the significant strike numbers, Sterling has the better statistics on paper as he lands 4.7 significant strikes per minute (51% rate) compared to Cejudo’s 3.92 (45%). Defensively, it is almost the same story, with the “Funk Master” having lesser absorbed significant strikes per minute at only 2.18 (61%) against “Triple C’s” 2.77 (65% rate).

The grappling department is a very different story because Cejudo leads in three of the major categories such as the takedown average per 15 minutes at 2.12 (compared to Sterling’s 1.98), 33% of takedown accuracy (against Sterling’s 24%), and takedown defense of 93% (versus Sterling’s 41%). Sterling’s only edge in this department is his submission average per 15 minutes of 0.89 compared to Cejudo’s 0.20.

Both fighters have the same finishing rate of 50%, but they have a different base in fighting, with Sterling relying on his Brazilian jiu-jitsu skills, while Cejudo brings his high-level wrestling pedigree. Setting the tale of the tape and statistics aside, this fight will be a top-flight MMA scrap between two technical fighters.

This collision in styles was already seen in the past, particularly in the lightweight title match between Charles Oliveira (a Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist) and Islam Makhachev (a fighter with a strong wrestling background). These two fights are different in many ways, but the keys to victories from that fight can be used as a reference to this upcoming title fight.

If Sterling can successfully take Cejudo down on the mat with his notorious weight-bullying body mass on fight night (he often adds more than 20 pounds of weight while fighting), he can maneuver his way to multiple BJJ submission threats (something that Oliveira failed to do against Makhachev). But it is a daunting task, though, as Cejudo is a tough customer, and he really knows how to defend takes down well.

On the other hand, if Cejudo can impose his striking early and gain enough respect for his standup strikes against Sterling by closing the distance, he can score points on the judges’ scorecards while defending the taking down attempts from the defending champion, he can have a pathway to a decision win. Unless Sterling has significantly improved his striking and beat Cejudo on the feet, there is no way he could beat him.

Official Prediction: Unanimous decision for Henry Cejudo.

See the entire UFC 288: Sterling vs. Cejudo odds and wagers here.

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About the Author

Anatoly Pimentel

Read More @AnatolyPimentel

Anatoly Pimentel is an NBA and MMA writer previously featured in ASEAN Sports, Asian Persuasion MMA, and Overtime Heroics MMA. He graduated from Adamson University with a B.A in Communication and is a Web Content Writer for BetMGM.

Anatoly Pimentel is an NBA and MMA writer previously featured in ASEAN Sports, Asian Persuasion MMA, and Overtime Heroics MMA. He graduated from Adamson University with a B.A in Communication and is a Web Content Writer for BetMGM.