In the headliner of UFC 288, the bantamweight championship was on the line. Champ Aljamain Sterling (22-3) was looking for his third successful title defense as he took on a man who never lost the bantamweight title in former two-division champion Henry Cejudo (16-2).
Cejudo will be fighting for the first time in over three years. The last time we saw the former champion inside the octagon was against Dominick Cruz who he stopped in the second round. Following that fight, he announced his retirement from the sport. After three years away, he’s back to reclaim his title.
Aljamain Sterling’s title reign has been interesting to say the least. Let’s start with how he won the title. Well, he was getting dominated in the fourth round against Petr Yan and then Yan hit him with an illegal knee that caused a DQ awarding Sterling the title.
Then, he won a split decision against Yan in his first title defense. Following that, he stopped TJ Dillashaw, however, Dillashaw was badly compromised going into the fight with a shoulder injury. Sterling is still searching for respect and if he gets the win over Cejudo, it’ll be hard to deny him that.
UFC 288 Recap
The UFC 288 headliner kicks off with a touch of the gloves. Sterling immediately opens with a lot of pressure and throws a head kick. Both men trade low kicks in the center. Cejudo bouncing on the outside just gauging the range. Flying knee attempt from Sterling.
Lots of movement from Cejudo early on. Sterling looking to fight long and he tries to land a couple of shots but nothing lands. The two men come together and Cejudo gets a body lock. With ease Cejudo takes Sterling down. That was a statement takedown from the former champion.
Cejudo looking to posture up and Sterling scrambles. Cejudo still has ahold of him here but Sterling bets back up. Lots of pressure and volume now from Sterling. Cejudo trying to counter but he’s a bit out of reach here early on. Sterling lands a couple of shots and Cejudo gets a body lock.
Sterling tries to reverse and get his own takedown but it’s well defended by Cejudo. Now, Sterling pushes Cejudo against the fence. One minute left in a very intriguing opening round. Sterling gets his own takedown now and now lands a nice knee to the thigh.
Knee to the body now from the champion. Cejudo gets back to his feet but Sterling gets him right back down and takes Cejudo’s back. The round comes to a close and a strong finish gives the first round to the UFC champ.
Entering the second at UFC 288 and Sterling made a statement with the end of the first. Low kick attempt from Cejudo but it’s short and Sterling lands a jab. Sterling is going 100 MPH to start this round. Lots of pressure from the champion. Big right hand lands now for Cejudo.
Low kick for Cejudo now. Sterling is heavy on the pressure still and lands a left. Sterling slows his pace as Cejudo takes the center. High kick now from Cejudo. Body kick now from Sterling. Level change from Cejudo but Sterling shrugs him off. Low kick now from Cejudo. Back on the pressure is Sterling and he lands a left.
Calf kick for Sterling now. Bad takedown attempt from Sterling and he gets back to his feet. Double jab from the champ. Left hand now from Sterling. Right hand to the body from Cejudo. Jab from Sterling and a calf kick from Cejudo. Jab to the body now from Sterling.
Now Cejudo is upping the pressure with 90 seconds left in the round. Both men land straight shots. Spinning elbow from Sterling and Cejudo answers with a combination. Big shot from Sterling lands. Big right hand and a high kick now from Cejudo.
Cejudo has found his range here in the second. Both men trade in the center. Combination now from Cejudo and a body kick from Sterling. Very competitive second round. Low kick from Sterling and a big right from Cejudo. The round comes to a close and that one could go either way.
Entering the second at UFC 288 and I have it 1-1. Cejudo opens with a low kick and a left straight. Sterling lands a couple of kicks of his own. Big body kick from Cejudo. Flying knee and a right hand from Cejudo. Sterling drops down and Cejudo grabs his neck.
Heavy pressure from Cejudo and he lets Sterling back up. Right hand from the champion and a low kick. Sterling shoots for a takedown but Cejudo easily defends and lands a knee to the body. Cejudo pushes forward and Sterling tries to take him down again.
Cejudo reverses the position and pushes him against the fence. They are exchanging the controlling position against the fence. Sterling gets Cejudo down and he’s trying to get the back of the former champion. Cejudo gets back up but eats a knee and Sterling still has ahold of him.
Two minutes left and Sterling is really leaning on Cejudo here against the fence. Cejudo breaks away and lands a left. Sterling with another takedown attempt and Cejudo defends. Heavy top pressure from Cejudo and he lands a couple of shots. Lots of neck pressure from Cejudo.
Low kick and a right hand for Cejudo. Body kick now from Sterling. Right hand from Sterling and he tries to get a takedown. However, Cejudo defends well again. Knees to the body from Sterling. Big takedown from Cejudo ends the round and that could’ve won him the third at UFC 288.
Entering the fourth at UFC 288 and Cejudo was able to get some momentum there at the end of the third. Cejudo takes the center and Sterling lands two calf kicks to start the striking. Another calf kick from Sterling. Big low kick now from Cejudo.
Big body kick from Sterling. Lots of volume here in the fourth from Sterling and not much from Cejudo. Right hand from Sterling now. Low kick from Cejudo. Cejudo works his way in and lands a nice little right hand. Low kick from Cejudo. Low kick from Sterling and Cejudo counters.
Low kick from Sterling and Cejudo lands three straight right hands. He chains those right hands into a clinch against the fence. Both men are looking to secure the dominant position. They break and Cejudo goes back on the pressure.
Low kick from Cejudo lands and Sterling lands a jab. Calf kick from Sterling and Cejudo pushes through it. The champ lands a beautiful jab. Lots of pressure now from Cejudo who gets the clinch but Sterling breaks away. Body kick from Cejudo. Short right hand for Cejudo and Sterling lands a counter.
Sterling throws a kick and Cejudo catches it. Cejudo gets a front head lock and snaps Sterling down. Sterling reverses and gets to a double leg and Sterling gets the takedown. The round comes to a close and it’s Sterling’s round at UFC 288.
Entering the final round at UFC 288 and Henry Cejudo might need a finish. Low kick from Sterling lands to start the striking. Head kick from Cejudo. Calf kick from Sterling and those are really adding up. Cejudo tries to pressure but Sterling just circles away.
Body kick from Cejudo and a body shot. Body kick now from Sterling. Right hand from Cejudo lands and he pushes forward. Shot to the body lands for Cejudo and a body kick. Another shot to the body from Cejudo. Spinning back kick from Sterling lands.
Three minutes left and Cejudo lands a nice shot. Left hand lands for Sterling. Both men exchange kicks. Huge left hand lands for Cejudo. Cejudo gets to a single leg and then lands a big right hand as they break. Combination from Cejudo. Two minutes left and this is a big round for the challenger.
Both men exchange big shots but Cejudo got the better of it. Low kick from Cejudo. Lead elbow attempt from Sterling. Big double leg attempt from Sterling but Cejudo defends. Two big knees from Cejudo. Right hand from Cejudo and now a head kick.
They clinch against the fence with one minute left. Knee to the body from Sterling and they break. Right hand from Cejudo. Cejudo with a big takedown and he gets the back of Sterling with 30 seconds left. Cejudo in full control of this final round. The fight comes to a close and these scorecards should be interesting. Cejudo takes the final round on my scorecard. Who will walk away the UFC champion?
Aljamain Sterling def. Henry Cejudo by Split Decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47)