UFC 288 takes place Saturday night in Newark, New Jersey, and features a highly-anticipated bantamweight title headliner between current 135-pound champion Aljamain Sterling and the returning former champion Henry Cejudo. The co-main event is a big one too as a pivotal welterweight battle between Gilbert Burns and Belal Muhammad is on the cards and will be contested for five rounds. Elsewhere, Kron Gracie returns to action for the first time since 2019 when he faces the always exciting Charles Jourdain in a featherweight contest.
With what should be an exciting night of fights, here are three bold predictions for the UFC 288 pay-per-view event.
1. Aljamain Sterling will outclass Henry Cejudo at UFC 288
Henry Cejudo will be returning to action for the first time since retiring three years ago following his win over Dominick Cruz. Despite the long hiatus, Cejudo is somewhat surprisingly a slight betting favorite depending on which sportsbook you refer to. In the eyes of many, the former two-weight champion is not only the superior wrestler, but the superior and intelligent fighter overall as well.
Cejudo is certainly a pound-for-pound talent and does have some impressive wins, but even his best wins aren’t without their asterisks. Although Cejudo showed great heart to come back and defeat Marlon Moraes to win the bantamweight title, no other top level bantamweight will be gassing out the same way Moraes did. TJ Dillashaw was heavily compromised cutting down to flyweight and Cejudo’s stoppage win over Cruz — who was past his prime and fighting on short notice — was extremely controversial.
This isn’t to downplay Cejudo, but the fact is he’s facing a champion in Sterling who is currently in his prime. Sterling may not have the Olympic wrestling credentials Cejudo has, but he is among the very best as far as MMA wrestling is concerned. His striking has come leaps and bounds while he is long and rangy with a 71” reach — considerably more than any opponent Cejudo (64”) has faced. Not to mention, he will have a massive size advantage over Cejudo who is already undersized for bantamweight to begin with. As is the case most of the time in combat sports, a top level fighter will always lose to a bigger top level fighter.
Cejudo is an animal, a rare breed of athlete, but he looks like a child next to Sterling. Comical size difference. https://t.co/WDkxbrtcub
— tim (@TimothyELewis) May 1, 2023
Add in his inactivity — even if he has been training and coaching for the last year — and the fact that Cejudo turned 36 earlier this year, the signs don’t bode too well. This will be a title defense for Sterling but it won’t be razor-thin like Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski was — it will be a comprehensive victory.
2. Gilbert Burns vs. Belal Muhammad will be extremely entertaining
With the Charles Oliveira vs. Beneil Dariush fight getting postponed to UFC 289, UFC 288 was in desperate need of a solid co-main event. In stepped Gilbert Burns — who just fought at UFC 287 last month — and Belal Muhammad who will not only compete on short notice in the co-main event, but will also have five rounds as well. It’s certainly a good fight, but it’s not one that gets fans pumped. A big reason for that is Muhammad. While Muhammad earned a TKO win over Sean Brady in his last outing, it was notably just his third finish (second by knockout) in the UFC. He is more of a point fighter who grinds his way to decision wins and though it’s effective, it’s not won him many fans along the way nor is he associated with exciting fights.
Burns, on the other hand, is definitely an exciting fighter but given that he’s up against Muhammad, there is still a sense among fans that this won’t really be an exciting fight and perhaps it will consist of Muhammad taking Burns down and/or grinding him against the fence. But that’s the beauty of stylistic matchups. Usually when you have a wrestler — Muhammad — taking on a jiu-jitsu specialist — Burns — you expect it to be a standup battle since the wrestler prefers to keep it standing and avoid getting submitted while the submission threat will look to take the wrestler down but can’t because of the takedown defense. Burns, however, won’t be looking for a takedown since unlike Demian Maia, he carries knockout power in his fists and is more than capable of striking.
If Muhammad is confident enough to take Burns down, he’ll have to deal with submission threats that even Khamzat Chimaev was not comfortable doing. But if Muhammad keeps it standing, he risks getting knocked out by the Brazilian. It is what makes this matchup extremely intriguing and why it will prove to be extremely entertaining as a result.
3. Kron Gracie will return with a bang
Kron Gracie entered the UFC with a lot of hype and a big part of that was his last name and lineage. His debut win also helped as he easily dispatched of Alex Caceres with a first-round submission. However, he would later suffer his first career defeat after losing a back-and-forth three-round war against featherweight veteran Cub Swanson — a fight he perhaps should have won on paper.
It’s been over three years since, but he is finally back and taking on a considerable threat in Jourdain. Given the inactivity and his overall experience in MMA — having competed in just six fights — it’s not surprising that Gracie is a betting underdog against Jourdain who happens to be on a two-fight losing streak. However, Gracie has not been lying on the couch. He’s opened his own gym in Montana and he’s always constantly training. Against Swanson, he showed his durability and heart, but may have fallen in love with striking a bit too much. And so, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him focus on his bread and butter this time like he did against Caceres by getting Jourdain down and submitting him in impressive fashion. It would certainly be one heck of a way to make his comeback.
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