Sterling defends bantamweight championship, sets records at UFC 288

The UFC returned to the Garden State, calling Prudential Center home for the first time since 2019.

Aljamain “Funk Master” Sterling (23-3) defended his bantamweight championship Saturday night, out wrestling former title holder and U.S. Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo in the main event of UFC 288.

The fight ended after 25 minutes of consistent action, requiring the judges’ scorecards. A split decision (48-47 Sterling x2, 48-47 Cejudo) found the Uniondale, N.Y., champion remain atop the throne.

Returning after a three-year hiatus, Cejudo peculiarly retired in 2020 as bantamweight king. Sterling took over in his place, racking up impressive wins along the way, leading up to their highly anticipated bout. 

Social media commenters suggested this would be Sterling’s toughest test. That he needed to solidify his reign with a marquee win. He did that in spades and the numbers don’t lie. Sterling landed 135 significant strikes compared to 99 by Cejudo. He controlled the ground too, earning four takedowns to Cejudo’s three.

Aljamain Sterling Makes History

9 victories in a row (bantamweight record)
14 total victories (bantamweight record)
3 championship defenses (bantamweight record)

After the fight, top contender “Suga” Sean O’Malley arrived inside the octagon where the two traded verbal barbs. Their fight is being targeted for August in Boston. 

The co-main event turned into a rare five round (non-championship) contest after Charles Oliveira vs. Beneil Dariush were moved off the card. Gilbert Burns (22-6) and Belal Muhammad (23-3) stepped up on three weeks’ notice with a potential welterweight title shot on the line. Muhammad’s speed and accurate kicks stopped any Burns offense, who appeared to sustain an arm injury early on. A matchup to determine a true contender felt lackluster and the fans let them hear it.

In the women’s strawweight division, Yan Xiaonan (18-3) stopped Jessica Andrade (24-11) in round one with a vicious right hook while back peddling. Defeating the former champion certainly will push Xiaonan up the ranks, while becoming a new contender.

To kick off the main card, Canadian striker Charles Jourdain (14-6) faced Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist Kron Gracie (5-2). Early on it was evident Jourdain was the more well-rounded athlete. He connected on a number of combinations and defended the ground game well, winning by unanimous decision. 

The featured preliminary bout showcased the lightweight division, with No. 14 ranked contender Drew Dober (26-12) vs. Matt Frevola (11-3-1). A local fan favorite, Frevola (Huntington, N.Y.) pushed the pace early and often. Connecting with numerous head strikes, he knocked Dober down with a right hook leading to a first-round finish. Frevola also made the most of his post-fight interview, calling out England’s Paddy “The Baddy” Pimblett.