With UFC 288 set to get underway Saturday, May 6, at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling (22-3) looks for his ninth straight win and third title defense against former two-division champion Henry Cejudo (16-2).
Coming out of a three year retirement but never having lost his belt, Cejudo claims that “the way I see it, I’m the champ and he [Sterling] is the challenger.”
Although both fighters have a finish rate of 50%, Cejudo’s percentage is solely based on knockouts. Sterling’s finishes, on the other hand, consist of three knockouts and eight submissions. He also has a three-inch height advantage and seven-inch reach advantage over Cejudo, giving him the upper hand statistically speaking.
Cejudo drastically changed his fighting style after two back-to-back losses against UFC flyweights Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson. Previously, he struck quickly and aggressively with confidence, dipping his head as his fists led the strikes. The risk of clashing heads with this striking technique persuaded him to change his fighting style, especially after those two losses. He has refined his strikes to be more calculated and strategic, while also maintaining the same level of aggression and speed. Additionally, Cejudo’s experience as an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling has helped him become a disciplined fighter when he transitioned into the UFC. This has further influenced his offensive fighting style as he looks to win by finish.
Sterling’s game, on the other hand, has remained consistent throughout his time in the UFC. Known for his unorthodox fighting style, Sterling has always included the element of unpredictability in his wreckless striking. With takedown attempts adding to the chaos of his game, his persistent mindset is ultimately what allows him to gain control of the fight, submitting fighters as they are flustered on the ground.
Comparing the two fighters, Sterling has shown to be much more relentless in his wrestling attempts, going for double the amount of takedown attempts as Cejudo. Additionally, the chaos of Sterling might raise concern for Cejudo’s calculated game, as Sterling’s unpredictability is very difficult for fighters to prepare for and often catches them off guard.
“My faints, my awkwardness, my length…it’s going to be child’s play, I guarantee,” Sterling said. “ I don’t want to undermine his skills because he’s very talented, but I just think there’s going to be a unique difference with what I bring to the table versus what he’s seen in the octagon.”
While Cejudo claims he will finish Sterling within three rounds, Sterling implements a very unconventional fighting style against his challengers which will most likely catch Cejudo off guard. You can expect both fighters to bring their most polished skill sets to the octagon, with one of the fighters likely to walk away with a finish.