In the main event of UFC 288 in Newark, New Jersey, Aljamain Sterling defeated Henry Cejudo by split decision to retain his bantamweight title and possibly force the former UFC two-division champion back into retirement.
On Saturday night, Sterling won the highly contested fight 48-47, 47-48, and 48-47.
Cejudo was the betting favourite going into the bout since he was making his three-year comeback to the octagon.
I wasn’t sure how the choice would turn out, Sterling admitted. “I wish I could have done a little bit better, but Henry’s a [expletive] dog, he’s a legend, and it’s no easy task to run through him like I did everybody else.”
Cejudo dropped to 16-2 while he improved to 23-3.
Sterling, 33, outhit Cejudo overall 174 to 110, including a 110 to 63 lead in hallmark strikes.
Due to an illegal strike in a match, he easily lost to Petr Yan in 2021; Sterling was disqualified and went on to win the 135-pound title. The following year, he won a rematch by split decision to establish his claim to the title firmly.
Following Sterling’s victory on Saturday, challenger Sean O’Malley entered the cage, removed his jacket, and stood face-to-face with the winner as the two competitors exchanged profanity-laced tirades before being removed.
Later this summer, they might have their title match. Dana White, the president of the UFC, preferred that Sterling-O’Malley fights in Boston in August rather than at night in New Jersey.
Cejudo, 36, is the only individual to have won a UFC championship and an Olympic gold medal. He was one of only four UFC fighters to have simultaneously held the bantamweight and flyweight titles at one point. However, he abruptly announced his retirement in 2020, giving up both titles.
Cejudo admitted that he was “a little confused” about his plans for the future and that he would see his wife and children, who are expecting their second child, before giving his fight career some serious thought. 17,559 spectators paid to witness Cejudo attempt to turn back the hands of time, and they loudly supported him during each of the five rounds.
Who knows, this might be our final fight in the octagon.
Long Island, New York native Sterling made a record-tying third victorious defence of his bantamweight title.
In the earlier bout of the evening, a five-round match at 170 pounds went to Belal Muhammad (23-3, 1 NC), who prevailed through a unanimous decision.
At the conclusion of another round on the night that lacked consistent action, Muhammad and Burns traded a few kicks in the third, and the fans let the boxers have it. Burns couldn’t summon much offence after attempting a botched takedown, which was one reason for the slow pace. He also appeared to have damaged his left shoulder.
When Muhammad was declared the winner by the scores of 50-45, 49-46, and 49-46, the audience booed him, and he yelled, “New Jersey, you suck.”
With the victory, Muhammad, who entered the contest with less than two weeks’ notice, cemented his status as a top candidate for a title chance against Leon Edwards. He extended his winning and unbeaten streaks to five matches each.
Diego Lopes lost to Movsar Evloev unanimously in a fight that Lopes agreed to on short notice after Bryce Mitchell withdrew due to an injury. Jéssica Andrade, a former UFC strawweight champion, was knocked out by Yan Xiaonan at 2:20 of the first round after being struck by a powerful right hand.
Yan’s victory might qualify her for a championship against fellow Chinese boxer Zhang Weili at 115 pounds.