UFC 288 live results and analysis: Sterling vs. Cejudo

  • MMA columnist for ESPN.com
  • Analyst for “MMA Live”
  • Covered MMA for Las Vegas Sun

NEWARK, N.J. — Henry Cejudo retired three years ago, accomplishing more than 99% of athletes ever will. He’s an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling and is one of only four UFC fighters to hold two divisional titles (flyweight and bantamweight, in Cejudo’s case) at the same time.

Now, Cejudo is back to cement and expand his legacy. He’ll challenge champion Aljamain Sterling for the UFC bantamweight title that Cejudo never lost in the cage Saturday in the main event of UFC 288. On the other side, Sterling is looking for another successful title defense as he builds his own legacy as one of the best 135-pound fighters ever. ESPN has Sterling ranked No. 9 in its pound-for-pound MMA rankings. Cejudo was high on that list before stepping away from the Octagon in 2020.

Sterling (22-3) has won eight straight fights. The native of Long Island, New York, has two successful title defenses at bantamweight, after winning the title via DQ from Petr Yan at UFC 259 in March 2021. Sterling, 33, is tied for the most wins in UFC bantamweight history (13, TJ Dillashaw) and the longest active winning streak (8, Merab Dvalishvili).

Cejudo (16-2) was on a six-fight winning streak before retiring. The California-born fighter who lives and trains in Arizona ended Demetrious Johnson’s record-setting reign on top of the UFC flyweight division in 2018 and then, 10 months later, beat Marlon Moraes to win the vacant bantamweight belt. Cejudo, 36, stopped former champion Dominick Cruz via second-round TKO at UFC 249 in May 2020 and then surprisingly announced his retirement thereafter.

In the co-main event, Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns will clash on short notice in a bout that could decide a future UFC welterweight title challenger. Muhammad (22-3, 1 NC), a 34-year-old Chicago native, is unbeaten in nine straight fights. Burns (22-5), a 36-year-old Brazilian who lives and trains in Florida, has won two in a row and nine of his past 11. ESPN ranks Burns No. 4 and Muhammad No. 5 in the world at welterweight.

Also on the card, Jessica Andrade and Yan Xiaonan will compete in a top women’s strawweight contender bout, Kron Gracie returns after nearly four years to fight Charles Jourdain at featherweight, and Drew Dober fights New Yorker Matt Frevola in what should be an all-action lightweight fight.

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