Aljamain Sterling successfully defended his bantamweight title against former two-division champ Henry Cejudo tonight at UFC 288, though it was a closely fought battle that ended by split-decision.
The main event bantamweight title fight is underway in New Jersey.
Sterling pressing forward immediately and looks for a head kick that just misses. Low kick for Cejudo.
Missed leg kick from Sterling. He attempts a jumping knee that also comes up short. Sterling comes close with a hook as Cejudo backs off.
Body punch from Sterling. He lands a knee to the body, but it allows Cejudo to get the body lock and land an early takedown.
Cejudo in half-guard with Sterling now looking to work for butterfly guard. Sterling rolls to his knees and Cejudo putting pressure on his neck before they finally stand.
Sterling right back to pressuring and lands a big body kick that’s almost caught. Again a body kick from Sterling. Now Cejudo clinches up and presses Sterling into the cage. Sterling reverses position and tries to go for a takedown of his own.
There’s a bit of a scramble on the mat and then back up with Sterling now pressing Cejudo into the mat. Sterling working hard for a takedown on the former Olympic wrestling gold medalist and gets it.
Cejudo back up against the cage quickly with Sterling landing a knee to the body. Sterling able to bring Cejudo back down and takes his back. Cejudo back to his knees and Sterling lands a good knee to the thigh and is continuing to attack as Cejudo stands and the round ends.
Missed low kick from Cejudo. Body kick for Sterling. He jumps into another kick. Body kick for Cejudo now. Punch from him as Sterling ducked in looking for a potential takedown.
Low kick for Cejudo. Straight left gets through for Sterling. Body kick from Cejudo almost caught.
Head kick attempt from Cejudo grazes the target but Sterling is ok. Kick for Sterling and Cejudo tries to go upstairs with his again.
Leg kick for Cejudo. Left hook from Sterling. Question mark kick attempt from Sterling and then a couple of leg kicks.
Sterling attempts a takedown but flops to the mat as Cejudo steers clear. Back up and Sterling lands a good left hand.
Cejudo swings for the fences but misses. Low kick for Cejudo. Cejudo comes up short with a couple of punches but then lands another low kick.
Another leg kick for Cejudo and a body punch for Sterling. Body punch for Cejudo. Solid calf kick for Sterling. Body kick from Sterling. He tries for a spinning elbow, but Cejudo moves away from it.
A couple of reaching punches land for Cejudo. Sterling tries a knee that misses then ducks and is grazed by a kick to the head from Cejudo for his troubles.
Sterling goes to the body. Cejudo with a combo. Body kick from Sterling and Cejudo looks to clinch but is kept away.
Sterling attempting a takedown but it doesn’t work out and Cejudo gets on top for a moment as they scramble in the final seconds of the round.
Leg kick for Cejudo. Head kick attempt from Sterling comes off the guard but then lands to the body and another kick behind it. Cejudo with a kick and then a low kick.
Jumping knee from Cejudo may have landed and Sterling attempts to go for a takedown that’s stuffed. They go back upright and Sterling lands a right hand.
Low kick for Sterling. Sterling attempts a takedown and again Cejudo stuffs it and lands a knee to the body.
Sterling with an elbow. He tries to work for a takedown against the cage. Cejudo manages to turn him into the fence and they jockey back-and-forth for position. Sterling manages to get him down though and is trying to work to his back. Cejudo stands but Sterling throws a knee upstairs and to the body.
Sterling continuing to press him into the cage. Sterling trying for a trip, but then Cejudo breaks free.
Back to striking range, but not for long as Sterling again goes for a takedown that Cejudo sprawls on. Cejudo happy to stay there and Sterling has to back out and get back to his feet.
They go back into the clinch in the center of the Octagon with Sterling landing a couple of knees. Now Cejudo drives into a takedown and lands it in the final 10 seconds. Important moment for him just as the round is drawing to a close.
Good calf kick for Sterling. He lands another leg kick. He goes to to the low kick again. Now a solid body kick from Sterling.
Another low kick from Sterling. Now one to the inside of the leg. Cejudo with a low kick of his own. Another calf kick for Sterling.
Lead elbow attempt from Sterling misses. He lands a body kick. Cejudo steps into land a right hand.
Low kick for Cejudo. he lands a punch and Sterling responds with one of his own. Sterling with a leg kick and Cejudo connects with two punches as he presses forward.
Cejudo goes into the clinch against the cage. They back out to striking range though.
Body kick for Sterling as Cejudo lands a punch. Sterling with a jab. He attempts a takedown that is stuffed quickly.
calf kick for Sterling. He lands a jab. Calf kick again for Sterling and Cejudo clinches up. Sterling turns into him and lands a nice knee to the midsection.
Back to striking range and they exchange front kicks to the body. Punch for Sterling. Cejudo reached for a single-leg but then didn’t commit.
Body kick from Sterling is caught by Cejudo. Sterling defending and turns into him and drives him over to the cage. They wrestle to the mat and Sterling does well to scramble around and bring Cejudo down. Cejudo standing against the cage in the final seconds as Sterling unleashes punches.
Calf kick for Sterling. Head kick attempt just misses and Cejudo tries to return the favor and also misses.
Solid low kick for Sterling. Now a body kick as he utilizes lateral movement. Body kick from Cejudo. Now one off the arm from Sterling. He goes to that again.
Reaching right hand from Sterling misses. Body punch from Cejudo. He lands a body kick. Leg kick from Sterling is checked.
Sterling back to moving on the outside as Cejudo pressures, but then the champ throws a spinning kick to the body.
Sterling ducks and then lands a left hook. Another spinning body kick attempt from Sterling doesn’t pay off.
Solid left hand from Cejudo. He lands a low kick. Single-leg attempt from Cejudo but then throws a big right hand instead.
Low kick for Cejudo. Kick for Sterling and then a couple of punches. Jab from Sterling. Calf kick for Cejudo.
Strike to the body from Sterling. Sterling attempts a takedown, but Cejudo spawls well.
Knee to the body from Cejudo in close. Jab for him. Body punch from Sterling. Cejudo with a punch and then into the clinch, but Sterling turns into him and then they break apart.
Cejudo with a single-leg attempt and hoists it high to force Sterling to the mat. Cejudo working to the back as Sterling stands back up. Sterling trying to fight the hands and then manages to spin around. Cejudo tightly clinched and looking for some final strikes.
A competitive fight then and that’s reflected in a split-decision verdict from the judges, but it’s the champion Sterling who emerges with his hand raised to retain the title (48-47 x2, 47-48).
Sterling did appear to have the better striking volume and good calf kicks in particular over the duration of the fight and was competitive in the clinch and on the mat, but Cejudo gave a good account of himself too and did well to push the action in the later rounds despite his three-year layoff.
Afterwards Sean O’Malley comes into the cage for a face-off and it looks like he’ll be fighting Sterling next, potentially in September, while Cejudo admits in his post-fight interview that he’s not sure what comes next and suggested that going back into retirement is a possibility.