UFC 288 takes place tomorrow night in New Jersey and we’ve got our predictions for all the fights below.
Aljamain Sterling vs Henry Cejudo
After two successful defenses of the bantamweight title Sterling now goes up against a former two-division champ in Cejudo, who vacated the flyweight and bantamweight belt three years ago, but is now coming out of retirement in a bid to reclaim the 135lb strap.
Cejudo is a former Olympic wrestling gold medalist who went on to defeat some of the biggest names at flyweight and bantamweight in the UFC, such as Demetrious Johnson, TJ Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz.
It wasn’t all plain-sailing for Cejudo on his way to becoming a double-champ though as he did suffer back-to-back losses against Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez at 125lbs, but to his credit he continued to evolve his game after that, becoming a more assured, effective striker with a combination of speed and stopping power to compliment his world-class wrestling.
Meanwhile, current champ Sterling’s path to title glory was quite controversial as he won the belt via disqualification after receiving an illegal knee from Petr Yan in a fight he appeared to be losing, while his latest win came against a severely compromised Dillashaw, who came into the bout with what would prove to be a career-ending shoulder injury.
Nevertheless, Sterling is currently on an eight-fight winning streak and helped silence the doubters during a close but still impressive win over Yan in their rematch last year.
Sterling showcases well-rounded skills with a combination of high-volume striking with solid wrestling and particularly good grappling ability. Sterling also has a significant size advantage over Cejudo, standing 3″ taller with a major 7″ reach advantage, but he’s not knowing for his finishing ability on the feet, with submissions being his best chance of a stoppage.
It’s a really good match-up, but one that’s tricky to predict given that the now 36-year-old Cejudo has been out of action for three years. I’m somewhat reluctant to pick against the former champ as he is a natural winner and has high fight-IQ. That being said though, his lack of activity and the fact he’s on the small side for a bantamweight is concerning. Meanwhile, Sterling is the higher-volume striker with a big reach advantage and won’t be afraid to be on the mat with Cejudo, so I’m taking him to emerge with a decision victory.
Pick: Aljamain Sterling wins by decision.
Gilbert Burns vs Belal Muhammad
Two top-flight welterweights compete in a short-notice five-rounder in the co-main event. Burns is a former title challenger who is looking for his third win of the year already, while Muhammad has gone unbeaten in his last nine fights.
Burns isn’t the biggest at 170lb, but he’s a very well-rounded fighter who has elite grappling and very good wrestling. He’s also a capable striker too who makes the most of his speed, has decent power and can push a high pace from start to finish.
That being said, there is always a risk that he could burn himself out as this is his third fight in less than five months and went to the scorecards with Jorge Masvidal just a month ago.
Muhammad is not known as a finisher, but he has a knack for wearing down his opponents with his constant pressure, consistent striking fundamentals and strong wrestling.
There’s nothing particularly eye-catching about Muhammad’s style and his lack of finishes may well have held him back, but beating the likes of Sean Brady, Vicente Luque, Stephen Thompson and Demian Maia on the scorecards proves that he’s not a man to be underestimated.
This should be a very competitive fight, but I’m leaning towards Burns here as his submission prowess will make Muhammad wary of taking him down, while on the feet I feel he is the faster of the two, has the edge in terms of power, and is unlikely to be outworked, leading him to a close decision victory.
Pick: Gilbert Burns wins by decision.
Jessica Andrade vs. Yan Xiaonan
Former strawweight champ Andrade is looking to bounce back from a submission loss to rising star Erin Blanchfield, which snapped her three-fight winning streak. Meawhile, Xiaonan is coming off a majority decision win over Mackenzie Dern after losing two in a row.
Andrade will welcome the fact that she’s only giving up an inch in reach to her opponent here, though the short, stocky scrapper is still 4″ smaller. She’s an aggressive fighter who likes to apply endless pressure as she swarms into range firing off power punches, while she also excels at using her brute strength to slam opponents to the mat, where she can get to work on mauling them with ground-and-pound.
Xiaonan prefers to fight at distance with boxing and solid low kicks and will look to keep her opponent at bay as though she has some wrestling ability and good submission defense, she’ll find it difficult to get Andrade off her if the Brazilian gets her to the mat.
Xiaonan could frustrate Andrade if she can keep her on the end of her strikes on the feet, but think Andrade’s continual pressure will trouble her, leading to takedown opportunities and ground-and-pound to claim a second-round TKO stoppage.
Pick: Jessica Andrade wins by TKO in Rd2.
Movsar Evloev vs. Diego Lopes
This short-notice clash sees Lopes come in on just five days notice to make his debut against the unbeaten Movsar Evloev, who was originally supposed to fight Bryce Mitchell.
Lopes is a seasoned fighter on the regional scene with a 20-5 record and two consecutive wins by strikes, though he did lose in his previous attempt to get into the UFC via the Contender Series back in 2021.
He has a knack for finishing fights, with 19 of his 20 victories coming before the final bell. He’s a good grappler who has submitted 11 opponents, and he also has respectable boxing too.
This is a tough challenge for Lopes though, especially with such little preparation time as Evloev is a well-rounded and well-conditioned fighter who isn’t the kind of fighter to finish fights inside the distance often, but nonetheless excels in all aspects of the game with strong takedowns, a dominant ground game, and crisp, defensively sound striking ability.
Lopes is not a pushover and will likely get another chance in the UFC regardless of the outcome, but I think Evloev controls the action and earns another decision win.
Pick: Movsar Evloev wins by decision.
Kron Gracie vs Charles Jourdain
Jourdain is looking to snap a two-fight losing streak when he faces Gracie, who has been out of action since his eveer loss to Cub Swanson in 2019.
The 34-year-old Gracie is the son of Rickson Gracie and as you’d expect is a BJJ ace who has finished all five of his wins in MMA via submission. However, unlike some others in the Gracie clan, Gracie also enjoys engaging on the feet too, but he’s not as capable there and was outclassed by Swanson last time out.
The 27-year-old Jourdain has a mixed record of 4-5-1 in the UFC, but he is a sharp technical boxer with good kicks who does a good job of mixing up his volume striking to the head and body in order to gradually break down opponents and potentially finish them late in the fight.
Jourdain has some submission skills too, but he will avoid the ground at all costs against Gracie. His takedown defense is not the strongest, but Gracie isn’t really a wrestler and prefers to pull guard. As such I think Jourdain can keep the fight standing and outstrike Gracie on the feet to come away with a TKO win in the third round.
Pick: Charles Jourdain wins by TKO in Rd3.
Prelims (Predicted winners in bold)
Drew Dober vs. Matt Frevola
Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Devin Clark
Khaos Williams vs. Rolando Bedoya
Marina Rodriguez vs. Virna Jandiroba
Braxton Smith vs. Parker Porter
Phil Hawes vs. Ikram Aliskerov
Rafael Estevam vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov
Joseph Holmes vs. Claudio Ribiero
Daniel Santos vs. Johnny Munoz Jr