After an exciting night of fights last Saturday, the UFC is headed to Newark, New Jersey for UFC 288 where Aljamain Sterling defends his bantamweight championship against the returning Henry Cejudo. In the co-main event, top welterweight contenders Gilbert Burns and Belal Muhammad will square off as both look to prove they should be next in line for a title shot. There are plenty of exciting fights on this card, so let’s get into my predictions for each one of them.
*Odds presented by Betfred Sportsbook
Fight One: Joseph Holmes (8-3) (+175) vs Claudio Ribeiro (10-3) (-210)
My Bet: Claudio Ribeiro by KO/TKO or Decision
Fight Two: Zhalgas Zhumagulov (14-8) (+125) vs Rafael Estevam (11-0) (-150)
My bet: Rafael Estevam by KO/TKO or Decision
Fight Three: Ikram Aliskerov (13-1) (-210) vs Phil Hawes (12-4) (+175)
My Bet: Ikram Aliskerov ML (-210)
Fight Four: Parker Porter (13-8) (-190) vs Braxton Smith (5-1) (+155)
My Bet: Braxton Smith by KO/TKO
Fight Five: Marina Rodriguez (16-2-2) (-165) vs Virna Jandiroba (18-3) (+140)
My Bet: Marina Rodriguez by Decision
Fight Six: Khaos Williams (13-3) (-300) vs Rolando Bedoya (14-1) (+240)
My Bet: Khaos Williams by KO/TKO or Decision
Fight Seven: Devin Clark (14-7) (+175) vs Kennedy Nzechukwu (11-3) (-210)
My bet: Kennedy Nzechukwu by KO/TKO or Decision
Fight Eight: Drew Dober (26-11) (-220) vs Matt Frevola (10-3-1) (+180)
My bet: Drew Dober by KO/TKO
Fight Nine: Kron Gracie (5-1) (+160) vs Charles Jourdain (13-6-1) (-200)
My Bet: Charles Jourdain by KO/TKO or Decision
The first fight on the main card features the return of Kron Gracie taking on Charles Jourdain. Gracie hasn’t set foot in the octagon in three and a half years since his loss to Cub Swanson. He was 1-1 inside the octagon before making a long-term exit, with his sole win coming by submission over Alex Caceres and now looks to defeat Jourdain and cement himself as a threat in the Featherweight Division. Jourdain has lost his last two in a row but now has the chance to spoil the return of Gracie and if he can do that he can put some respect back on his name.
Like the main event title challenger, Henry Cejudo, I’m worried about Gracie’s long layoff, for that reason, I’m leaning towards a victory for Jourdain. If Gracie wants any chance at winning this, he needs to take the fight to the ground as soon as he can. If he succeeds in doing this, he should be able to control Jourdain and find a submission, but Gracie has shown that he has a willingness to strike and the longer he does that, his chances of winning drastically decrease. I could see Gracie succeeding in getting the fight to the ground early, but if he can’t find a quick submission, Jourdain should be able to capitalize on the feet, and find a finish or win a decision.
Fight 10: Movsar Evloev (16-0) vs Diego Lopes (21-5)
My Bet: Movsar Evloev
What was supposed to be a battle between ranked featherweights Movasr Evloev and Bryce Mitchell, has now turned Evloev welcoming a UFC newcomer, Diego Lopes. On one side you have the undefeated Evloev who has run through all six of his UFC opponents and is now looking to make easy work of Lopes. The former LUX champion, Lopes, lost a bout to Joanderson Brito on Dana White’s Contender Series, and has since gone 2-1 while jumping on the opportunity to give Evloev his first loss.
As noble as the effort from Lopes is, I think that Evloev should easily come home with the win. Neither of these guys do their best work on the feet, so I expect a majority of this fight to take place on the ground. Evloev is an incredible wrestler, so I expect him to initiate these exchanges. The only way I could see Lopes having a chance at victory is if Evloev leaves himself open to submission on a takedown attempt, which Lopes could capitalize on, but I trust that Evloev will be able to avoid those attempts. In conclusion, I expect that in each of the three rounds, Evloev will dominate Lopes with his wrestling and earn his seventeenth straight win.
Fight 11: Jessica Andrade (24-10) (-195) vs Xiaonan Yan (16-3) (+155)
My Bet: Jessica Andrade by KO/TKO or Decision
The next fight on the main card features two strawweight contenders in Jessica Andrade and Xiaonan Yan. Former title challenger, Andrade, is coming off a loss to surging contender Erin Blanchfield that snapped a three fight win streak. The underdog, Yan is coming into this fight with a win over Mackenzie Dern her last time out, which snapped a two fight losing streak, and now looks to get back into title contention with a win over Andrade.
I see flaws in both women’s fighting styles that are complete opposites. Andrade can be too aggressive and lack the fight IQ to beat the best of the best, while Yan can be too safe and lacks much finishing ability. Fortunately for Andrade, Yan is an opponent I believe she matches up very well with and a good high-level competitor to pick up a win against. When Yan is able to be the superior striker in the fight like she was against Dern she finds success, but she will not have that luxury against Andrade. I think that Andrade will come out with her typical gameplan of pouring it all on Yan early and often, which will send Yan into a panic, creating holes in her defense. This is where Andrade could try to mix in level changes to create more opportunities for her power shots to land. As Yan wears down, I think a combination of powerful strikes from Andrade will earn her the TKO victory.
Fight 12: Belal Muhammad (22-3) (+105) vs Gilbert Burns (22-5) (-130)
My Bet: Belal Muhammad by Decision
This short notice co-main event is one that myself and many other UFC fans are incredibly excited for. Muhammad enters this fight on a long eight fight unbeaten streak dating back to 2019, and is looking to earn the next shot at the welterweight title with a win on Saturday. His opponent, Burns, has been incredibly active as of late as this will be his third fight in three months and is looking to make it his third win in a row and climb back to title contention.
This is another fight that, I believe, is almost impossible to pick, but I am siding with “Remember the Name” Belal Muhammad. Both of these men do some of their best work on the ground, with Muhammad being the better pure wrestler, while Burns is currently one of the best jiu-jitsu artists in the UFC. On the feet, Burns possesses knockout power that can finish anyone with one shot, while Muhammad has greatly improved his striking recently, especially his boxing, and puts the pressure on all of his opponents.
The main reason I am going with Muhammad in this matchup is due to his incredible takedown defense. Some of the best wrestlers in the UFC have had immense struggles taking Muhammad down, which leads me to believe Burns will too. I also trust the cardio of Muhammad more, as Burns can tire as the fight goes on, but Muhammad is prone to winning decisions and still looking relatively fresh by the end of the fight. I think that Burns is going to try to make this more of a brawl than he should and will eventually end up tiring himself out into the later rounds. This will make it easier for Muhammad to mix in his takedowns and allow for his boxing to earn himself his ninth win in a row.
Fight 13: Aljamain Sterling (22-3) (-110) vs Henry Cejudo (16-2) (-110)
My Bet: Aljamain Sterling by Submission or Decision
In the main event of the evening, the current bantamweight champion defends his title against the returning legend Henry Cejudo. Sterling is coming off a dominant victory over an injured TJ Dillashaw in his last title defense and looking to prove he should no longer be underestimated by giving Cejudo an unsuccessful return to the octagon. The challenger, Cejudo, is looking to regain championship status by stopping the reign of Sterling.
This is an incredibly difficult fight to pick due to all the question marks surrounding Cejudo. Both of these fighters are great on the ground as Sterling has the advantage in the jiu-jitsu portion, while Cejudo is the better pure wrestler, proven by his gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. Despite Sterling not being the best striker in the division, I do believe that his kicks could cause Cejudo some problems. What my pick in this fight boils down to is how confident am I that after three years off, Henry Cejudo at 36 years old, will be the same fighter he was before his retirement? The answer to that question is, not highly. Cejudo tends to fight more flat-footed against taller opponents, which will make it easier for Sterling to see his level changes coming and can either counter them with strikes or try to gain dominant position on the ground, where he could look to set up a submission. I expect this to be a close fight where Sterling edges out a close decision, but if Cejudo has yet to lose a step, I could be proven completely wrong, and we may have a new champion on our hands.
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Post-Fight Matchmaking: UFC Vegas 72