The “Funk Master” Aljamain Sterling returns to action Saturday night in Newark, NJ at UFC 288 to defend his bantamweight title against the newly un-retired, former UFC double-champion Henry Cejudo.
While Sterling won his belt in underwhelming fashion by DQ back in 2021, he’s since impressed in two title defenses. Meanwhile, Cejudo’s been out of action for almost three years, returning to an immediate title shot at UFC 288 for the belt he vacated after becoming the first man to stop Dominick Cruz.
While Cejudo’s stats are a bit dated, that’s the hand we’re dealt when it comes to MMA statistics. So let’s jump into the numbers.
Remember, what you’re about to read are not official UFC statistics. They’re alternative stats generated from official statistics and designed to (1) give more weight to the recent present than the distant past and (2) minimize the effects of one huge or horrible performance more quickly as time goes by. See the notes at the bottom for definitions of certain statistics.
Aljamain Sterling vs. Henry Cejudo
While both fighters are more than happy spending time on the ground, all fights start standing and at distance. Even with Cejudo’s Olympic gold medal wrestling pedigree, he still spends 3:35 of every five minutes operating in open space to Sterling’s 2:22.
While fighting at distance, Cejudo basically doesn’t jab and his volume is unimpressive for a former champion of two different weight classes. Throwing only an average number of power strikes per five minutes in the position (p5m), Cejudo lands his 38 power strikes p5m with 40% accuracy, right around what a typical bantamweight lands.
Aljamain Sterling, on the other hand, strikes with the volume and accuracy that we often see from many champions. He’s a slightly above average head jabber, but he connects with a solid 35% versus a 27% average. When it comes to power strikes, Sterling throws with roughly 50% more volume than a typical bantamweight and lands an impressive 47%. He also mixes up his targeting well, especially to the body where he throws a hefty 16.2 attempts p5m compared to a 5.5 average.
Neither Aljamain Sterling nor Henry Cejudo are great defensive fighters
On the defensive side of things, neither fighter will walk into the cage on Saturday with impressive distance statistics. Perhaps the best element of striking defense between the two is Cejudo only letting 25% of opponent power strikes connect to his skull, but other than that, both fighters defensive striking numbers are relatively average. They each get tagged with regularity.
Overall, the net effect is that Henry Cejudo’s striking differentials are unimpressive—out-struck with head jabs to the tune of a -1.4 differential p5m and a puny power strike differential of only +1.3. Despite his defense, Aljamain Sterling’s differentials are still solid as he touches up opponents with a +4.0 head jab differential p5m and goes +8.6 in the power department.
While Cejudo’s distance striking statistics are relatively “Meh,” he shines in three main areas: knockdowns, the clinch, and top control.
Cejudo has real power
Cejudo gets a knockdown in one of every six rounds (1-of-11 average) and 60% of the time he gets a knockdown, it turns into a KO/TKO win. In addition, the man across the cage from him this Saturday has been somewhat droppable. Two of Sterling’s three defensive knockdown metrics are average and he’s been cracked to the canvas in three of his 17 UFC fights.
But another way of looking at power is through what FightMetric calls “Damage,” basically a battered and bloodied face. With this metric, both men bust up opponents’ faces in around 5% of their rounds, but Cejudo’s face tends to wear it, getting busted up at almost twice that rate (close to 10%), while Sterling has never had his face bloodied up in the UFC.
Cejudo has the clinch control edge
If they get to the clinch, each man tends to be the controlling fighter but Henry Cejudo’s 5.4 proportion of cage control time vs. being controlled dwarfs Aljamain Sterling’s 1.3. They both attempt a good number of takedowns with solid accuracy but as he’s working for takedowns, Cejudo also attempts and lands more than double the power strike volume of an average bantamweight and ends up with a massive power differential of +18.8, compared to +6.7 for Sterling.
The other exceptional element of Cejudo’s game is top control from the ground. How things might get to the ground is an intriguing part of this matchup. While Cejudo’s only been taken down once in 15 attempts, Sterling’s game is to basically attempt a takedown per minute—whether at distance or in the clinch. On the flip side though, Sterling’s takedown defense has been downright awful (only 27% defended at distance and 31% from the clinch).
If Aljamain Sterling gets Henry Cejudo to the ground, we don’t really know how effective Cejudo is from bottom or at getting back to his feet since he basically hasn’t been there in his UFC career. In 23 ½ total minutes of ground time, Cejudo’s spent all of 13 seconds on bottom. He hasn’t yet had to defend from his back, work from the bottom, or look to submit, sweep, or stand back up. If Sterling can get Cejudo down for any appreciable amount of time, it would be uncharted territory.
If Henry Cejudo takes advantage of Aljamain Sterling’s subpar takedown defense and drags him to the canvas, he’s got a power strike work rate that’s 71% better than average, but he also holds opponents down 23% worse than a typical bantamweight and he’s never finished a submission. With four submission finishes including a Suloev Stretch from the back, a guillotine from top control, and an arm triangle from bottom guard, Sterling’s a dangerous threat to finish at any moment no matter what position this fight ends up in.
The intrigue should make for a fun main event on Saturday night at UFC 288. Bring on the glorious fights!
Statistical notes: Strike attempts are per an entire five-minute round in each position (p5m) and are categorized as jab or power. A jab is just a non-power strike. Strikes are documented based on where they land or are targeted (head, body, legs), not the type that is thrown (punch, elbow, kick, knee). Visible damage rate is per five minutes the fighter is not on his back. It’s hard to bust up someone’s face while lying on your back. Damage percentage is per power head strike and distance head jab landed. Knockdown rate is per five minutes at distance or in the clinch off the cage. Knockdown percentage is per power head strike landed while standing. It’s really hard to knock someone down if they’re already on the ground. Knockdown/Damage round percentage is the percentage of rounds with at least one knockdown or busted up face, respectively. Clinch control is having the opponent pressed against the cage. Ground control is having top position or the opponent’s back.
About the author: Paul writes about MMA analytics and officiating at Bloody Elbow and MMA business at Forbes Sports. He was also formerly licensed as a referee and judge. Follow him @MMAanalytics. Fight data provided by FightMetric.
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