UFC 288 staff picks and predictions: Sterling to spoil Cejudo’s return?

Check out who we are picking to win at UFC 288, where champion Aljamain Sterling meets challenger Henry Cejudo.

By: Tim Bissell | 10 months
UFC 288 staff picks and predictions: Sterling to spoil Cejudo’s return?
Will Aljamain Sterling have his hands raised at UFC 288? IMAGO/ZUMA Wire

UFC 288 rolls into our lives on Saturday night, live from the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. Headlining the event will be a clash for the UFC bantamweight championship. One one side of the cage will be defending champ Aljamain Sterling. On the other, the un-retired former champ Henry Cejudo. But who will win?

After examining that match-up (and all the others at UFC 288) the Bloody Elbow staff are heavily favouring Da Funkmaster to come out on top, over Triple C(ringe). Zane and Eddie are the only holdouts, picking the Olympian to reign supreme.

The co-main event is less definitive with six staffers picking Belal Muhammad and five picking Gilbert Burns.

Keep reading for our picks for the entire UFC 288 fight card.

BEEF WARS: Henry Cejudo vs. Aljamain Sterling | UFC 288

UFC 288 picks and predictions

Aljamain Sterling vs. Henry Cejudo

Zane Simon: Sure, UFC 288 sees Henry Cejudo return after a three year absence. Sure he’s a natural flyweight using his absurd physical and technical gifts to compete up a division. And sure, he’s on the wrong side of 35 in a division where that really tends to matter at the highest levels. But Aljo can’t keep getting away with his low-power, high volume, backfoot striking game and driving wrestling attack against other good wrestlers, can he?

Unlike Sterling, Cejudo has real power in his strikes. And despite the laundry list of very good wrestlers Sterling has faced and beat, Cejudo really is on a whole nother level. Even if Sterling wins most of the moments in this fight , I think Cejudo will be the one doing the damage. Henry Cejudo by decision.

Anton Tabuena: It’s kinda sad how Cejudo went from two-division champion to bluffing himself into a long retirement because UFC wouldn’t pay him and he had no other leverage. On paper, Cejudo has sharper striking and the wrestling defense to shut down Sterling’s game. Cejudo has been pretty damn good during his championship fights, and I wouldn’t hesitate to pick him at UFC 288 if he was still in his prime, but three years out is no joke and Sterling has been active and improving. It’s also still possible he returns to form, but I’m not banking on it. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Sterling even outgrappled the Olympic champion wrestler at this point. Aljamain Sterling by decision.

Stephie Haynes: The human Jansport has shown significant forward movement in his skillset, refining his striking and demonstrating composure in tense exchanges. His grappling has never been an issue. Quite the opposite, it’s his most dependable weapon. I look past the fight with Dillashaw to the rematch with Petr Yan as the clearest example of his transformation into a savvy, efficient and dangerous veteran. 

Cejudo is a great athlete, no two ways about it. He’s in the conversation of greatest combat sports athlete of all time. He’s absolutely in the Top 5. A win over Aljo solidifies that. I just don’t know that I trust a three-year layoff. That is literally my only doubt. The UFC 288 main event is such a pick ‘em fight. I’m going with my gut, even though it’s been letting me down. Aljo via decision.

Victor Rodriguez: Cejudo’s been on the shelf but wasn’t just sitting pretty on the sidelines. Still an exceptional talent, an elite wrestler with great striking, lovely positional awareness and adaptability from moment to moment. But I have a hard time picking him against a guy that’s made his kinda clunky striking just… work. It sounds dumb, because it is dumb. Yet the facts remain the same, Aljo shifts from striking to grappling to striking much more seamlessly and has an underappreciated submission game to boot. Henry’s still not old, a tremendous talent and a disciplined athlete. And time away is still time away. I can’t trust it. Aljamain Sterling by decision.

Tim Bissell: I find it hard to believe Henry Cejudo can come back, at 36, and compete with a fighter who is as athletic, durable, enduring and intelligent as Aljamain Sterling. I know Sterling gets a lot of slander, but his resume shouldn’t be questioned. He’s beaten a lot of beasts in his division and done so with intelligent game-planning and mid-fight adjustments.

Against Cejudo I think we’ll see him utilise the standing back-take to frustrate and nullify Cejudo in the wrestling exchanges. On the feet, I think Sterling is too long to get caught by a short hook and too smart to get head-kicked on a takedown attempt again. I think UFC 288’s main event will be a grind, with Sterling wearing down Cejudo who I think has missed his window for good when it comes to winning at this tier competition. Aljamain Sterling by decision

Eddie Mercado: In my opinion, Henry is just a more complete fighter so outside of the scrambles I can see Cejudo being the one landing the strikes and scoring. Henry Cejudo in less than 3

Chris Rini: Sterling has proven himself against one of the most dangerous fighters in the division in Petr Yan and has a size advantage that Cejudo may not be able to overcome in both the grappling and stand-up. Also the coin flip came up for him. 

Staff picking Sterling: Chris, Lucas, Stephie, Kristen, Victor, Bissell, Dayne, Jack, Anton
Staff picking Cejudo: Zane, Eddie

Belal Muhammad vs. Gilbert Burns

Victor Rodriguez: This fight should absolutely be a #1 contender’s match. Two guys beating everyone else but can’t get any traction going, with Gilbert’s dynamite boxing and submission work set up against Belal’s boxing and wrestling work. Belal could have an advantage in the clinch, and they both have pretty great conditioning considering their output. It pains me to pick against Burns, but I’m going with Muhammad to use UFC 288 as his springboard for a title shot. Belal Muhammad by decision.

Tim Bissell: The UFC 288 co-main event being five rounds is a weird wrinkle here. I think Muhammad should be favoured in a longer fight, because of the motor and Fight IQ he’s shown when it comes to conserving his energy. However, there was some stuff out there about him trying to get this fight to be a middleweight bout and that he was coming into it out of shape. I don’t know how much to believe there and whether this was a bit of gamesmanship from Muhammad.

Either way, I think Muhammad’s ‘out of shape’ is still pretty darn athletic. Providing he doesn’t have a nightmare weight cut, I think he will be able to out pace Burns and put in a more rounded performance for the judges’ likings. Belal Muhammad by decision.

Chris Rini: Burns just feels like Max Holloway of welterweight. He ended Stephen Thompson’s hopes, and even made people doubt Chimaev’s chances. Also the coin flip came up for him.

Zane Simon: This is a little like the Sean Brady fight for me, only with Burns as a much more proven high level fighter with more nuanced wrestling, but a lot of the same achilles heel. Mostly, the problem for Burns is that when someone can start finding the gaps in his striking game, his striking game tends to disappear and he can crumble quickly.

He might just take Muhammad down and twist him in a knot. But Muhammad’s an excellent gameplanner and counter-wrestler. And he’s also a pretty tireless workhorse. The fact that he’s taking this UFC 288 booking on short notice is a concern, but I really don’t like how flat Burns looked against Masvidal. Belal Muhammad by decision.

Staff picking Muhammad: Kristen, Victor, Stephie, Bissell, Zane, Dayne
Staff picking Burns: Chris, Lucas, Eddie, Jack

Jessica Andrade vs. Yan Xiaonan

Victor Rodriguez:  Yan’s had some wins I didn’t expect, but I have faith in Andrade. She looks almost unbeatable when she’s composed. Problem is sometimes she’s not. Gonna guess that’s not what happens at UFC 288. Jessica Andrade by TKO.

Tim Bissell: For me this is all about whether a fighter with terrible fight IQ can compensate for that with great athleticism or a fighter with terrible athleticism can compensate for that with great fight IQ. Ultimately, I think Andrade’s athleticism might let her off the hook here at UFC 288. I think Yan will intelligently try and outwork Andrade and pick her apart at range, but sooner or later, Andrade is going to bully her way through and eventually land something hard or start finding success with takedowns. Jessica Andrade by TKO

Chris Rini: Yeesh, the coin said Yan so I guess that’s where we’re heading but I think Andrade sends her head into the second row. 

Anton Tabuena: Looks like I’m in the minority here. I think Andrade can probably beat most fighters in the division with sheer power and physicality, but I think she’ll have issues dealing with Yan at UFC 288, who is also pretty strong for the division and has a tricky game. I think Andrade’s approach will play into Yan’s game, and she will will run into a lot of sidekicks and Sanda strikes, as Yan stifles her forward pressure. Yan Xiaonan by decision.

Zane Simon: When Yan can out-hustle someone for cardio and points she’s an extremely difficult fighter to beat. Andrade is someone who tends to have to get beat by grappling and by power, unfortunately, unless anyone thinks Yan is capable of putting on the kind of backfoot striking show at UFC 288 that Joanna Jedrzejczyk pulled off. I’m not going to pick that, the accuracy doesn’t feel like it’s there. Jessica Andrade via decision.

Staff picking Andrade: Lucas, Stephie, Kristen, Victor, Bissell, Zane, Dayne, Eddie, Jack
Staff picking Yan: Chris, Anton

Movsar Evloev vs. Diego Lopes

Victor Rodriguez: Shit, I dunno. Evloev, I guess. Movsar Evloev by decision.

Tim Bissell: This is such a shame. Evloev is far too good for this short notice replacement. There’s always the potential for a banana peel in these situations. It’s more likely that Evloev does what’s expected of him here, though. However, after beating Lopes at UFC 288 we’re still left with question marks over whether he is just good, very good or very very good. Movsar Evloev by submission

Chris Rini: This pick is entirely contingent on Bryce not having the flu. Edit: either this coin is cursed or it’s committed to me losing because that damn thing says Lopes. 

Zane Simon: I’m glad we’ll still get to see Evloev fight at UFC 288, but yeah, as Tim said, this isn’t a bout that really needed to get booked. Lopes is a fun brawler with a dangerous top game, doubt he’ll get much chance to showcase either skills. Movsar Evloev by decision.

Staff picking Evloev: Lucas, Stephie, Kristen, Victor, Zane, Dayne, Eddie, Jack, Anton
Staff picking Lopes: Chris

Kron Gracie vs. Charles Jourdain

Victor Rodriguez: Jourdain might hit him with some flying shit. Kron has that flypaper grappling I love and isn’t the worst striker of the Gracie bunch. Jourdain still got the antidote for whatever he brings out standing, so Kron better hug this man immediately. And guess what? I’m not banking on that. Charles Jourdain by TKO.

Tim Bissell: It’s hard to pick someone coming off such a long lay-off (longer than Cejudo’s!), but I have serious questions about whether Charles Jourdain knows what he needs to do to beat certain opponents, both before and during a fight. He should stay away from Gracei’s BJJ  at any cost, but will he? Kron Gracie by submission

Chris Rini: Charles Jourdain is up there with Brandon Royval and Drew Dober as fringe fighters who I have always tuned in to see. It’s great that they’ve all been getting a bit more recognition recently and I hope Jourdain can capitalize on the opportunity.

Zane Simon: No reason Gracie can’t win this. Jourdain will absolutely give up an early takedown, he pretty much always does. But Jourdain has also been near impossible to submit early in his fights as well. He tends to have to get dragged into deep water by someone who can really withstand his barrage. Has Gracie been focused on training lately? Has his wrestling improved at all? Unless he gets the insta-sub, I’ll take Charles Jourdain via decision.

Staff picking Gracie: Bissell, Dayne, Eddie
Staff picking Jourdain: Chris, Lucas, Stephie, Kristen, Victor, Zane, Jack, Anton

Drew Dober vs. Matt Frevola

Zane Simon: This is a great way to finish off the UFC 288 prelims. Two men that love to brawl. One of them has an iron chin, the other has been insta-KO’d a couple times in 50/50 exchanges. Not a hard pick to make, but Frevola’s occasional showings of aggressive wrestling do add an interesting wrinkle. Drew Dober via KO, round 1.

Dayne Fox: Dober’s chin will crack someday. Sooner or later, all chins do. It isn’t out of the question that…

To read the rest of our UFC 288 staff picks head on over to Substack. Now that Bloody Elbow is a fully independent site the best way to support us, so that we can continue fearless coverage of combat sports, is to pick up a paid subscription. Paid subscribers help fund other exclusive content like editorials from Karim Zidan and Jonathan Snowden and investigations by John S. Nash.

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Leader board

There is a change at the top! Dayne has lead the standings all year long, but Eddie finally got his nose in front heading into UFC 288. Both are tied on correct picks and correct pick percentage, but all that is separating them is that Eddie picked slightly better last week. Last week was also a good one for Kristen, who was able to jump up two places in the standings. Winner of the week was Chris, who went 7-4 with his patented coin flipping technique. Let’s see how lucky the coin is for him with UFC 288.

PositionStafferCorrectIncorrectTotal Picks%Picks BackWeek 13 Record
1 (▲1)Eddie103671700.6065-6
2 (▼1)Dayne103671700.6064-7
3 (-)Anton98721700.57655-6
4 (▲2)Kristen93771700.547105-6
5 (▼1)Zane93771700.547104-7
6 (▼1)Stephie92671590.579114-7
7 (-)Bissell81891700.476224-7
8 (-)Lucas79761550.510243-8
9 (-)Chris77831600.481267-4
10 (-)Victor4541860.523583-8
11 (-)BE Readers4440840.524595-6
12 (-)Jack2421450.533796-5
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About the author
Tim Bissell
Tim Bissell

Tim Bissell is a writer, editor and deputy site manager for Bloody Elbow. He has covered combat sports since 2015, but has been watching since the early 2000s. Tim covers news and events and has also written longform and investigative pieces. Among Tim's specialties are the intersections between crime and combat sports. Tim has also covered head trauma, concussions and CTE in great detail.

Tim is also BE's lead (only) sumo reporter. He blogs about that sport here and on his own substack, Sumo Stomp!

Tim is currently a social worker in training.

Email me at [email protected]. Nice messages will get a response.

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