It seems no matter what Aljamain Sterling does, he can’t seem to win over the fans. Even though he was fighting a hop, skip, and a jump from his home base of New York, the New Jersey fans for UFC 288 showed him absolutely no love. At one point, they even began chanting Henry Cejudo’s name. It can’t be blamed on him taking a decision that seemed undeserved this time. Yes, the fight was close, but Sterling was the busier fighter on the feet and arguably got the better of the ground fighting too. He was the rightful winner. Regardless of how close it was, it was a good fight and if anything, both put up a winning performance.
For some, the real fireworks occurred after the fight. The UFC brought Sean O’Malley into the cage after Sterling was declared the winner. O’Malley got right in Sterling’s face, creating a hell of a moment for future promotion. However, it appears Sterling may have been one-upped by teammate Merab Dvalishvili once again. After Sterling and O’Malley faced off, Dvalishvili took the jacket O’Malley had taken off to confront Sterling and put it on, thus taking the spotlight off Sterling again.
Meanwhile, Henry Cejudo left his future up in the air. The former champion indicated he doesn’t want to be fighting for anything other than the title. And at age 36, it’s hard to blame him. He’s probably two years away from getting another shot at the title if things go correctly for him. He said he’d go back and talk things over with his family. If it’s the last we’ve seen of him, it’s been a pleasure seeing him do his thing.
As for the rest of UFC 288….
No one will ever accuse Gilbert Burns of ducking a fight. He accepted a bout with Belal Muhammad—a five round affair—on a few weeks notice when he was coming off a fight with Jorge Masvidal at UFC 287. It a sense, it saved UFC 288. The fight with Muhammad saw him bite off more than he can chew. Muhammad systematically picked him apart, consistently finding a home for him left leg to the body and arm of Burns. About halfway through the contest, Burns was visibly dejected. It proved an important lesson in knowing one’s limits.
The win should put Muhammad at the front of the line to challenge Leon Edwards for the welterweight crown. Sure, things didn’t appear to be going well for Muhammad in their first contest, but Muhammad has steadily improved since that time. He’s now undefeated in his last ten contests, an indication he may very well be overdue for that title fight. Not only is it hard to deny Muhammad, it’s hard to doubt him.
It felt like a matter of time before Jessica Andrade caught Xiaonan Yan with something heavy. Well, somebody got caught with something heavy, but it wasn’t Yan. Andrade ran headlong into a counter right from Yan that instantly put her on her back. Andrade’s full-time return to strawweight resulted in her likely serving as the final stepping stone for Yan to fight Zhang Weili for the title. No doubt the UFC is excited about the possibility of an all-China contest.
Movsar Evloev walked out of the event with his hand raised, but it was Diego Lopes who has getting all the accolades after their contest. Taking the fight with minimal notice, Lopes rocked Evloev early and caught him in several deep submissions. Evloev showed why he’s one of the world’s best by escaping each situation, but Lopes wasn’t supposed to be competitive. The question now is if the UFC opts keep Lopes in the deep end of the pool after his impressive performance.
It was clear Kron Gracie didn’t spend his time away from the UFC rounding out his skillset. Gracie couldn’t compete with Charles Jourdain on the feet and couldn’t get the fight to the mat without pulling guard. Jourdain was perfectly prepared, effectively neutralizing Gracie on the mat before escaping.
We all knew Drew Dober’s chin would crack eventually, though I don’t think we expected Matt Frevola to be the one to do it. Dober appeared to be in full control, pressuring and picking his spots before being waylaid by Frevola. Dober never went out cold, but Frevola was smart enough to maintain his attack, forcing the referee to step in. Expect Frevola to have a number next to his name by the middle of the week.
Kennedy Nzechukwu hasn’t fully arrived yet, but he is progressing. The monstrous 205er survived an early scare from Devin Clark before pouring on the punishment on his smaller opponent. Clark didn’t want to go away, so Nzechukwu had to resort to choking him out. We might see Nzechukwu enter the official rankings.
There wasn’t a lot that was separating Khaos Williams and Rolando Bedoya, especially as Williams began to show signs of fatigue. However, especially in the opening minutes, Williams’ power was making all the difference in the world. Not all the judges agreed, one scoring for the scrappy debutant, but the others preferred to see Williams get his hand raised.
It wasn’t a surprise to see Virna Jandiroba get the fight to the ground. What was amazing to see was the efficiency in which she was able to get Marina Rodriguez to the mat. It’s clear Jandiroba has worked hard on her wrestling as she scored a clear victory on the basis of holding Rodriguez down, effectively killing any slim title hopes Rodriguez might have been harboring.
Braxton Smith is a hell of an athlete. He’s also one of the sloppiest fighters to step foot in the UFC in recent years. He didn’t even make it a half round before gassing, loading up on every shot. It made him easy pickings for the experienced Parker Porter.
For about 90 seconds, Phil Hawes looked like he had turned over a new leaf. He was picking his spots beautifully while maintaining a reasonable pace. Around that point, Ikram Aliskerov woke up and began landing some precise strikes. A head kick seemed to have Hawes questioning where he was before a one-two put him away. Aliskerov could be a future contender.
Improvements could be seen out of both Claudio Ribeiro and Joseph Holmes, but it was most apparent in the Brazilian Ribeiro. Though fatigue was beginning to show, he managed one final violent outburst to get the finish and likely send Holmes packing.
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