On Saturday, the UFC returned to the Prudential Center in Newark for the first time in nearly three years for UFC 288. In the main event, UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling quashed Henry Cejudo’s hopes of coming out of retirement to regain the promotion’s 135-pound title and possibly set up a run at a belt at 145 pounds with a split decision victory.
In the co-main event, Belal Muhammad topped Gilbert Burns in what was announced as a UFC title eliminator.
Before the two headlining bouts, Yan Xiaonan stunned former UFC strawweight champion, Jessica Andrade, stopping the ex-titleholder via first-round knockout.
Read on for the complete list of winners and losers from UFC 288, which streamed on ESPN+ pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and early prelims on ESPN+.
Aljamain Sterling: Aljamain Sterling retained his UFC bantamweight title on Saturday with a split-decision win over Henry Cejudo.
Sterling’s approach to the contest was a bit puzzling. He had the advantage in the striking department throughout the fight, but instead of relying on his reach and length to rack up points on the feet, he attempted numerous takedowns that didn’t lead to much meaningful offense. And then, with the fight perhaps up for grabs in the fifth and final round, he seemed to lay back and give Cejudo a chance to steal the victory.
Sterling did enough to win, but had he relied more on his striking, especially his kicks at distance and his knees and elbows in the clinch, he might have put more distance between himself and Cejudo.
Merab Dvalishvili: Merab Dvalishvili grabbed Sean O’Malley’s jacket while O’Malley jawed with Aljamain Sterling. That’s quick thinking.
Belal Muhammad: One could question the wisdom of the UFC booking what it advertised as a welterweight title eliminator on a few weeks’ notice and deciding to make that a five-round contest, but that’s what the promotion did in matching Belal Muhammad vs. Gilbert Burns.
The fight dragged as Burns could not use his left arm for most of the contest, and Muhammad was either unaware or disinclined to take advantage of his foe’s apparent injury.
In the end, Muhammad’s striking, especially his kicks, enabled him to win the decision, which moved his unbeaten streak to 10 straight fights.
Yan Xiaonan: Yan Xiaonan picked up the biggest win of her career on Saturday when she scored a first-round knockout win over former UFC strawweight champion Jessica Andrade.
While Andrade relied on power, Yan relied on power, shot selection, and location to pick up the knockout win. Andrade entered the contest as the No. 4 ranked 115-pounder, while Yan was No. 6. It will be interesting to see where Yan lands on the updated UFC rankings and who the matchmakers pit her against in her next outing.
The win over Andrade could be a career-changing victory for the 33-year-old.
Movsar Evloev: The No. 10 ranked featherweight in the UFC, Movsar Evloev did what he needed to do on Saturday, picking up a win against a late replacement opponent in Diego Lopes. I doubt the win will move him up the 145-pound rankings, but Evloev should hold onto his spot and set up a fight against an opponent inside the top 10.
Diego Lopes: Took his UFC 288 fight against Movsar Evloev on short notice, and with nothing to lose, he threw caution to the wind, doing damage on the feet and threatening with several submissions. Lopes lost the fight, but he made a statement on Saturday, and it’ll be interesting to see what he looks like against a step down in competition with a full camp to prepare.
Charles Jourdain: Charles Jourdain’s team had him well prepared to face Kron Gracie. Jourdain did everything right defensively to negate the skill set of Gracie, while at the same time exploiting the advantage he had over Gracie in the striking department.
What stood out about Jourdain’s performance was how his confidence and aggression grew from round to round. The win ended a two-fight losing skid for Jourdain.
Matt Frevola: After he knocked out Drew Dober in the final prelim fight of UFC 288, Matt Frevola reminded everyone that he is on a healthy run. And he is. With his stoppage of Dober, Frevola has won his past three fights via knockout.
If there was a knock on Frevola in this clash, it was that he allowed Dober to control where the fight took place and seemed content with Dober holding the center of the octagon. Frevola’s power made up for that mistake, but that tendency could be a concern against the more skilled and well-rounded opponents Frevola will start facing with his next trip to the octagon.
There is a good chance that Frevola will take Dober’s ranking from him next week.
Kennedy Nzechukwu: An exciting back and forth first round saw Kennedy Nzechukwu come back from being hurt to take over his fight opposite Devin Clark via elbows and knees in close. Nzechukwu then went into the second round with a lot of confidence and picked up a guillotine choke submission win.
Nzechukwu is on a run of three straight finishes after starting his run with the promotion at 3-3. At 30, Nzechukwu continues to develop and look better in each outing.
As a bonus, Nzechukwu seems like a decent person.
Khaos Williams: Khaos Williams bounced back from a May 2022 split decision loss to Randy Brown by defeating Rolando Bedoya at UFC 288. Williams used his powerful but sometimes reckless striking to get the victory.
Rolando Bedoya: Rolando Bedoya looked relaxed and confident in his UFC debut against Khaos Williams. As the fight progressed, he exploited the openings Williams provided, landing more volume and with more accuracy than his foe.
While Bedoya lost on the scorecards, this fight should be a learning experience as to what adjustments he needs to make to his striking style to pick up a win from the judges.
Virna Jandiroba: Virna Jandiroba’s takedown skills and heavy top game allowed her to dominate Marina Rodriguez in their women’s strawweight contest.
Jandiroba entered the bout as the No. 9 woman in the UFC’s official strawweight rankings, while Rodriguez checked in at No. 5.
Jandiroba went three for seven in takedowns and picked up 12:02 in control time while being active with her ground strikes. Saturday’s win was solid for the 34-year-old Brazilian and will move her up the rankings when updated.
Parker Porter: Parker Porter overwhelmed the inexperienced and not-ready-for-primetime Braxton Smith and picked up his first UFC KO win at UFC 288. The first-round stoppage ended a two-fight losing skid for Porter.
Ikram Aliskerov: Ikram Aliskerov had some problems early on with the body kicks coming his way from Phil Hawes. He did not have an issue finding Hawes’ off switch when he landed a picture-perfect one-two that left Hawes crumpled on the mat and out cold.
As far as UFC debuts go, Aliskerov’s was a memorable one that should set him up for something much more significant in his second bout with the promotion. The UFC would be wise to get Aliskerov back in the octagon ASAP.
Claudio Ribero: Claudio Ribero returned from a January knockout loss to Abdul Razak Alhassan with a KO win of his own, stopping Joseph Holmes in the second round of their middleweight. A powerful striker, who throws everything with bad intentions, Ribero pointed out, after his win, that he is working on his grappling with former UFC title challenger Demian Maia.
Henry Cejudo: Henry Cejudo came close but struggled to close the distance and score with his strikes when it counted against Aljamain Sterling in the main event. It’s hard to fathom Cejudo returning for another fight at 36 if that matchup is not for a UFC title. Cejudo hoped a UFC 288 win would allow him to move up to featherweight to challenge UFC champ Alexander Volkanovski. With that hope dashed, don’t be surprised to see Cejudo return to the ranks of the retired.
UFC: What was the point of bringing Sean O’Malley into the cage? If it was to build interest in the potential fight between Sterling and O’Malley, it didn’t do that. It was just two dudes repeating the same empty threats at each other.
Gilbert Burns: Gilbert Burns took a big risk in agreeing to face Belal Muhammad less than a month after Burns defeated Jorge Masvidal at UFC 287. That risk did not pay off as Burns dropped a decision in UFC 288’s co-main event.
Jessica Andrade: Jessica Andrade still has power, but she is sometimes reckless, and that cost her on Saturday when Yan Xiaonan knocked her out in the first round.
With the loss, Andrade has been finished in her past two outings, which had not happened during her lengthy career before UFC 288.
UFC: C’mon now, putting Kron Gracie on the pay-per-view portion of UFC 288? That was a bad decision, especially as the PPV opener.
Kron Gracie: Kron Gracie fought for the first time since October 2019. He did not show any progress since that fight, a loss to Cub Swanson.
Drew Dober: With his knockout loss to Matt Frevola, Drew Dober’s longest UFC winning streak remains at three. Dober, a member of the UFC roster since 2013 was riding his third run of three straight wins heading into UFC 288, but like his two previous attempts to pick up four consecutive victories, Dober ended up on the wrong end of a stoppage.
Marina Rodriguez: Marina Rodriguez spent the bulk of the first two rounds fighting off takedowns or fighting off her back. She showed some urgency in the third round, but again, her lack of takedown defense cost her any momentum she gained in the striking department in the early portion of the final round.
Expect Rodriguez to tumble in the rankings, she enterered the fight as the No. 5 UFC women’s strawweight competitor following Saturday’s fight card. Also, expect her future opponents to attempt to exploit her lack of takedown defense and ability to work back to her feet.
Rodriguez is on the first two-fight losing skid of her career with her UFC 288 setback.
Braxton Smith: The UFC commentators, before Braxton Smith’s heavyweight fight opposite Parker Porter, tried to pump Smith’s tires a bit too much. Once the fight started, Smith showed that he could throw heavy punches.
And then the fight went to the mat and Smith had nothing to offer other than a target for Porter’s ground strikes.
Phil Hawes: Phil Hawes had some success early against Ikram Aliskerov, especially with his body kicks. However, Aliskerov put him away in the first half of the first stanza. Hawes’ opponents have knocked him out in three of his past four fights in the first round. That’s not a good thing, especially since those knockouts have come in the past two years.
If the UFC keeps Hawes around, they need to give him a long time off and check on his brain health before they book him in another contest.
Joseph Holmes: Joseph Holmes came in three pounds overweight and then got knocked out in the second round of his scheduled middleweight contest against Claudio Ribeiro. The loss dropped Holmes to 1-3 in the UFC. It won’t be surprising to see Holmes lose his UFC gig following this event.
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