UFC 288 Odds, Pick & Prediction for Aljamain Sterling vs. Henry Cejudo: Back Champ in Main Event (Saturday, May 6)

UFC 288 Odds, Pick & Prediction for Aljamain Sterling vs. Henry Cejudo: Back Champ in Main Event (Saturday, May 6) article feature image

Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC. Pictured: UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling

  • UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling faces former two-division titleholder Henry Cejudo at UFC 288.
  • Cejudo returns from a three-year retirement but is a small favorite against "Funkmaster."
  • Below, Sean Zerillo breaks down the matchup and shares the side he's betting on Saturday night.

Aljamain Sterling vs. Henry Cejudo Odds

Sterling Odds
Cejudo Odds
4.5 (-150 / +120)
Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey
11:59 p.m. ET
ESPN+ Pay-per-view
Odds as of Friday and via Caesars

UFC bantamweight gold is on the line on Saturday night in New Jersey at UFC 288 as Aljamain Sterling looks to defend his belt for the third time when he meets former champion Henry Cejudo.

Cejudo, who won and defended the bantamweight strap before retiring, returns after a nearly three-year layoff (he last fought on May 9, 2020) and will look to add to his legacy as one of the greatest athletes in the history of combat sports.

Sterling will look to solidify his legacy following controversial wins over Petr Yan (a win via disqualification and a split decision) before defeating an injured T.J. Dillashaw.

Below, I’ll provide my analysis and projections for  Saturday’s tilt (ESPN+ pay-per-view, with main-event walkouts at approximately 11:50 p.m. ET) and utilize those factors to bet on the UFC 288 main event between Sterling and Cejudo.

Tale of the Tape

Avg. Fight Time12:5612:23
Weight (pounds)135 lbs.135 lbs.
Reach (inches)71"64"
Date of birth7/31/19892/9/1987
Sig Strikes Per Min4.703.92
SS Accuracy51%45%
SS Absorbed Per Min2.182.77
SS Defense61%65%
Take Down Avg1.982.12
TD Acc24%33%
TD Def41%93%
Submission Avg0.90.2

In addition to the lengthy layoff, Cejudo is also up against a jarring historical trend in this matchup.

In lighter weight classes (welterweight and below) – where fractional differences in speed and athleticism can have a huge effect – fighters older than 35 are just 2-28 in title bouts (Tyron Woodley, a welterweight, has both wins), as senior editor Dann Stupp discussed in this week's UFC 288 preview podcast:

Cejudo, a natural 125-pound flyweight, is also at a significant height (three inches) and reach (seven inches) discrepancy against Sterling, who is large for the 135-pound division and may seek to move up to 145 with a win on Saturday (to challenge Alexander Volkanovski, and allow his teammate and friend Merab Dvaslisvhili to fight for a belt).

In peak form, I would give Cejudo a cardio advantage in this matchup. Sterling cuts a decent amount of weight to make 135, and he has seemingly struggled with his cardio in the championship rounds of his five-round bouts. Aljo typically pushes a tremendous pace by drawing opponents in volume on the feet, mixing in takedown attempts, and looking to take his opponents' backs – where he has arguably the best control in the sport.

Cejudo is a master of distance management, but it will be difficult for him to outland Sterling over 25 minutes, given the reach discrepancy. And he has elite takedown defense (93%) and is the better pure wrestler in this matchup, but Sterling is the superior MMA grappler, and Cejudo's ground game – on his back – is a relative mystery.

In this matchup, Cejudo will look to sprawl and defend takedowns, deny clinch positions, and keep the fight at a comfortable range – where he can look to kick Sterling's legs and then utilize his movement to get away from Sterling's reach.

I'm not sure that Cejudo will look to initiate offensive takedowns of his own. He can undoubtedly land them, but I'm far less sure that he can keep Sterling on his back or prevent the position from getting reversed.

I expect Sterling to win the early rounds, especially with Cejudo coming off a lengthy layoff, but I do think Cejudo will be competitive throughout. And Cejudo could potentially flip the momentum completely his way down the stretch.

That said, it's difficult to bet a 35-year-old athlete to maintain the same level of cardio he had three years ago while adding additional weight to his frame. And given the physical advantages for Sterling – and the closeness of the skills in other areas of this matchup – you can't be betting Cejudo as a favorite purely on the grounds of an expected stamina advantage, either.

Cejudo has become a tremendous coach and cornerman at Fight Ready MMA. He has a high fight IQ, has deployed versatile strategies throughout his career, and his adaptability is nearly unparalleled. Still, Father Time is undefeated, and even if this were the Cejudo of three years ago – and we fully expected to see his prime self – I would have handicapped this fight around a pick'em.

Sterling has the striking volume and control time upside and has more ways to win the fight dominantly. Any Cejudo victory is either a flash knockout of a closely contested decision; I don't see him dominating minutes against the younger and longer man, who has consistently frustrated opponents with his funky style.

Sterling vs. Cejudo Pick

I projected Aljamain Sterling as a slight favorite (52%) in this fight, and I would bet his moneyline down to +100.

The betting market is all over the place for this matchup; some books have Sterling as a -120 favorite (54.5%) while others have Cejudo at the same price. Make sure to shop around for the best price on the current champion.

I have a slight lean to the Under. I set the bout to end inside the distance 50% of the time; I would need +110 or better to bet the bout to end by finish.

Cejudo may be able to stop Sterling similarly to his win over Dominick Cruz – by using leg kicks to slow down his movement, creating openings to land punches. Or he could catch a tiring Sterling in the later rounds of a high-paced fight; it seemed like Petr Yan was moving closer to a finish in his first bout with Sterling before landing a disqualifying knee.

Still, I see more ways for Sterling to win dominantly, and the physical factors and age differential only amplify that potential.

The Pick: Aljamain Sterling (+100 at Caesars)

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