UFC 288 Newark: Kligman picks Aljamain Sterling vs Henry Cejudo title fight, Belal Muhammad vs Gilbert Burns
UFC 288 is set to feature one of the most highly anticipated fights of the year, as two of the most talented bantamweights in the world, Henry Cejudo and Aljamain Sterling, face off in a high-stakes title fight main event matchup in Newark, New Jersey this Saturday, May 6.
Cejudo, the former UFC bantamweight champion, will look to reclaim his title against Sterling, who has been on a dominant winning streak and is widely regarded as one of the most skilled fighters in the division, if not ever. Throughout the event, there are ranked fights, title eliminators, multiple top-ten matchups, and even the family member of the first UFC champion ever appearing.
Continue reading for more about UFC 288, including picks and a preview of this flashy main card. After a 4-1 week, my picks are 42-18-3.
UFC 288 Main Card
Bantamweight: Aljamain Sterling vs. Henry Cejudo
Welterweight: Belal Muhammad vs. Gilbert Burns
Strawweight: Jessica Andrade vs. Xiaonan Yan
Featherweight: Movsar Evloev vs. Diego Lopes
Featherweight: Kron Gracie vs. Charles Jourdain
UFC 288 Prelims
Lightweight: Drew Dober vs. Matt Frevola
Light heavyweight: Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Devin Clark
Welterweight: Khaos Williams vs. Rolando Bedoya
Strawweight: Marina Rodriguez vs. Virna Jandiroba
UFC 288 Early Prelims
Heavyweight: Braxton Smith vs. Parker Porter
Middleweight: Phil Hawes vs. Ikram Aliskerov
Flyweight: Rafael Estevam vs. Zhalgas Zhumagulov
Middleweight: Joseph Holmes vs. Claudio Ribeiro
Bantamweight: Daniel Santos vs. Johnny Munoz
Aljamain Sterling (22-3) vs. Henry Cejudo (16-2)
Fresh out of retirement, Henry Cejudo is back for an immediate title fight against reigning champion Aljamain Sterling.
Let’s start with Sterling. Aljo has won eight consecutive fights, with his last loss coming in 2017. He’s coached by one of the best mixed martial arts coaches in the world, Ray Longo – who's been in the corner for former champions Matt Serra and Chris Weidman. Since receiving the title against Petr Yan by disqualification – the first title fight ever to be decided this way – Sterling has defended his belt against Petr Yan in a rematch by split decision and beat up on an injured TJ Dillashaw. If Sterling beats Cejudo, he will be the first undisputed UFC bantamweight champion to successfully the title three times in one reign.
Cejudo is looking to dampen Sterling’s dreams in his backyard in New Jersey. Triple C checks in as former bantamweight champion, flyweight champion, and Olympic gold medalist. While out of fighting, Cejudo launched his own YouTube channel, breaking down fights and fighters while helping Jon Jones train for his illustrious comeback. Although Cejudo has been away from the sport for nearly three years, his fighting IQ alone will make him a tough out.
This fight is as even as they come – even Vegas can’t decide. Per DraftKings Sportsbook, the official sportsbook of the UFC, Cejudo is the slight favorite at -115, but Sterling isn’t far behind at -105.
My pick: Henry Cejudo
Belal Muhammad (22-3) vs. Gilbert Burns (22-5)
The co-main event is on par with the headliner and should be an even fight between Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns.
This fight will be a title eliminator, with the victor earning a shot at welterweight champion Leon Edwards. Burns knows this; it’s his third time fighting this year in anticipation of that championship call. In 2023, Burns submitted Neil Magny in a dominant first-round finish and retired Jorge Masvidal in a one-sided unanimous decision. Burns will most definitely be in fight shape considering his busy schedule, and is aiming for a third consecutive victory in the cage on Saturday against Muhammad.
Muhammad accepted this fight on a few weeks' notice shortly after Ramadan. That’s some serious stuff from Muhammad. Muhammad is looking to make it five in a row and is coming off a big knockout win against the now 15-1, formerly undefeated Sean Brady.
Both are exceptionally well-rounded fighters on their feet and on the ground. Don’t forget both fighters agreed for this to be a five-round fight. It’s another close one. Burns is favored at -125, while Muhammad is the +105 underdog.
My pick: Gilbert Burns
Jessica Andrade (24-10) vs. Xiaonan Yan (16-3)
The second and final female fight of the night will be an interesting one when Jessica Andrade takes on Xiaonan Yan.
Andrade, like Burns, is making her third appearance of the year. The former strawweight champion is 3-1 since her title shot loss to Valentina Shevchenko, with her only defeat coming in February by way of young phenom Erin Blanchfield. Andrade is known for her versatile striking, which should be on full display in a stand-up fight against Yan.
Yan is a brilliant, aggressive boxer and could pose a serious threat to Andrade if she can dictate the pace of the fight. She’s coming off the biggest win of her career in her first main event against Mackenzie Dern, and before losing two in a row began her UFC career on a six-fight win streak. In all of Yan’s wins, she’s outstruck every opponent.
Both fighters are phenomenal in their stand-up game, but Andrade has the wrestling advantage. The winner of this fight will dictate the pace throughout.
My pick: Xiaonan Yan
Movsar Evloev (16-0) vs. Diego Lopes (21-5)
A thrilling featherweight bout awaits as Movsar Evloev takes on Diego Lopes in an unscripted matchup.
Lopes is taking this fight on days notice due to Bryce Mitchell dropping out with an undisclosed injury, so props to him. Lopes brings a wealth of experience and striking skills to the octagon. He'll be looking to keep the fight standing and use his impressive striking to keep Evloev at bay and rack up points.
Evloev, who holds an impressive undefeated record at 6-0 in his UFC career, will be looking to extend his unbeaten streak and put on a signature performance. Although Evloev is undefeated in the UFC, he’s yet to finish an opponent. Known for his outstanding wrestling and grappling skills, Evloev will be looking to take Lopes down to the ground and submit him.
It’s hard to pick against Evloev given his higher-level wrestling, but anything can happen in MMA!
My pick: Movsar Evloev
Kron Gracie (5-1) vs. Charles Jourdain (13-6-1)
Get ready for an entertaining clash of styles as Kron Gracie takes on Charles Jourdain to kick off the main card this weekend!
Gracie, known for his world-class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills, will be looking to showcase his grappling prowess as he takes on the dynamic striker Charles Jourdain. Gracie, a member of the legendary Gracie family, will be eager to add another victory to his MMA résumé and climb up the featherweight rankings in his first fight since 2019.
Jourdain brings a unique blend of striking and grappling skills to the octagon. Jourdain will be looking to use his superior striking skills to keep Gracie at bay and avoid getting taken to the ground.
Gracie is good, but how much has he fought in the last four years? Jourdain fought three times in 2022 and is simply the more experienced fighter.
My pick: Charles Jourdain
You can watch the UFC 288 early prelims on UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+ at 6 PM EST. The prelims will air on ESPN+ at 8 PM EST, and you can order the main card through ESPN+, which starts at 10 PM EST.