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UFC 288 predictions — Aljamain Sterling vs. Henry Cejudo: Fight card, odds, expert picks, prelims, preview

Former two-division champion Henry Cejudo returns from a three-year retirement on Saturday when he faces bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling in the main event of UFC 288. The fight is a chance for Cejudo to win back the title he gave up when he hung up his gloves, and also an opportunity for Sterling to erase any doubt as to his place atop the 135-pound division.

As with any UFC pay-per-view, UFC 288 is one a one-fight card. The co-main event is a title eliminator in the welterweight division, with Gilbert Burns making a quick return after his UFC 287 victory to face Belal Muhammad. The winner would be in line for a shot at the welterweight title after the anticipated bout between champion Leon Edwards and two-time title challenger Colby Covington.

Can’t get enough boxing and MMA? Get the latest in the world of combat sports from two of the best in the business. Subscribe to Morning Kombat with Luke Thomas and Brian Campbell for the best analysis and in-depth news, including a complete preview of UFC 288 below.

With so much happening on Saturday night, let’s take a closer look at the full fight card with the latest odds from Caesars Sportsbook before we get to our staff predictions and picks for the PPV portion of the festivities.

UFC 288 fight card, odds

Odds via Caesars Sportsbook

  • Henry Cejudo -120 vs. Aljamain Sterling (c) +100, bantamweight world championship
  • Gilbert Burns -125 vs. Belal Muhammad +105, welterweights
  • Jessica Andrade -195 vs. Xiaonan Yan +162, women’s strawweights
  • Movsar Evloev -900 vs. Diego Lopes +600, featherweights
  • Charles Jourdain -165 vs. Kron Gracie +140, featherweights
  • Drew Dober -210 vs. Matt Frevola +175, lightweights
  • Kennedy Nzechukwu -190 vs. Devin Clark +155, light heavyweights
  • Khaos Williams -310 vs. Rolando Bedoya +250, welterweights
  • Marina Rodriguez -130 vs. Virna Jandiroba +110, women’s strawweights
  • Parker Porter -170 vs. Braxton Smith +145, heavyweights
  • Ikram Aliskerov -195 vs. Phil Hawes +165, middleweights
  • Claudio Ribeiro -185 vs. Joseph Holmes +160, middleweights

With such a massive main event on tap, the crew at CBS Sports went ahead with predictions and picks for the main card. Here are your pick makers: Brent Brookhouse (Combat sports writer), Brian Campbell (Combat sports writer, co-host of “Morning Kombat”), Shakiel Mahjouri (writer), Michael Mormile (producer) and Brandon Wise (senior editor).

UFC 288 picks, predictions

Sterling (c) vs. Cejudo Cejudo Sterling Sterling Cejudo Sterling
Burns vs. Muhammad Burns Burns Burns Burns Burns
Andrade vs. Yan Andrade Andrade Andrade Andrade Andrade
Evloev vs. Lopes Evloev Evloev Evloev Evloev Evloev
Jourdain vs. Gracie Jourdain Gracie Jourdain Jourdain Jourdain
Records to date (2023)
15-10 14-11 15-10 19-6 13-12

Sterling vs. Cejudo

Campbell: At 36, returning from a three-year retirement to face the pound-for-pound ranked and defending champion of the sport’s deepest division, this couldn’t be more of an uphill climb for Cejudo than it already is. Yet if there has been anything consistent about the former two-division champion’s fighting legacy within the UFC, it’s the deft ability Cejudo has shown to problem solve at the highest level. Armed with a wrestling advantage that could go a long way in neutralizing Sterling’s dangerous submission game and forcing the fight into kickboxing range, this is a matchup Cejudo could very well win. He has stayed close to the sport as a podcaster, breaking down techniques, and a coach-for-fire to some of the UFC’s biggest names. Provided he can keep up the pressure for five rounds, Cejudo has the power and poise to reclaim the bantamweight crown he never lost while forcing us to reimagine his place in MMA history. 

Brookhouse: It’s a big, big ask to come back from three years out of action, now closer to 40 than 30, to face a guy who can bring the fight with the kind of pace and awkward style like Sterling brings to the Octagon. Cejudo was great at answering these kinds of questions when at his peak, but it’s just a different situation now than it was when he was regularly in the cage and providing those answers. Maybe the layoff and age means nothing for Cejudo, but you can only pick based on the information you have and I think that all factors Sterling to just be too much in this moment.

Burns vs. Muhammad

Campbell: While both fighters will be dealing with short turnarounds after signing to fight a promised No. 1 contender’s bout on three-week notice, Burns was at least fresh off of a training camp and a three-round decision win over Jorge Masvidal. Muhammad, however, was fasting for a full month while observing Ramadan when he got the call for the biggest fight of his career. At 36, Burns might be at his most dangerous form to date as a dual-threat finisher who can take the fight anywhere. Muhammad should still be game and stubborn enough in key areas. But the edge ahead of his five-round fight to produce the next welterweight title challenger (after Colby Covington) has to go to Burns who would be advised to test Muhammad’s typically strong cardio in the championship rounds given the short-notice nature of the fight.  

Brookhouse: This is an event filled with questions of what unusual layoffs or quick turnarounds mean for fights. That means a lot of guesswork in making predictions. Maybe the quick turnaround for Burns is a good thing. Or, maybe he will be physically diminished without time to recover and go through a full camp again. With this fight, I’ll just treat it as a normal fight. Under normal conditions, I favor the guy who is just more dangerous in every area, and that guy is Burns.

Mahjouri: Muhammad told CBS Sports that Burns has everything to gain and is fighting under far more favorable circumstances and I’m inclined to agree. Burns is only one month removed from a full training camp against Masvidal, one where he suffered very little damage. By contrast, Muhammad was fasting and completely unprepared for a fight. Burns appears to have the technical edge over Muhammad in most areas. Burns has more knockout and submission wins, lands more strikes, and absorbs less on average. Both fighters are neck-and-neck on takedown accuracy and average takedowns landed. Muhammad’s most glaring strengths opposite Burns are his fantastic takedown defense and a seemingly endless gas tank. Muhammad will perform better as the fight progresses. In fact, Muhammad was the one that insisted on five rounds after consulting with Khabib Nurmagomedov. Still, I favor Burns in the early rounds and expect him to edge out at least one late round for a close decision win.

Andrade vs. Yan

Campbell: Look no further than Andrade, herself, to admit that her February dismantling loss to rising flyweight Erin Blanchfield saw the former 115-pound champion anywhere but at her best. Andrade took the fight on short notice, less than one month removed from a decision win over Lauren Murphy, and openly admitted she had fallen out of fight shape and only accepted for the money. Back in her preferred division, it’s time for the 31-year-old Andrade to re-establish herself as a viable title contender in a division she has only lost while facing current or former champions. Andrade’s power and physicality should be enough against Xianon’s volume striking as she regroups after bouncing around between divisions in recent years.  

Brookhouse: Andrade is coming off an unusually poor performance that saw her step in on short notice, out of shape and even suffer a mid-fight wardrobe malfunction that she claimed took her out of the fight mentally. She should be in a much better situation coming into this fight. Assuming that’s the case, Andrade should be able to compete just fine on the feet while also having the wrestling game to score takedowns and win the fight on the floor.

Mahjouri: Expect an ultra-motivated Andrade after losing a shockingly non-competitive fight to Blanchfield in February. Andrade is unreliable as a champion, but she remains one of the most difficult tests for anyone in pursuit of time-tested glory. In her prime, she has only faltered to world champs and, most recently, a new crop of talent ready to replace the old guards. Yan has been on the precipice of a championship fight for a while, but a majority decision win over Mackenzie Dern following consecutive losses to Marina Rodriguez and Carla Esparza does not inspire confidence that she can make that final push. Andrade is too big of a KO and submission threat for a fighter whose seven UFC wins are exclusively by decision. 

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