UCF 288 will be held Saturday, May 6, from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. The main event will be a super fight at the 135-pound division between bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling and former bantamweight and flyweight champion Henry Cejudo. Also on the card is a welterweight title eliminator bout between top five fighters Gilbert Burns and Belal Muhammad.
Sterling (22-3) will be a slight underdog at -105 at DraftKings Sportsbook. He is making the third defense of his bantamweight title with his most recent triumph coming by second-round knockout against T.J. Dillashaw.
Although Sterling has the reputation of being a submission specialist he has shown much improved striking over the past several fights. He will have a healthy height and reach advantage against Cejudo, which he should be able to use to his advantage. Cejudo is a tank with heavy hands, but he needs to get on the inside at close range to be effective. Sterling should be able to use his reach to keep Cejudo at a distance and land strikes from the outside.
In his fight with Petr Yan at UFC 273, Sterling spotlighted his best striking weapon — the body kick. A body kick when placed can end a match, but Sterling uses them like a boxer uses a jab. He wants to establish contact and weaken his opponent. He caught a hyper-aggressive Yan with body kicks early and that allowed him to control the middle rounds with his ground game eventually leading to a split-decision win.
Sterling’s style is very tactical and can lack excitement at times. but it’s also very effective. It’s going to be hard for Sterling to get any sort of ground game going against an Olympic Gold Medal wrestler like Cejudo, but Sterling hits 51% of his significant strikes. That’s going to be the body kick. Body kicks will be the key to Sterling’s success.