In the main event of UFC 288 on Saturday night, UFC men’s bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling defeated Henry Cejudo by split decision (48-47×2, 47-48).
In major strikes, Sterling defeated Cejudo 135 to 99, and in freestyle wrestling, the champion defeated Cejudo 4 to 3 with takedowns.
The fight was close despite the statistical advantage. With their opinions on the main event, other competitors weighed in. Sterling appeared to have won according to Conor McGregor as well, but by a larger margin than the two official judges.
Megan Anderson predicted a close call, but she scored it for Cejudo:
Incredibly close fight to score. I had Cejudo but definitely wouldn't want to be a judge for that one
Gotta respect Sterling as a competitor! #UFC288
— Megan Anderson (@MeganAnderson) May 7, 2023
To defend his title against the hard-charging, but somewhat rusty Cejudo, Sterling used a variety of stance changes, an active kicking game, and some crucial takedowns.
The challenger, who retired as the 135-pound and men’s flyweight division champions, had been out of MMA competition for three years. Cejudo appeared a little more tentative than usual—or at least more than what we had grown accustomed to seeing in his fights—possibly because to Sterling’s length and clumsiness.
Sterling’s face was as spotless as a whistle after the bout, as McGregor said, while Cejudo had multiple knots and swellings that seemed to be telling a tale.
Sean O’Malley, the top challenger at 135 pounds, was invited into the Octagon following the bout in an effort to promote his forthcoming challenge for Sterling’s championship. Shortly after O’Malley and Sterling exchanged blows, things became heated.
O’Malley threw away his red and black Michael Jackson Thriller jacket after exchanging words. Merab Dvalishvili, a rival and a friend of Sterling’s, grabbed up O’Malley’s jacket and put it on among the commotion.
All parties had to be divided to maintain order after O’Malley appeared to become enraged by this. O’Malley would have the next opportunity to defend Sterling, UFC president Dana White said during the post-fight press conference.
Although Cejudo didn’t formally announce his retirement, he did confess his lack of desire to fight for anything other than titles, realizing Saturday’s defeat might have been his last.