UFC 288 Sterling vs. Cejudo Betting Tips: Preview, predictions and best bets for New Jersey main event
You have to go back almost 10 years to 2014 for the last time the UFC held a numbered event in New Jersey. Also not since 2019 has the organisation brought any mixed martial arts action to the state whatsoever.
With that in mind, you can imagine how much excitement is bubbling for its return, especially when you have a titanic bantamweight clash scheduled in Newark between reigning champion Aljamain Sterling and former two division belt holder Henry Cejudo.
When former Flyweight and Bantamweight Champion and Olympic gold medalist Cejudo - hence his self-assigned "Triple C" moniker - enters the Prudential Centre octagon it will have been almost three years to the day since announcing his retirement in the wake of his victory over Dominick Cruz.
Having previously battled the scales at flyweight, this division feels the natural place for Cejudo to dance as he seeks to cement himself on MMA's Mount Rushmore with a win this weekend.
Current champ Aljamain "Funk Master" Sterling is riding high on an eight-fight win streak, managing two successful title defences since he was anointed the new 135-pound champion in unprecedented circumstances at UFC 259.
Should it be as hotly contested as the bookmakers' 10/11 split suggests, Saturday/Sunday's bout may be the first chapter in the latest rivalry to receive the UFC trilogy treatment.
UFC 288 Sterling vs Cejudo Tips
Neither Cejudo's price shortening from even money to 10/11 nor his long layoff are enough to put us off backing him to achieve bantamweight glory once more.
Triple C is a master technician whose high fight IQ consistently provides a strategy for successfully countering his opponent's attacks and exploiting their weaknesses.
Barring maybe only Demetrious Johnson, Aljamain Sterling offers Cejudo his toughest assignment to date. However, Henry's career has helped evidence a more well-rounded skillset that sees him carry far superior variation to Aljo in two of the three disciplines employed in MMA.
The difference between Cejudo and others' absence is the level of training and coaching activity Triple C has conducted. Cejudo helped Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones prepare for his octagon return, as well as train alongside former-rival-turned-friend Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson.
The latter's comment about Triple C being the most disciplined fighter he's met tells you all you need to know about how severe any ring rust should be here.
If Aljo is to remain Bantamweight Champion, he will have to utilise his three inch height and seven inch reach advantage. That being said, Sterling's striking lacks any real pattern which is simultaneously a benefit and a disadvantage for him.
Given how erratic Aljo is on the feet, Henry is likely to keep this fight in the striking range, and that game plan is undoubtedly the best point of attack. The 36-year-old is the cleaner puncher and manages distance extremely well which will be a crucial tool in his arsenal against the sizeable Aljo.
Aljamain's run hasn't been that impressive for a UFC champion. He has been managing an uphill battle with many fans since assuming the crown from an ill-fated grounded knee disqualification by Petr Yan in a contest he was losing.
Criticism increased after a controversial decision win in the rematch, before facing TJ Dillashaw last time out who should not have been cleared to fight with his frequently dislocated joint.
The PR job on Sterling's shoulders is bound to take its toll eventually. There's a level of overconfidence needed to deflect and silence any doubters when the spotlight is on you, which if he isn't careful could see him underestimating Cejudo's return to the cage.
Endurance could be the key factor in determining the winner. Aljo has had trouble in this area previously, and the increased muscle mass could seriously harm this aspect of his game too. On Triple C's end, he's displayed good energy expenditure at a lower weight class, so pacing himself at Bantamweight should be no real issue.
Aljo's submission game is the most problematic aspect for Cejudo to consider. But the fact that he has never lost by this method displays excellent submission defence.
There's also the unenviable task of getting Cejudo into a compromised position to begin with. You risk playing into his hands when attempting to initiate any grappling exchanges, even in those moments where Aljo will look to employ his "human backpack" back-taking routine.
Laying out the numbers only solidifies this. Sterling initiated seven takedown attempts against both Jimmie Rivera and Pedro Munoz and had 0% success against either - two fighters less endowed than Cejudo in the wrestling department.
Half of Triple C's 16 wins have come via decision, conditioning him to be a real threat for the full distance in championship contests. Expect the same outcome and a new champion come Sunday morning.