UFC 288: Five Things We Learned
UFC 288 was a unique event that leaves a lot to recap. The card featured a razor-close main event, an injury-ridden co-main event, multiple bouts with title implications, and eyebrow-raising performances. Out of all the action, let’s look at five things we learned during the event.
Aljamain Sterling has reached a new level
At UFC 288, Aljamain Sterling won a close split decision against Henry Cejudo to defend the UFC bantamweight title.
Sterling has looked great in previous performances, but he reached a new height at UFC 288. More importantly, he peaked at the best time and would not have beaten Cejudo if he didn’t.
The most impressive growth in Sterling’s game was his cardio. Sterling went five rounds with one of the best fighters on the planet a looked great in the championship rounds. That is a massive improvement in comparison to previous championship bouts.
On top of that, he needed to enforce an energy taxing gameplan to secure this win. Sterling stayed on the outside and poked at Cejudo with a ton of kicks while mixing in solid punches and takedown attempts. That’s not easy to do for five rounds.
Aside from skills, this win pushed Sterling to another level in terms of legacy. It is not common for a champion to have an opportunity to defend the belt against a former two-division champion. Not only did Sterling get that opportunity, he took advantage of it.
Now, his name will be held in a much higher regard.
Belal Muhammad will fight for the welterweight title next
The co-main event of UFC 288 was a dud. Belal Muhammad earned a decisive decision victory over Gilbert Burns. Burns hurt his shoulder early in the fight which forced him to fight without his left hand — not ideal for a fight against a top-5 opponent — but Muhammad was still able to get the job done nonetheless.
Despite this fight being underwhelming, it still earned Muhammad a title shot. Prior to UFC 288, Dana White announced that the winner between Muhammad and Burns would get a title shot. Colby Covington is still next in line to get a crack at UFC welterweight champion Leon Edwards. That puts Muhammad in line to fight the winner.
Yan Xiaonan is making a case for a title fight
At UFC 288, Yan Xianonan picked up the biggest win of her career as she picked up a first-round knockout against Jessica Andrade.
Xiaonan fought a perfect fight against Andrade. Most importantly, she was able to stay on the outside and avoid the massive hook of Andrade, eventually countering with a straight that ended the fight.
The UFC women’s strawweight division is now in an interesting spot. Current champion Weili Zhang has not fought since UFC 281 which took place in November 2022. In theory, her next fight should happen relatively soon.
Xiaonan’s impressive performance against Andrade could put her in a spot to be the challenger. Amanda Lemos did the same at UFC Vegas 64, putting Xiaonan and Lemos in a deadlock for who will become the next title challenger. It will be interesting to see who the UFC opts to reward with a title shot.
Diego Lopes deserves to be a UFC fighter
At UFC 288, Diego Lopes stepped in on short notice to fight Mosvar Evloev. No, he was not able to get the victory, but he made a great account of himself.
Lopes was up against the ropes at UFC 288. He took this fight on short notice, was making his UFC debut, and was fighting Evloev who is currently ranked inside the featherweight top 10 and has championship potential. In theory, Evloev should have quickly finished this fight. That is not what happened though. Not only did Lopes make it all three rounds with Evloev, but he also had some great moments. Lopes landed a few shots on the feet that hurt Evloev and he nearly finished the fight with several different submissions.
I am not sure what the future will hold for Lopes. This story has played out on several occasions. It has gone good a few times and bad other times — either way, Lopes showed that he deserves a chance to be fighting in the UFC.
Kron Gracie did not improve during his layoff
At UFC 288, Charles Jourdain earned a decision win over Kron Gracie. Yes, it was a solid performance from Jourdain, but Gracie’s lack of skill was concerning. The fight itself is relatively simple to recap: Gracie attempted to pull guard and work his BJJ from his back.
The problem is that he was unable to get a submission; it did not help that he did not have the wrestling to control the top position or the striking to compete on the feet. So, it ended up being a bad fight for Gracie as he got beat up on the feet for most of the fight.
I was hoping Gracie would have made some improvements during his four-year layoff. That was not the case. If anything, we learned there may have been some regression in his skill set.
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