The recent UFC 288 event may not have garnered the attention of a blockbuster card, but it undeniably left a lasting impact on the MMA world. This night of intense competition showcased the bantamweight division’s ferocity as Aljamain Sterling, the reigning champion, put his title on the line against the formidable former champion, Henry Cejudo.
The high-stakes clash between these two exceptional fighters culminated in a riveting split-decision victory for Sterling, solidifying his position as the division’s top dog. While the event may have flown under the radar for some, its significance cannot be understated, as it set the stage for a thrilling future in the UFC.
Let’s delve into the intricacies of UFC 288 and explore the potential future fights that await the stars who shone brightly that night.
Bantamweight Showdown: Aljamain Sterling vs. Sean O’Malley
After Aljamain Sterling’s victory over Henry Cejudo at UFC 288, it is clear that his next opponent should be the No. 2-ranked contender, Sean O’Malley. O’Malley, who gained prominence with his thrilling decision win over former champion Petr Yan, joined Sterling in the Octagon after the main event. The UFC allowing O’Malley into the cage almost guarantees him a shot at Sterling’s title, and it’s a logical choice.
O’Malley is not only a top contender but also one of the division’s most popular fighters, ensuring a lucrative matchup. With no other viable options available, this fight is the perfect next step for both fighters. UFC betting odds enthusiasts are eagerly anticipating the clash between Sterling and O’Malley, as it promises to be an electrifying showdown in the bantamweight division.
Cejudo’s Future: Henry Cejudo vs. Brandon Moreno
Although it remains uncertain if Henry Cejudo will continue fighting after his loss to Aljamain Sterling at UFC 288, a potential matchup against flyweight champion Brandon Moreno presents an interesting possibility. Despite their complicated history as former training partners, Cejudo and Moreno have unresolved issues stemming from their time together on The Ultimate Fighter and subsequent training camps.
After UFC 288, Moreno called out Cejudo, proposing a grudge match in Mexico, his country of birth. This fight would be a significant spectacle, featuring two of the best pound-for-pound fighters in recent years. While Moreno has a flyweight title fight scheduled against Alexandre Pantoja, a bantamweight clash with Cejudo could be the ultimate showdown for these rivals.
Welterweight Drama: Leon Edwards vs. Belal Muhammad
Amidst talk of a welterweight title fight between champion Leon Edwards and Colby Covington, UFC 288 provided a different perspective. Belal Muhammad’s victory over former title challenger Gilbert Burns should reshape the welterweight division’s future. Muhammad, with an impressive nine-fight winning streak, surpasses Covington’s recent performance, making him a deserving contender.
Additionally, Muhammad and Edwards have unfinished business after their previous matchup ended in a no-contest due to an accidental eye poke. While this fight may lack the promotional hype often seen in title fights, the rankings indicate that it’s the most logical bout to make in the division.
Strawweight Clash: Zhang Weili vs. Yan Xiaonan
China’s Yan Xiaonan surprised many with her victory over former strawweight champion Jéssica Andrade at UFC 288. This win, coupled with her decision win over Mackenzie Dern, positions her as a deserving contender for the strawweight title. Zhang Weili, also from China, currently holds the championship belt, making a showdown between the two an enticing proposition.
UFC President Dana White has even hinted at the possibility of holding the fight in their homeland, which would add an extra layer of significance to this matchup.
Featherweight Showcase: Movsar Evloev vs. Bryce Mitchell
In a surprising turn of events, Movsar Evloev found himself accepting a last-minute matchup against debutant Diego Lopes at UFC 288 after Bryce Mitchell suffered an injury. Many initially anticipated an easy victory for Evloev, considering Lopes’ lack of experience at the UFC level. However, the fight proved to be far from a walk in the park for Evloev, as Lopes displayed incredible resilience and skill inside the Octagon. Ultimately, Evloev managed to secure a hard-fought unanimous decision victory, but the contest shed light on Lopes as a promising emerging talent in the division.
While the bout did not necessarily enhance Evloev’s standing within the division, it highlighted the need for the rescheduling of the Evloev vs. Mitchell matchup. Rescheduling this fight seems like the logical next step, as it would provide Evloev with an opportunity to reaffirm his position as a future contender in the division.
Moreover, the matchup against Mitchell holds particular significance due to the latter’s reputation for his exceptional ground game, which poses a formidable test for the Russian fighter. By stepping back into the Octagon against Mitchell, Evloev would have the chance to prove himself against a respected opponent and potentially secure a statement victory that solidifies his standing among the division’s elite fighters.
UFC 288 set the stage for potential thrilling fights in various weight classes. Aljamain Sterling’s next challenge should come from the popular Sean O’Malley in the bantamweight division. Henry Cejudo’s future in the octagon is uncertain, but a grudge match against flyweight champion Brandon Moreno could be a monumental event. In the welterweight division, Belal Muhammad’s victory over Gilbert Burns makes him a more compelling contender than Colby Covington for Leon Edwards’ title.
The strawweight division could witness a clash between China’s Zhang Weili and Yan Xiaonan, while Movsar Evloev should face Bryce Mitchell in the featherweight division to solidify his contender status. UFC 288 may not have been a standout card, but it certainly left fans eagerly anticipating these potential matchups.