Although its card may be shy of a blockbusting fight that shifts PPV units, UFC 288 could still deliver at least two intriguing narratives. Charles Oliveira returns to the Octagon against Beneil Dariush, and he will be seeking redemption after a hurtful loss to Islam Makhachev last time out that ultimately cost him the lightweight championship.
The headline bout will see the long-awaited return of Henry Cejudo, the former bantamweight king who surprisingly retired at the age of 33 in 2020.
Any notion that Cejudo would shake off the ring rust with a simple assignment was quickly dispelled when he accepted a fight with current bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling, the New Yorker who is currently in the midst of a five-year unbeaten streak.
“I will bring war to you.”
Triple C believes he already has the playbook to defeat the bantamweight champ 📖 #UFC288
(via @dc_mma) pic.twitter.com/RIAzOygSjf
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) March 23, 2023
If Sterling can defeat Cejudo, he will record his 14th victory in the 135lb division – making him the winning-most bantamweight in the history of the UFC. But Cejudo is no forlorn hope given his pedigree, with those who bet on UFC able to secure odds of even money on the now 36-year-old. Sterling is the fractional favorite at -125.
Despite a three-year absence from the sport, Cejudo’s record speaks for itself – he’s the first-ever athlete to win an Olympic gold medal and a UFC title and was the second to successfully defend titles in two weight divisions simultaneously. If he returns in good shape, and all the signs are that he’s been hitting the gym hard, Cejudo will likely out-grapple Sterling, who it should be said is no slouch on the mat.
But can you go from three-year retirement to UFC champion with no intermediary fight? That seems like a tremendously tall order…
Back to Business
Oliveira’s eleven-fight unbeaten streak came to an end when he was forced to tap out against Makhachev at UFC 280 last October.
The hunter had become the hunted. Oliveira has recorded more submission wins in the UFC than any other fighter – as you would expect from a 3rd-degree black belt holder in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
A rematch with the Russian in the near future will be high on the agenda, but first Oliveira must overcome Dariush at UFC 288 – will he be bearing the scars of a first loss in five years?
The Brazilian has spoken respectfully about Makhachev following their first scrap and would love a chance of redemption, although an elimination bout with Justin Gaethje – who impressively took out Rafael Fiziev at UFC 286 – may have to be negotiated first.
👊 @Justin_Gaethje said he’s ready for one more run at the title!
Who do you match him up with next? 🤔 #UFC286 pic.twitter.com/4Vpd9NsPGo
— UFC (@ufc) March 19, 2023
Oliveira will need to bring his A-game against Dariush too. The Iranian-American isn’t as brash or as outspoken as many of his contemporaries but has compiled an impressive resumé of eight straight victories – his victims include former lightweight star, Tony Ferguson.
Dariush’s last three wins have all come via decision, however, and it seems highly unlikely he will be able to keep Oliveira subdued on the mat for long – the Brazilian’s road to redemption should be smooth enough in New Jersey.
That would hopefully – in the minds of many fight fans – lead to a rematch with Makhachev perhaps at the end of the year.
Leave A Comment