Best bets for UFC 288: Sterling vs. Cejudo

By Lou Finocchiaro and Reed Kuhn  ( 

May 3, 2023 02:15 PM


UFC 288: Sterling vs. Cejudo kicks of Saturday from Newark, NJ, with early prelims at 6 p.m. ET, prelims at 8 p.m. ET, and then the main slate at 10 p.m. ET. 

An arena full of east coast fight fans, a large octagon and fighting talent from China to Peru will entertain us Saturday with every expression of fighting skill and acumen.

Since Aljamain Sterling opened as a mild favorite over Henry Cejudo, markets have driven the price to a pick ‘em. And the stats agree. We have two similarly high-performing former wrestlers, who have balanced their ground games with dangerous standup striking.


Aljamain Sterling (champion) -105 vs. Henry Cejudo -115

Bantamweight (135 pounds) Championship | Main Event


Finocchiaro: We last saw Hanry Cejudo fight in 2020. He had finished Dom Cruz before he walked off into retirement as a two-division champion and Olympic gold medalist. The 36-year-old Cejudo returns, bringing with him the world-class wrestling pedigree that he and only a few others possess.

The handicap regarding Cejudo revolves around the fact that he really made his mark in the UFC as a flyweight (125 pounds) athlete. He moved up to bantamweight late in his career for two bouts, one against Marlon Moraes in 2019 which was about the time that Moraes lost his ability to take a punch, and then his last bout against a Dom Cruz who was clearly on the other side of his most effective fighting. Cejudo has been retired, but his head has been in the game as he runs Scottsdale’s Fight Ready fight club. He’s been actively training and mentoring fighters so he’s really been in the culture since he left active fighting.

In the champion Sterling, we get a product of the Longo/Serra fight team in Long Island, NY who also trains with XTreme Couture’s Eric Nicksick in Las Vegas. Sterling holds a sturdy DII wrestling background, a black belt in BJJ, and he trains with Merab “The Machine” Dvalishvili, who is his best friend and legitimately the most legitimate threat to the Bantamweight title in the division. The fact that they’ll never fight is for another discussion.

Once the bell rings we’ll learn a lot. Being 36 is aged for the lower weight classes when fleet-footedness, strike evasion and cardio are differentiating weaponry. Cejudo‘s tactics will be interesting to monitor, He’ll have to overcome his time away, as well as an opponent three years younger and three inches taller with seven inches of arm reach advantage.

Most importantly, Cejudo’s going to have to show me how he’ll overcome the extensive damage that private jets, silk sheets and notoriety impart on any championship-fighting athlete! Meanwhile, Sterling is a maturing athlete. His future may be an evolution into the featherweight (145 pounds) division which is important when analyzing this bout. 

In summary, we have an athlete in Cejudo who is aging and stepping up in weight class to fight a larger, taller, younger man who’s legitimately able to complete at 145 pounds.

Sterling opened -150 for this championship defense. I handicap Sterling as a legitimate favorite in this bout, so to be able to invest in him at this greatly reduced price is a buy!

Total in this fight: 4.5 Rds. Over -160

Pick: Sterling -105 or better

Patience may pay off with a little better price should Cejudo money continue to arrive.


Reed Kuhn: Will this be a classic case of two wrestlers canceling each other and deciding to stand and trade for five rounds? Maybe, and I wouldn’t mind it.

Though each has been successful on the mat in the past, Sterling has utilized far more submissions and back control time than Cejudo’s more conservative top game. The grappling matchup is a stylistic contrast, and it’s hard to predict who will get control first. On paper at least, Sterling’s higher transition rate and longer control time could make the difference in scrambles. And Cejudo’s takedown defense is excellent, but probably not tested by Sterling’s level of talent, nor his arm length.

Sterling’s monstrous seven-inch reach advantage will be unusual for Cejudo, who spent most of his career down one more weight class. That range could assist in wrestling, and it could also empower Sterling’s high-volume, long-range attacks. Cejudo has always been a short-range boxer, so he’ll be forced into an uphill battle. All that and Cejudo is emerging from a long layoff. There’s enough to believe Sterling has value as a slight underdog.

Pick: Lean Sterling at even or plus money.


Drew Dober -200 vs. Matt Frevola +175

Lightweight (155 pounds)

Finocchiaro:  This fight features two game, gritty, determined power strikers, each with wrestling ability and each with absolutely no intention of employing it.

Matt “The Steamrolla” Frevola is going to be fighting in his backyard, for he, like Sterling, is a Serra/Longo family member. Frevola is long on grit, toughness, determination and game but perhaps shy on quickness, zip, strike evasion and precision.

In Drew Dober, we have a legitimate top-ten lightweight talent though he is ranked fourteen. He’s the more polished mixed martial artist, though he’ll be giving up a little size, reach and age to “The Steamrolla.”

Once this bout begins, I look for immediate action but rather than the two combatants standing flat-footed and exchanging hooks, I believe Dober’s ability to move and manipulate the space in that larger cage will create the angles he needs to offer combinations to “The Steamrolla” as he makes his way in to exchange.

Frevola is an exciting fight talent, but he is stepping up in class against a guy that has acute fighting skill, speed and experience advantages over him as Dober has been in with the elite of this division.

Dober opened -330 for this bout, but and money has come for Frevola, which I comprehensively disagree with.

Total in this Fight: 1.5 Rds. Over -135

Pick: Dober -200 is a great price as I handicap this bout closer to the opening line. That said, “Dober to win by any knockout, submission or DQ -120,” as DraftKings states it, is another value approach to consider.


Kennedy Nzechukwu -190 vs. Devin Clark +160

Light Heavyweight (205 pounds)


Kuhn: In the Light Heavyweight division, if a grappler can’t get a striker to the ground, the fight won’t last as long as it could in smaller divisions. And that will be the basic dynamic here between Clark’s eager wrestling and the more dangerous striking of Nzechukwu.

And once again, we have a massive size difference. Nzechukwu is five inches taller with a historically-rare eight-inch reach advantage in this matchup—handy in a fight that should see Clark coming forward frequently. Combined with his reach, Nzechukwu also has highly precise power striking, making for a serious risk against Clark who has suffered four prior knockdowns.

Size matters in a weight-controlled sport, and that makes Nzechukwu a safer play with a clear path to victory on the feet.

Kuhn: Nzechukwu to win.

Tune in to the ‘Bout Business Podcast on Friday midday across all podcast platforms. All Lou Finocchiaro's final UFC 288 releases can be accessed there, after the completed weigh-ins.

Thank you for reading. Enjoy the fights!

back to news

Live On Air

Streaming Now: The Lombardi Line

play Watch Live radio Listen Live


Kelley Bydlon: Nuggets (-8) vs Heat. View more picks.


A Numbers Game: If looking at betting series prices for the NBA Finals, consider Nikola Jokic in the NBA Finals MVP market. You’ll get a cheaper price betting on him and a good chance if DEN wins, he’ll win the award. View more tips.