The UFC returns to pay-per-view with a banger of a main event that will see Aljamain Sterling defend his bantamweight title against Henry Cejudo.
The reigning champion takes on the two-weight world champ who never lost his belts as he returns to the octagon for the first time in three years.
We’ll also see a welterweight title eliminator in the co-main event as Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns go head-to-head in a five-round fight on just two weeks’ notice.
Last time out at UFC Vegas 72 we got the main card pick wrong, but our last full card predictions went well at UFC 287 as we went 8/12 with three perfect picks to move to 866/1339 (64.68%) with 355 perfect picks (40.99%). You can see our full picks history here.
We’ll look to improve on that here and after starting with the early prelims and then moving on to the rest of the prelim picks, we make our main card picks here.
Kron Gracie (5-1) vs Charles Jourdain (13-6-1) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A very intriguing and fun fight opens the main card. Kron Gracie makes his return to the octagon for the first time in over three years, following a one-sided loss to Cub Swanson back in 2019. Jourdain has lost his last two in a row against Nathaniel Wood and Shane Burgos, but had won the two prior to that against Andre Ewell and Lando Vannata.
Gracie will live up to the legendary name, with a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and some okay striking to his name too. Jourdain is a super-active volume striker with some good knees and great grappling too. But there’s no doubt about who the better grappler and submission artist is here, which gives Jourdain a simple game plan to follow.
“Air” needs to stay patient and use his superior striking to cause damage while staying alert to any potential takedown attempts. Gracie will have to shoot at some point despite his poor wrestling skills, and if Jourdain isn’t wild like he usually is then that will be hard to do. Expect Jourdain to be a bit more relaxed and less crazy than normal to land plenty of big strikes and take the win on the cards.
PICK – Charles Jourdain via Decision
Movsar Evloev (16-0) vs Diego Lopes (20-5) – (Featherweight/145lbs)
A short-notice bout at featherweight up next. Evloev comes into the fight as a 16-0 phenom, with his most recent win coming via decision against Dan Ige. Diego Lopes steps in on just five days’ notice on a two-fight win streak with two knockouts.
Evloev is a tremendous wrestler with fantastic skills and solid striking to go with it, but he also almost always plays safe and puts position before submission/knockouts. Lopes has claimed 18 finishes from his 20 career wins with 11 submissions, but he also has great power too with seven knockouts. He’s very well-rounded and has got plenty of experience despite having never been in the UFC before.
But fighting Evloev on five days’ notice would be difficult even for Alexander Volkanovski, never mind Lopes. As good as Lopes is with his skills, Evloev is just one of the very best in the world and has the skillset to nullify him and claim yet another decision win for his record.
PICK – Movsar Evloev via Decision
Jessica Andrade (24-10) vs Yan Xiaonan (16-3) – (Strawweight/115lbs)
A banger with potential title implications at 115-pounds up next. Andrade saw a three-fight win streak snapped by the terrifying Erin Blanchfield up at flyweight most recently, while Yan snapped a two-fight losing streak to claim a decision win over Mackenzie Dern in her last bout back in October 2022.
Andrade is one of the most complete female athletes in MMA with insane power for her size and a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt to go with it. Yan is a fantastic kickboxer with some really good distance management and defensive wrestling skills too. This is power against technique, and either woman can win on their day.
But this pick has to be made based on both women turning up at their best, and I think there aren’t many women who beat Andrade when she’s really on. She’s so powerful with her striking, her cardio never lets her down and she has a ground game too if Yan gets the better of her in the striking. It will be close and entertaining, but Andrade should be able to do enough to claim the decision.
PICK – Jessica Andrade via Decision
Belal Muhammad (22-3) vs Gilbert Burns (22-5) – (Welterweight/170lbs)
Absolute banger in the co-main event and it’s five rounds. Muhammad is undefeated in his last nine fights, with four wins either side of a no contest against current champion Leon Edwards. Most recently he earned a stunning knockout win over Sean Brady. Burns on the other hand bounced back from a decision loss to Khamzat Chimaev with two dominant wins this year against Neil Magny and Jorge Masvidal. This is his third fight in the space of a four months.
Muhammad is a cardio machine with excellent wrestling and a really grinding style, where his pressure makes most people crumble. He has developed his striking recently too, as shown with the knockout win over Brady. Burns on the other hand is a specimen with a fantastic ability everywhere the fight goes. He has great power and some solid boxing skills, as well as terrific offensive wrestling and some of the best jiu-jitsu in the entire organisation.
This fight is going to be high-paced and could go anywhere. But there are more avenues to victory for Burns in this fight in my eyes. He will be comfortable on top or on bottom position with his jiu-jitsu, and on the striking he is more powerful and will be comfortable trading shots. I don’t see a finish from either guy because they’re both so good, but I think Burns will be able to get it done.
PICK – Gilbert Burns via Decision
Aljamain Sterling (22-3) vs Henry Cejudo (16-2) – (Bantamweight/135lbs)
An amazing title fight headlines this card at UFC 288. Sterling comes into the bout on an eight-fight win streak including two title defences, with a dominant TKO win over TJ Dillashaw most recently. Cejudo’s last fight came in 2020 when he KO’d Dominick Cruz before retiring, which took his win streak to six in a row with three straight finishes.
Sterling is a strong wrestler with unorthodox striking, but it’s his phenomenal jiu-jitsu skills that separate him from most of the division. Cejudo is an Olympic gold medalist in wrestling, but he is also a former Golden Gloves competitor in boxing with good power and speed. He’s also got solid low kicks to go with that. This is going to be a chess match, because both guys want the takedown but want to be in top position to be safe from the opponent’s strengths.
Both of these guys are fairly large for the weight class and are unlikely to stick around in the division for much longer, but this will be tougher for Sterling because of the variety of attack that Cejudo has. With his wrestling advantages it makes life difficult for Sterling to get the fight where he wants it, and with his power and excellent cardio Cejudo will build up to a strong finish before pouring it on late on to claim back the belt he never lost.
PICK – Henry Cejudo via Decision