Sterling retained the belt against Cejudo in the main event of UFC 288, winning via split decision (47-48, 48-47, 48-47) to set up a defence against rising star Sean O’Malley later this year.
Cejudo, 36, retired from mixed martial arts in 2020, moments after retaining the UFC bantamweight title. The American had previously held flyweight gold alongside the bantamweight strap, making him one of just four dual-weight champions in UFC history.
Cejudo also has an Olympic gold medal in wrestling to his name, and those skills were on display in both an offensive and defensive capacity on Saturday. Cejudo defended numerous takedown attempts from Sterling, 33, and also took down the Jamaican-American in their main-event clash in New Jersey.
However, submission specialist Sterling also showed off his grappling prowess throughout, and the champion landed the cleaner strikes across five rounds.
Sterling’s performance was enough for a third straight successful title defence, following a decision win against Petr Yan and TKO victory over TJ Dillashaw last year. Both men are former UFC champions.
After beating Cejudo, Sterling faced off with O’Malley, with security forced to separate the latter and Sterling’s teammate Merab Dvalishvili – the UFC’s No 1-ranked bantamweight – who was sporting “Suga Sean”’s jacket.
In the co-main event of UFC 288, Belal Muhammad set up a welterweight title shot by outpointing an injured Gilbert Burns.
American Muhammad beat the Brazilian, who was battling a shoulder injury, on all three judges’ scorecards (50-45, 49-46, 49-46).
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