Newark, New Jersey — In a hotly contested matchup that went to the scorecards, UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling defeated Henry Cejudo by split decisions 47-48, 48-47, and 48-47 in the main event of UFC 288 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. For Sterling, a native of Long Island of Jamaican descent, it was probably his domination of Cejudo at the end of the first round that seemed to be the margin of victory. All three judges gave the first round to the champion.

Sterling, who successfully defended his title for the third time, discussed the win with the media after the match, and discussed the strategic battle outside the Octagon between the two combatants.

“The guy is freaking smart,” Sterling expressed of his fallen foe. “I don’t think a lot of people could even appreciate what was going on in the middle of that Octagon. Both of us, making adjustments to each other’s adjustments. It was a high-level, physical chess match and thankfully, I think I came out just a little bit better.”

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When asked if he thought he earned the victory as it went to the scorecards, Sterling, who has now won nine in a row, had a positive mindset.

“I definitely feel like I won that (match) 3-2,” he said. “Close fight, but I definitely thought I won and edged it out, in my personal opinion.”

What’s next for Sterling? A showdown with Sean O’Malley in Boston, which was confirmed as the future target by Dana White when he spoke to the media after the event.

“My thoughts on Sean O’Malley is that [expletive] is frail, frail,” Sterling exclaimed. “Frail. If I can take down a short, stocky guy like Henry, who is a gold medalist and has good takedown defense, what am I going to do to Sean O’Malley? Let’s be honest here, guys.

Yeah, he been promised a title shot. He opted not to take the title shot and gave Henry a chance to come back and chase history. I beat Henry and now there is no more running.

You either want to swim with the big boys or you don’t. If you don’t, get the [expletive] out of the pool and go up a weight class or some [stuff]. Don’t keep sitting around here talking and barking and not saddling up and taking the opportunities that are given.”

With three UFC events in the New York/New Jersey area since August 2022, a return to the New York and/or New Jersey area, outside the annual card at Madison Square Garden, seems possible. The Amsterdam News asked UFC President Dana White about that. White said he plans to host a card in Atlantic City, New Jersey, later this year.

In the co-main, Belal Muhammad, a Muslim who accepted the fight while fasting during Ramadan, defeated Gilbert Burns, winning 13 of the 15 rounds on the three scorecards.

White said the winner would get a title shot, with Leon Edwards currently holding the UFC lightweight championship after defeating Kamaru Usman twice.

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