The UFC is bringing a stacked event to Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, this weekend. Six of the fights on the card feature at least one ranked athlete set to make the walk to combat sports’ greatest proving ground.
With so many ranked athletes competing at UFC 288: Sterling vs Cejudo, there is going to be some big changes to the rankings when they are released next week. Here’s a preview of what that might look like.
(C) Aljamain Sterling vs Henry Cejudo
Upside With Win: Huge. It’s a massive legacy fight for Sterling. Beating Cejudo would give Sterling the most wins in UFC bantamweight division history (currently at 13) and break the record for the most consecutive title defenses in bantamweight history.
Downside With Loss: Minimal. He’ll lose the title, but he can make an argument for an immediate rematch, or he can face Sean O’Malley to get back to a title shot.
Upside With Win: Big. Coming back to competition after nearly three years away to reclaim the belt he vacated would be proof that Cejudo truly is one of the best to ever do it. To walk away at the top, come back after the landscape has completely changed, and reclaim your spot at the top is undeniably impressive.
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Downside With Loss: Modest. Sure, Cejudo would have liked to punctuate his comeback to action by reclaiming his throne, but he's still in a great place. There are nothing but big fights in the bantamweight division's Top 10 and a ton of new contenders he didn't get to face on his initial rise up. Cejudo could also determine that going back into retirement is the right call.
No. 4 Belal Muhammad vs No. 5 Gilbert Burns
Upside With Win: Big. Figuring out which man will face welterweight champion Leon Edwards has been a hot topic of discussion. A short notice step-up win over Burns could be exactly what Muhammad needs to get that chance.
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Downside With Loss: Huge. Muhammad enters this fight with significant momentum, as he’s unbeaten in his last nine UFC fights. Losing this one to Burns would likely reset Muhammad’s title run hopes and force him to be a couple fights away from a title shot.
Upside With Win: Big. Burns is in the same situation as Muhammad. He’s coming off two wins already this year (Neil Magny and Jorge Masvidal) and adding a third before the year’s half-way mark puts him in a strong spot to face Leon Edwards later this year.
Downside With Loss: Huge. Losing to Muhammad in this high-stakes fight could push Burns out of the title picture for the time being.
No. 4 Jessica Andrade vs No. 6 Xiaonan Yan
Upside With Win: Modest. Although Andrade came up short in her last appearance, that contest versus Erin Blanchfield was at flyweight, so the former strawweight champ is looking to continue her climb back this weekend. Andrade’s only losses at strawweight have come to champions, and an emphatic win could line her up for a rematch with Zhang Weili later this year.
Downside With Loss: Modest. Dropping this contest to Yan would put Andrade outside the strawweight top 5 for the first time in recent memory.
Upside With Win: Modest. Defeating Andrade is a massive accomplishment, and if Yan can make it happen at UFC 288, she could be one more fight away from punching her ticket to a title shot.
Downside With Loss: Modest. It felt like Yan’s win over Mackenzie Dern last fall was a breakout performance. Losing to Andrade would keep her outside the top five and put a halt to her rise.
No. 10 Movsar Evloev vs Diego Lopes
Upside With Win: Minimal. It’s hard not to feel for Evloev here. Originally slated for two different ranked opponents, Evloev is now facing an unranked fighter making his UFC debut. It’s a big risk but it was clear that Evloev felt that competing at UFC 288 was the only option.
Downside With Loss: Huge. This fight is all risk-no reward for Evloev. Losing to an unranked fighter making his UFC debut is a tough look, especially for an undefeated contender like Evloev.
Upside With Win: Huge. Nothing but good things can come from this fight for Lopes. Getting to make your UFC debut on a big PPV card against an undefeated ranked contender? Big opportunity here.
Downside With Loss: Minimal. If Lopes comes out and leaves it all in the Octagon, he has nothing to lose. Make the most of the opportunity and get your foot in the door.
No. 14 Drew Dober vs Matt Frevola
Upside With Win: Modest. Putting together a four-fight win streak in the lightweight division usually means good things are on the way. By beating Frevola, Dober can put himself in a great position for a co-main or main event spot versus a big name.
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Downside With Loss: Modest. Dropping out of the Top 15 after putting together such a stellar 2022 would be tough for Dober, but the truth is that his stock will always be high thanks to his fighting style. He’s a fan favorite for good reason.
Upside With Win: Modest. A win over Dober securely puts Frevola in the lightweight Top 15 and sets him up for some great fights moving forward.
Downside With Loss: Minimal. Dober has faced some of the best the lightweight division has had to offer, including the current champ, Islam Makhachev, so there would be no shame in coming up short against Dober. Frevola would likely find himself a fight or two away from climbing back into the Top 15 with a defeat.
No. 5 Marina Rodriguez vs No. 8 Virna Jandiroba
Upside With Win: Modest. Rodriguez is in a race to the top alongside fellow UFC 288 combatants Andrade and Yan. A standout win could move her up a couple notches (not in ranking but in pecking order) as she waits to see what strawweight champion Zhang Weili would like to do next. Wins by Rodriguez and Andrade could also set up a title eliminator between the two.
Downside With Loss: Big. Losing to Jandiroba would force Rodriguez outside the Top 5 and out of the title picture.
Upside With Win: Big. Jandiroba’s climb has been slow and steady, but she’s bounced back in big ways. Beating Rodriguez would signal that she’s ready for the best the strawweight has to offer and she’d be ranked in a way that shows that.
Downside With Loss: Minimal. A loss doesn’t put Jandiroba far off from where she wants to be. There are plenty of intriguing strawweight fights for her in the future and she can make her way back to this spot with a few wins.
UFC 288: Sterling vs Cejudo took place live from the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on May 6, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass