Mark RaimondiESPN staff writer3 minutes of reading
Newark, NJ — Aljamaine Sterling won his title fight and then another nearly exploded in the Octagon.
Sterling defeated Henry Cejuto by split decision (47-48, 48-47, 48-47) in the main event of UFC 288 on Saturday night at the Prudential Center. With the close victory, Sterling retained his UFC bantamweight title.
After the fight, the UFC brought Sterling’s next challenger, Sean O’Malley, into the Octagon. Sterling and O’Malley began attacking each other over the microphone, which was held by interviewer Joe Rogan. O’Malley said he fought Sterling like “s—” and that if he was going to beat him, he had to “fight better than that.”
“I’ll drag your ass up and down the octagon,” Sterling replied to O’Malley. “Get your ass out of my cage.”
O’Malley then climbed into the Octagon to play to the crowd, but it was in Sterling’s corner. O’Malley and Sterling’s teammates got into a verbal altercation and separated. UFC president Dana White was among those who stopped him. Sterling then got involved, but the fight was quickly subdued. Sterling said he wants to fight O’Malley in September.
Meanwhile, Cejudo, fighting for the first time after three years of retirement, said in his post-match interview that this could be his final fight.
“I’m a little confused right now,” Cejudo said. “If I’m not first, I’m last.”
The fight itself was very close. Sterling was able to cancel out Cejudo’s wrestling for the majority of the fight, a former Olympic gold medalist. The grappling was mostly a stalemate and while neither had a ton on the leg, there were moments on the leg. Cejuto was suffering from a cut under his right eye midway through the match.
“Persistence is going to continue to shine through, and that’s what we did,” Sterling said. … “Look at my face and look at his, and you’ll see who’s landed the hardest strikes.”
ESPN ranked him No. 9 in its pound-for-pound MMA rankings. Cejudo topped that list before stepping down from the Octagon in 2020.
Sterling (23-3) has won nine straight fights. The Long Island, New York native now has three successful title defenses at bantamweight after winning the title via DQ from Petr Yan at UFC 259 in March 2021. The 33-year-old Sterling has the most wins (14) and the longest active winning streak (9) in UFC bantamweight history.
Cejudo (16-3) was on a six-fight winning streak before retiring. The California-born fighter, who lives in Arizona, ended Demetrius Johnson’s record-setting reign in the UFC flyweight division in 2018 and then, 10 months later, won the vacant bantamweight belt. Cejudo, 36, is one of four fighters in the UFC to hold two divisional titles simultaneously.