The bantamweight title fight between champ Aljamain Sterling and ex-champ Henry Cejudo is now expected to take place at UFC 288 on May 6.
Sterling announced the fight on Monday via his YouTube channel. Multiple people with knowledge of the booking, who wished to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, confirmed to MMA Fighting that verbal agreements are in place for the matchup with contracts expected to be finalized shortly.
“I can’t wait for this matchup, because I think that it’s two guys that won’t back down, and I think the wrestling might cancel each other out – we will see if I’m able to rag-doll him,” Sterling said on Monday. “We’re going to figure it out in the first five minutes, and from there, we’ll figure out if we want to waste a ton of energy grappling, or do we want to put [our fists] to the test and show the world what high-level grapplers can actually do when it comes to striking.
“I know you guys were impressed with [Kamaru] Usman vs. Colby Covington, that was a striker’s delight, and I would not be surprised if this fight is exactly the same. ... Henry, I cannot wait for the challenge, and I know, and I hope, you can’t wait to fight me as well.”
The fight card order for UFC 288 has not been confirmed, and a city and venue for the ESPN+ pay-per-view has yet to be announced. A lightweight bout between ex-champ Charles Oliveira and Beneil Dariush is also expected to take place on the fight card.
Sterling, who at UFC 280 defended the bantamweight title a second time with a win over T.J. Dillashaw, initially was targeted to face Cejudo at UFC 287 on April 8, but the champ’s health threatened to delay the bout. A torn bicep didn’t require surgery for Sterling, but it did require the matchup to be pushed back to early summer. Early this month, he said May was the likely timeframe for facing the former two-division champ, who stepped away from the sport after defending the bantamweight title at UFC 249.
“It’s kind of crazy how everything kind of comes full circle,” Sterling said earlier this month. “After the fight, I knew I had these injuries coming into the fight, before the rematch with [Petr] Yan, then the T.J. [Dillashaw] fight kind of kicked the can down the road. Then I knew [stem cell treatments at] bioXccelerators are going to be very good. I’m very optimistic about that and I think it’s going to get me back to 100 percent so I can compete against a tough competitor like Triple Zero and remind him that he should have stayed retired.”
Cejudo, an Olympic gold medalist wrestler, will return to the octagon just three days from the anniversary of his previous octagon appearance. The 36-year-old fighter then sought bigger paydays in his decision to step away from the sport, but this past year returned to the UFC drug testing pool in anticipation of a comeback.