When Henry Cejudo returns to fight Aljamain Sterling in UFC 288’s main event, the Olympic champion wrestler will compete for the first time since retiring in 2020.
That long layoff is obviously a concern, but fellow UFC bantamweight contender Cory Sandhagen still leans towards Cejudo coming back victorious and reclaiming his 135-pound title.
“It is a little bit tricky but honestly I do have Cejudo winning that fight,” Sandhagen told MMA Fighting ahead of UFC San Antonio. “I think Cejudo’s going to do everything possible not to let Sterling get behind him, and I think that because Cejudo’s been wrestling for most of his life and has accomplishments in the wrestling world, I think he’s definitely skilled enough to keep Aljamain in front of him the whole time.
“I don’t foresee Cejudo trying to take down Aljamain. I think it’s going to be a kickboxing fight with Aljamain still taking a lot of shots but Cejudo keeping him in front of him the whole time. So I kind of have Cejudo in that fight.”
Cejudo, who was also flyweight champion at the time of his retirement, was undefeated at bantamweight before his three-year hiatus, which including a pair of wins in UFC title fights against Marlon Moraes and ex-champion Dominick Cruz.
Meanwhile, Sterling has gone undefeated in his past eight fights in a row, including recent wins over Petr Yan and T.J. Dillashaw. Sterling has also been much more active, having competed four timea since Cejudo’s retirement.
Sandhagen believes time off is probably the biggest concern for Cejudo, especially as he returns for a title fight rather than just facing another contender to get his feet wet again.
“Cejudo has been off for a really long time and I don’t know what he’s been doing in his off time,” Sandhagen said. “I know all of us that are competing right now, are spending all of our time trying to become champion — or in Sterling’s case, stay champ. I don’t think Cejudo’s been in that frame of mind for a couple of years.
“I also think that the size thing [could be a factor]. There’s a reason there are weight classes, and I think that Aljamain is going to be way bigger than Cejudo. But even Aljamain being that much bigger, his biggest threat is going to be his power. It’s not going to be in his ability to wrestle in this one. It’s definitely interesting, but I would probably have Cejudo winning this one.”
As far as Cejudo skipping to the front of the line for an immediate title shot, Sandhagen learned a long time ago that it’s probably not worth getting bent out of shape over something completely out of his control.
Sandhagen admits Cejudo reclaiming the title could end up being problematic, especially with the 36-year-old veteran previously calling for a chance to challenge Alexander Volkanovski for the featherweight title and become a three-division champion. Sandhagen simply hopes a Cejudo win at UFC 288 won’t create too much chaos in the division.
“There are so many variables that can happen in this sport that I don’t really look past the next couple of months even,” Sandhagen said. “Because stuff changes. I do think it’s a little bit weird that they’re doing the title shot for Cejudo considering Cejudo likes to stir the pot a lot, and I think with a win in the division, I think he’s just going to stir the pot a lot and may or may not be what the UFC wants.
“I don’t really know all the political stuff behind all of it, but it did seem like an interesting choice considering there are so many guys that I feel like have a lot of sway or momentum behind them. It kind of feels like a weird move, but whatever. I hope Cejudo does well and I hope he doesn’t try to stir the pot if he wins.”