UFC 288: Aljamain Sterling Initially Thought Cejudo Match-Up Was a Joke

Newark, NJ — Bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling will face one of just four fighters in UFC history to have held two belts simultaneously when he takes on Henry Cejudo at UFC 288 this Saturday in Newark.

Sterling (22-3) didn’t actually buy into the match-up with Cejudo, who retired in 2020, when it was initially brought up, however.

“In the beginning I thought it was a joke, because he’s been sitting on the sidelines, he’s been making Youtube videos, and just criticizing everybody after he quit and took himself out of the competition,” Sterling told media outlets including Cageside Press during Wednesday’s media day.

It was no joke, however. After teasing his return for what seemed like years, and chasing a fight with Alexander Volkanovski at featherweight that has yet to materialize, Cejudo pulled the trigger on a comeback.

“I respect everything that he’s done, but once it became real, when he put himself back in the testing pool, then it was something I could actually entertain,” said Sterling. “And then the UFC offered it. When I went to go meet with them, I thought it was a joke, I didn’t think he was actually coming back, but they said he was and I accepted the challenge right then and there.”

Sterling’s response to the offer, once he realized it was legitimate, was simple. “If you guys think this is a big enough fight and it’s going to draw the most eyes for me, then I’m in.”

“I’m here to do good business, and that’s what it’s all about. It’s a good challenge. I think I have my hands full, but I think the work that we did [in training camp] should be more than enough to put this guy back into retirement,” exclaimed Sterling. “I really do think so.”

UFC 288 will mark a major first for Aljamain Sterling: while Aljo has been with the promotion since 2014, the card represents his first time headlining a UFC event. His three previous title fights all came under other championship bouts, but this Saturday, it’s his name atop the marquee.

“I dream, I work, reality. And that’s what this feels like, it feels like dreams coming to reality. Something I’ve thought about for a very very long time. I never really cared about the main event spot until I seen it like this,” Sterling said on that front. “I’m like ‘well that’s actually pretty damn cool.’ So it does feel good, and to see that the energy the staff has put behind it.”

Sterling doesn’t necessarily feel like the marketing push is positioning him as a winner, mind you. “Maybe it’s not for me to win, I don’t really give a sh*t. I think it’s cool either way, even if they don’t think that I’m the guy who’s going to get the job done. I like to play spoiler, and what better way to do that than on the East Coast, first champion ever from Long Island to defend back home, and just shock the world once again against another former champion — and did you guys know he was an Olympic gold medallist? I’m not sure if you guys got that memo.”

That last little bit was sarcasm, of course, but yes, we definitely got the memo that Triple C is an Olympic champ.

Watch the full UFC 288 media day appearance by bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling above.