What’s Next: UFC 288 Winners

Aljamain Sterling, UFC 288
Aljamain Sterling, UFC 288 Pre-Fight Press Conference Credit; Jake Noecker/Cageside Press

The UFC touched down in New Jersey for the sixteenth time in the promotions history this past Saturday for UFC 288, as the biggest fight in UFC bantamweight history went down in the main event.

Aljamain Sterling once again made a claim for being the greatest UFC bantamweight ever, doing what no one at 135lbs has done before, defending his title for a third consecutive time. Henry Cejudo teased at retirement after the bout, but has since called out Sterling’s teammate, Merab Dvalishvili.

Let’s take a look at what could be next for the winners of the night.

Aljamain Sterling

All the talk was put to bed this weekend, as Aljamain Sterling once again silenced the many doubters, defeating the inactive Henry Cejudo. This marked Cejudo’s first fight in three years and to many, that was a big concern. Sterling though fought his usual style and didn’t switch from what has been successful for him thus far.

On the lead up to the fight, the two had gotten into a few altercations on fight week with Cejudo’s coaching team acting in a way that Sterling felt was unacceptable. This gave the fight a bit more of a grudge match feel.

Although it ended in a split decision, the general consensus was that Sterling did enough to retain the title. Having said that, the decisive scorecard came from the always questionable Derek Cleary, who scored Cejudo’s most clear round (round five) for Sterling. Despite me believing the correct result was achieved, the way in which we got to it was once again concerning.

Sterling is the one once again draped in Gold though and what’s next for him was immediately clear. Straight after the fight, Sean O’Malley was brought into the cage for an initial face-off with the champion, making it extremely clear what is coming. Since then, Dana White has suggested that the UFC will look to make that fight official for August time with Boston being the targeted location.

Sterling’s Next Fight: Sean O’Malley 

Belal Muhammad

Another viciously under-appreciated fighter picked up an impressive win this past Saturday, cementing himself as the next title challenger in the welterweight division.

Coming into his short notice five round fight with Gilbert Burns, rumours began surfacing online of an ankle injury Muhammad was suffering from. A few rounds into the fight though, those rumours were put to bed as he was moving normally and effectively on both feet. Burns though did in fact pick up an injury after the first round to his left shoulder, and it was one he couldn’t shake.

Belal Muhammad though has now made it nine wins in a row, Leon Edwards being the only one in the welterweight division with more. There stands a good chance that Muhammad’s next fight will in fact be against the current champion, Edwards, and a chance for fans to finally see this one ran back. Of course, Colby Covington is the only thing that stands in the way of that potential rematch, but Belal Muhammad now has the closure that he will be fighting for the title, no matter what.

Muhammad’s Next Fight: Winner of Leon Edwards vs Colby Covington 

Yan Xiaonan

The impressive Xiaonan made it back-to-back wins, knocking out Jessica Andrade in the first round of their title eliminator bout. Andrade stood as the toughest test in the career of Yan Xiaonan, but the 33-year-old passed with flying colours, showing she is at the top of her game.

The only other female ahead of Xiaonan that could have an argument to fight for the title next is Amanda Lemos. However, it could be argued that a wins over Mackenzie Dern and Jessica Andrade, is more impressive than wins over Michelle Waterson-Gomez and Marina Rodriguez.

In my opinion, Yan Xiaonan has done more than enough to leapfrog Amanda Lemos, and should undoubtedly get the next title shot in the strawweight division. Not only that, but it sets up one of the biggest fights in Women’s MMA history. Make the fight in a stadium in China, and see tickets sell out in minutes. Zhang Weili vs Yan Xiaonan has the possibility to be absolutely gigantic.

Xiaonan’s Next Fight: Zhang Weili 

Movsar Evloev

The undefeated Movsar Evloev was dealt a late change in opponent for UFC 288. That was after he signed to step in on late notice to face Bryce Mitchell after Jonathon Pearce pulled out.

With just over four days to go until the fight, the UFC announced that Bryce Mitchell suffered a shoulder injury and wouldn’t compete, opening the door up for Brazilian, Diego Lopes. With Evloev being tough to prepare for at the best of times, Lopes’ stock rose even before he stepped in there.

Early in the bout, Evloev struggled to deal with the unorthodox nature of Diego Lopes, and even whilst in top control on the ground, was struggling to get much going because of Lopes constantly fighting for submissions off his back.

With that being said, Evloev stayed undefeated and moved to 17-0, knocking on the door of the top five in the featherweight division. If this performance showed us anything, it was that Evloev can not yet be considered a top five challenger. Depending on the severity of Bryce Mitchell’s shoulder injury, rebooking that fight could make sense from a ranking standpoint.

Evloev’s Next Fight: Bryce Mitchell 

Charles Jourdain

Canadian Jourdain fought as well as you can fight against a specialist like Kron Gracie.

Jourdain looked slick with his boxing, and when Gracie did get the fight to the mat, despite having to pull guard to do so, Jourdain stayed compact and didn’t get complacent. With UFC 289 taking place in Canada and with Jourdain taking no damage, hopefully the UFC can get him a match-up back on home turf.

Someone else who has picked up a comprehensive win recently is Bill Algeo. If the latter wouldn’t be ready for a short turnaround at UFC 289, then that match-up is good enough to put on another card regardless.

Charles Jourdain’s Next Fight: Bill Algeo