By: Bello Waaliy
UFC President Dana White made some announcements revealing plans for the next few months for mixed martial arts leader, including a 5-round bout between welterweight contenders Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns slated in for the co-main event at UFC 288: Sterling vs Cejudo on May 6.
The announcement of the promotion came on the 22nd of April 2023 due to the falling through of the previous co-main event plans which involved Charles ‘Do Bronx” Oliviera and Beneil Dariush after Charles suffered an injury in training which prevents him from further training and his scheduled bout.
However, Dana White in the usual fashion came through with a Blockbuster replacement booking Belal Muhammed and Gilbert Burns. Belal and Gilbert are each the no. 4 and no. 5 welterweights in the UFC and both feel they deserve a title shot – over the no.1 contender, Colby Covington – which led to back-and-forth on social media and eventually leading them here.
Belal “Remember the Name” Muhammed is a Degestani fighter with a 22-win and 3-loss record in his MMA career with one due to no contest and has 9 wins in his stay in the UFC. He’s coming off a 4 win streak with the last one being a technical knockout and is known for his grappling skills and his take-down defense.
Gilbert “Durinho” Burns is a Brazilian fighter and as said earlier, the 5th ranks welterweight in the UFC with a record of 22 wins and 5 losses. He practices Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has decent striking accuracy. His most recent win came from a unanimous decision against Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal in UFC 232 which saw Israel Adesanya reclaim his middleweight title in spectacular fashion.
The fight between these two is highly anticipated and for good reason, they’re some of the best fighters in the division, and very deserving – in fact, Gilbert Burns fought Kamaru Usman when the Nigerian Nightmare was champion and knocked him down in the third round, however, he could not finish the job – and in Dana White’s own words “Two of the best guys in the division, and both guys think they deserve a title shot after this.” and then the banter has lit a fire of desire in the audience with Burns calling out Muhammad for ducking a fight at UFC 283 which is the worst way to call a fighter out, it’s basically challenging the integrity of the man so an all-war is expected between the pair.
The other main event features Aljamain Sterling going against Henry Cujedo. Henry Cujedo, who surprised the mixed martial arts world in 2020 by retiring after defeating Dominick Cruz to retain the 135-pound championship at UFC 249 in May 2020. It was even a greater surprise given that at the time, Henry Cujedo was a double championship in the flyweight and bantamweight divisions. He decided to return to fighting in a tweet sent in April 2022 but he’s not been in the octagon since.
Sterling, however, is in the best stretch of his career as the Funk Master has won eight consecutive fights dating back to 2018. He won the bantamweight title from Petr Yan at UFC 259 when Yan was disqualified late in the fourth round for an illegal knee. However, he expressed his disappointment in the manner that he became champion, citing that he thought it was a fair match up until the knee struck him. Sterling became the undisputed bantamweight champion with a split-decision win over Yan in a second fight at UFC 273.
It should be noted that UFC has had an interest in a showdown between Sterling and Cejudo since Sterling retained his title against T.J. Dillashaw at the UFC 280 event in October 2022 with ESPN reporter Brett Okamoto writing “The fight likely would have happened sooner, potentially next month, but Sterling has been rehabbing a lingering injury to his bicep,” and since both fighters have been throwing bants at each other on Twitter.
With that said, UFC 288 on the 6th of May is one to look forward to and the rest of the fight card includes:
At Main Card:
Bantamweight Aljamain Sterling (c) vs. Henry Cejudo [a]
Welterweight Belal Muhammad vs. Gilbert Burns
Women’s Strawweight Jéssica Andrade vs. Yan Xiaonan
Featherweight Movsar Evloev vs. Bryce Mitchell
Featherweight Kron Gracie vs. Charles Jourdain
And at Preliminary card:
Lightweight Drew Dober vs. Matt Frevola
Light Heavyweight Kennedy Nzechukwu vs. Devin Clark
Welterweight Khaos Williams vs. Rolando Bedoya
Women’s Strawweight Marina Rodriguez vs. Virna Jandiroba