UFC 288 has had more changes to the main card than any PPV in recent memory.
But, if there aren’t any more before the week closes, we’re ending up with one stacked card. Some believe that either Aljamain Sterling or Henry Cejudo could become the bantamweight GOAT with a win in the main event. Perhaps the most unexpected matchups, but also one of the most anticipated, is that of Belal Muhammad and Gilbert Burns in the co-main event.
Just before the 5 round co-main, Jessica Andrade and Yan Xiaonan may be fighting for a title shot at 115 pounds. Plus, earlier on in the night, Marina Rodriguez and Virna Jandiroba are also looking to climb the ladder at 115 pounds. If all of that wasn’t enough to satisfy your need for violence, there’s Drew Dober and Matt Frevola colliding in the featured prelim and Kron Gracie and Charles Jourdain opening up the main card. All of these matchups (plus more) are covered below and feature BLÜ’s predictions along with the Bet99 Sportsbook Odds. They are the official betting sponsor of the Area 51 Sports Network.
Main Card (7:00 PM PST)
Kron Gracie vs. Charles Jourdain
Gracie: +142 Jourdain: -180
Over 2.5: +154 Under 2.5: -200
If you’re familiar with the Gracie name, they’re an extremely influential and talented family in the world of Jiu-Jitsu. While that’s great on the mats and if this fight hits the canvas… it doesn’t necessarily mean all that much in MMA when they’re on their feet. Gracie’s last fight was in 2019 against Cub Swanson where he never really grabbed a takedown and was beaten, somewhat convincingly, in a barnburner of a standup brawl. Jourdain is very similar to Swanson in that he likes a good brawl and is a high-pace striker. Jourdain may grab a finish, especially since Gracie hasn’t been active, but I’ll be expecting an exciting, hard-fought decision win instead.
Jourdain by Decision
Movsar Evloev vs. Diego Lopes
Evloev: -900 Lopes: +550
Originally scheduled as a featherweight contenders bout with Bryce Mitchell and Evloev squaring off for a top 10 spot, this has now devolved into a massacre. Evloev was the clear pick over Mitchell, a top 10 level fighter; he’s now facing someone making their UFC debut on 5 days notice. Not only is Lopes making his debut… he lost on the Contender Series in 2021 and lost his next fight after that. I’m not exaggerating when I say this is looking like the most one-sided fight of the year. I’ll be putting as much money as I can on Evloev if Lopes decides to make this walk to the cage.
To make the pot a little sweeter, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to bet on a finish, likely a knockout. Evloev has ROCKED his recent opponents like Ige with some of cleanest striking in the division and Lopes is mostly a grappler. Not only that, Lopes has been knocked out before. Also, let’s not forget that, once again, Evloev was prepared to fight a top 10 grappler while Lopes was scheduled to fight a 17-10 fighter just last week.
Evloev by Finish
Jéssica Andrade vs. Yan Xiaonan
Andrade: -193 Xiaonan: +157
Over 2.5: -184 Under 2.5: +140
Like the co-main and the main event, this is a tough one to call. Historically, Andrade has been a wrecking ball, just running through her opponents. Sadly, that’s not how it went down in her last fight against Erin Blanchfield where she was out-struck and then submitted. Of course, with that fight, she received it on VERY late notice, wasn’t training and was up at 125 instead of here at 115.
As for Yan, she’s being doing well, but barely edged a win over Mackenzie Dern by majority decision and lost a split to Rodriguez. Those are two impressive results against impressive fighters, but I can’t help but think that Andrade is more dangerous than both of them.
With Yan being such a motivated, well-rounded fighter, she’d be able to beat Andrade if she doesn’t come in 100%. Sadly for her, when a competitor like Andrade is somewhat embarrassed in their last performance… they come back with a vengeance. I wouldn’t be surprised if Andrade comes in there like an animal, like she did against Lemos, and just dominate Yan, grabbing another huge finish.
Andrade by Finish
Co-Main Event (5 Round Non-Title Fight)
Belal Muhammad vs. Gilbert Burns
Muhammad: +105 Burns: -128
Over 4.5: -132 Under 4.5: +105
In a rare 5 round non-title fight, two of the best welterweights will collide, fighting for a title shot against Leon Edwards. There are WAY more variables in this fight than any normal matchup. This fight was just put together a couple weeks ago, Belal just finished Ramadan. Burns fought in the last UFC PPV just a few weeks ago and this is 5 rounds! First, we’ll look into their recent UFC fights. As mentioned, Burns just fought a few weeks ago, he didn’t even really get hit, he just dominated Masvidal with his grappling and some elusive striking. As for Belal, his last win was a fairly impressive TKO win over Sean Brady.
While the win over Sean Brady was impressive, Belal simply just didn’t show anything in that matchup that convinces me he can overwhelm Burns either on the feet or on the ground. The main difference that I’ve noticed is that Burns is simply a better striker and better at Jiu-Jitsu. So, while Belal could pin Burns along the fence, he’s going to have some issues everywhere else. Normally, I’d give Belal the edge in cardio in this 5 round fight. But with all the effects of Ramadan on training, I’m genuinely not sure if Belal will have that same gas tank. With all of those factors, I’m giving an edge to Burns in a tough decision with a possible chance at a finish if Belal hasn’t been able to prepare properly. That being said, you can never count Belal out, so I wouldn’t be betting the house on Burns.
Burns by Decision
Main Event (Bantamweight Title Bout)
Aljamain Sterling vs. Henry Cejudo
Sterling: -105 Cejudo: -119
Over 4.5: -158 Under 4.5: +122
As the odds suggest, this matchup couldn’t be much closer. Sterling has been active with 3 title fights and… technically, 3 title fight wins. Meanwhile, Cejudo “retired” back in 2020 after his win over Cruz to extend his reign. I’ve been back and forth on this matchup. Ultimately, I think it comes down to size. Cejudo spent most of his time at 125 pounds while it’s actually a shocking achievement that Sterling can cut down to 135; he’s truly massive. Not only that, we’ve seen Sterling be able to hang with the best strikers on the feet and great grapplers on the ground. Cejudo has been able to do that too, but can he do that as the older man, away for a couple years against someone MUCH bigger? I’m not entirely convinced.
These factors could certainly lead to a finish for Sterling, but I’m expecting this to be a close, back-and-forth fight for all 5 rounds. The main concern at that point is if Sterling can keep up with the pace of Cejudo for all 5 rounds; that’s what makes this difficult. Cejudo may have an edge in the later rounds because of this, but I’m going to bank on Sterling being able to edge ahead in 3 of the 5 rounds to win the decision.
Sterling by Decision
BLU’s Prelim Picks (Prelims begin at 3:00 PM PST)
Drew Dober vs. Matt Frevola
Dober: -217 Frevola: +171
Over 1.5: -134 Under 1.5: +105
Back for the first time this year, Dober the destroyer is back, ready for another finish. Frevola did well in his last two fights with early finishes, but Dober is on a completely different level. Dober is one of the most powerful strikers in the division and he very well may have the toughest chin as well. There’s absolutely no conceivable way that Frevola could hurt him on the feet. Meanwhile, Frevola tends to get hit quite a bit. That sounds like the perfect recipe for an early Dober finish. This is a prop bet you’ll want to look out for since Frevola has been knocked out twice in the 1st Round in the UFC already.
Dober by Finish
Marina Rodriguez vs. Virna Jandiroba
Rodriguez: -140 Jandiroba: +114
Over 2.5: -234 Under 2.5: +175
Here we’ve got a very clear clash of styles right at the top of the UFC strawweight division. Rodriguez is one of the cleanest strikers in the division while Jandiroba is one of the best grapplers in the division. That being said, it seems pretty clear who the favourite should be. Rodriguez beat Ribas and Dern while Jandiroba lost to both of them. Not only that, Rodriguez has shown, especially against Dern, that you need more than grappling to beat her. A finish on the feet for Rodriguez is plausible, but a decision seems much more likely.
Rodriguez by Decision
BLÜ’s Best Bets
Here I highlight some betting lines that you might want to take advantage of for UFC 288. These are odds that favour the bettor. Although some of them may conflict with my picks, they offer a fair reward for a slight bit of risk.
Gracie vs. Jourdain Over 2.5 at +154
Both of these guys are live for a finish; Jourdain on the feet and Gracie on the ground. But, when you look at their records, they’re also both very durable with only ONE of their losses coming by a finish. With all that durability, it’s definitely worth a bit of a sprinkle at +154.
The Underdog Braxton Smith at +142
If this were against most other UFC heavyweights, I probably wouldn’t be picking such an inexperienced guy here. Porter has been knocked out a few times and doesn’t really have any truly impressive wins in the UFC. While Smith is inexperienced, he’s grabbed 5 knockout wins in a row now, all before the 3-minute mark. Also, his only career loss is to Chase Sherman all the way back in 2014. At +142, why not give ‘the Beautiful Monster’ a chance?
The Defending Champ Aljamain Sterling at -105
When you’ve got a name like Cejudo on one side, it makes sense why the betting line is a bit skewed. But, when you look at all of the other factors, Sterling seems like he should be a fairly significant favourite. Cejudo hasn’t fought in a couple years, he’s older, he’s shorter and he’s smaller. All of these things are very much against him when he’s going against a titan like Sterling. I’m not saying this is a slam dunk by any means, but a pick like this is worth a shot.
The Short Run
Evloev + Dober + Santos
The Long Run
Evloev + Dober + Andrade + Rodriguez + Williams