UFC 288 Main Event: Aljamain Sterling Vs. Henry Cejudo
The Bet: Aljamain Sterling -105
Aljamain "Funk Master" Sterling is slated to put his UFC Bantamweight belt on the line for the fourth time in the main event of UFC 288. Sterling will face Henry "Triple C" Cejudo Saturday, May 6, 2023, at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Bookmakers are giving the challenger a very modest edge, as Cejudo's -120 moneyline implies about a 55% expected probability of capturing the title (Sterling's moneyline is -110). We perceive meaningful value with the champ though, and are siding with Sterling for the win.
Most notably, the Tale of the Tape from UFCStats.com indicates that Sterling boasts a seven-inch reach advantage over Cejudo. We can not overstate the significance of meaningful reach advantage in mixed martial arts. The graphic below segments fights in the BetMMA.tips database, which tracks MMA fights back to April 2013, by reach differential. This graphic makes clear that, based solely on this physical characteristic, Sterling should be priced with a 60% implied probability (i.e. -150).
To add context to the observation that fighters whose arms are 6-8 inches longer than their opposition are 255-171 over about the last decade, consider that, at 157-97 (62%), the success rate is not materially different when both combatants won their last campaigns. The sample size shrinks when we consider only title fights, but the 9-7 (56%) record under this circumstance still supports the case that there is value with Sterling.
We expect the combination of Sterling's 24% takedown accuracy rate and Cejudo's 93% takedown defense rate to increase the probability of Saturday's action playing out as a stand-up affair. If this turns out to be the case, Sterling's increased work rate and striking accuracy enhance his advantage (on average, throughout his UFC career, Aljamain has thrown about a significant strike more and landed roughly 1.5 significant strikes more than Cejudo per two minutes of action).
And while the challenger is the superior wrestler, and Sterling's takedown defense rate is a pedestrian 41%, we are less than certain Triple C will be able to get/keep Aljo down. To wit, Cejudo was 1 of 4 in attempts to drag Marlon Moraes to the mat in the UFC 238 main event, and at 46%, Moraes' takedown defense rate in UFC action is not dissimilar to Sterling's. Further, even if Henry can secure takedowns, Sterling is a jiu jitsu black belt, with four submission wins to his credit under the UFC banner, so he remains a threat.
Separately, while we could not unearth historical data to test the impact of long layoffs, we are at least concerned about Cejudo's inactivity. Cejudo retired following a successful bantamweight title defense versus Dominick Cruz, and has not fought in three years (though his manager has alleged that Cejudo never stopped training).
Finally, consistent with our view that a play on Sterling is worth the flyer, The Action Network's Sean Zerillo's crowdsourced odds make Cejudo the most overvalued favorite on the UFC 288 main card.