It’s not an unusual thing to see in the sports world, let alone the combat sports world, but few fighters’ careers have seemed to be so entirely goal driven as Henry Cejudo’s. The former Olympic gold medalist and two division champion nearly looked headed for MMA washout territory early in his career when—after repeated failures to make the flyweight limit on the regional scene—the UFC had to cancel Cejudo’s Octagon debut due to a botched weight cut.
Eventually pushed to debut against Dustin Kumra up at bantamweight, even that little bit of adversity seemed to light a fire under the 27-year-old’s ass. ‘The Messenger’ won his next three flyweight bouts to get his first UFC title shot. A crushing defeat at the hands of all-time great Demetrious Johnson. A split-decision loss to Joe Benavidez due to point deductions followed immediately on the heels of the loss to ‘Mighty Mouse,’ but it’s clear yet another fire had been lit.
Where formerly, Cejudo had seemed to be getting buy on his athletic gifts and dominating wrestling game, the long time Fight Ready athlete started to add a confident and aggressive kick boxing style to his attack. In a run that’s seen him pick up wins over Johnson, TJ Dillashaw, Sergio Pettis, and Dominick Cruz, Cejudo hasn’t tasted defeat in years.
Being honest, that might actually have become something of a problem. If early doubters, and a hard losses seemed like the big motivating factors for ‘Triple C’ early in his career, once Cejudo won the flyweight title, he started setting his own goals. He jumped up to bantamweight and won the belt there. Then he set his sights on featherweight. Could he become the UFC’s first three division champion? Dana White & Co. had no interest in finding out. Attempts at contract negotiations were quickly rebuffed.
Without a new mountain to climb, Cejudo promptly retired. The years since he hung up his gloves have seen him take on a promising future career as a coach and cornerman. He’s made his moves into media as well, with some podcasting, some analysis and breakdown videos—and even a turn or two as a color commentator for Eagle FC.
Now 36-years-old, likely a bit slower, rustier, and maybe just a hair less physically dominant, it seems that Cejudo has found a test worth taking again. After all, if the mountain won’t come to the man, then the man must go to the mountain.
Cejudo had his taste of being the favorite against Dominick Cruz, it wasn’t his vibe at all. He’s give up his titles, he’s taken his time off and—via a report from MMA Junkie—he’s found himself a new mountain to climb. The UFC has never had a champion under 155 lbs older than 35 (a mark set by Deiveson Figueiredo back in December), could the fighter out of Phoenix be the first?
For Aljamain Sterling this represents a challenge Cejudo never seemed to have an interest in taking: making another title defense. ‘The Funkmaster’ is fresh off a shockingly one-sided win over TJ Dillashaw last October, with Dillashaw entering the bout nursing a severely injured shoulder that rendered him almost entirely unable to compete. That fight marked the continuation of a strange legacy for the Serra-Longo product, who now has wins over Dillashaw, Petr Yan, and Cory Sandhagen, but is still regarded by many as one of the UFC’s least dominant title holders.
It wouldn’t even be a surprise if, by fight night, Cejudo actually finds himself as the betting favorite. Be that as it may, it seems clear that there’s nothing he enjoys more than feeling as though the deck has been stacked against him. Even for the times he’s been the one dealing the cards.
UFC 288 has been targeted for May 6th, although the UFC has yet to confirm a location for the event. Alongside the bantamweight title fight, the promotion is also targeting a lightweight top contender’s bout between Beneil Dariush and Charles Oliveira—as well as a featherweight fight between Bryce Mitchell and Jonathan Pearce.
About the author: Zane Simon is a senior editor, writer and podcaster for Bloody Elbow. Host of the MMA Vivisection and 6th Round, he has covered MMA and the UFC since 2013.(full bio)
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