The sport of mixed martial arts has seen numerous legends, prospects and what-could-have-beens step inside the cage.
Fans of the sport often remember those that have prolonged periods of success — the Fedors, Silvas and Jones. Over the past decade, especially in the UFC, we have seen fighters carving a place for themselves in annals of sporting history.
While fighters such as Conor McGregor and Daniel Cormier have garnered an ardent fan-following, especially after doing the unthinkable by capturing championships in two different weight classes, there is one anomaly that hasn’t enamored the fans to that extent. He is none other than Henry Cejudo.
Cejudo, quite early into his run as the flyweight champion, understood that for fans, size does matter. While Demetrious Johnson wasn’t the most popular fighter when he reached the pinnacle of the UFC flyweight division, he commanded respect. “Mighty Mouse” belonged to that elusive list of fighters that, similar to the GSPs of the combat sports world, forced fans and critics alike to acknowledge their greatness, without the need to showboat or talk trash.
— Henry Cejudo (@HenryCejudo) May 11, 2020
Cejudo, however, had to rely on gimmicks and hyperboles to remain a topic of interest, and he had to do that while beating the best that the UFC and MMA had to offer.
Henry Cejudo’s UFC Career – In Retrospect
Cejudo is one among just 34 personalities that won a medal at the Olympics, and then crossed over to MMA. That feat becomes even more impressive, when we realize that he is just the second Olympic medalist to have won a UFC championship, with the other being Ronda Rousey. And while Rousey had the UFC machine firmly behind her, pushing her as the second-coming of Muhammad Ali, Cejudo was brushed under the rug. Becoming an after-thought in a world dominated by giants and mega-personalities.
Cejudo’s ascension to the top in the UFC was anything but easy; he lost in a quick and decisive fashion to Johnson, then lost by split decision to Benavidez. Johnson had been the undisputed king of the flyweight division, but the focus was slowly shifting from his exploits inside the cage, to the pulling power of the flyweights. Top-ranked flyweight fighters were booked on cards that very few fans cared about, while the promotion couldn’t trust Demetrious to headline a pay-per-view, and bring in the kind of money that they were then getting accustomed to, thanks in large part to Conor McGregor.
Rumors started making rounds about the predicament in which the flyweight division found itself. One could even argue that mellowed, easy-going personalities such as GSP would have found it difficult to gain prominence during this period. Fans yearned for conflict; from press conferences becoming breeding grounds for fighter unrest, to opponents talking trash during interviews, it needed a big personality to push the 125-pound division back into the public eye. Enter Henry Carlos Cejudo.
Once Johnson lost the title, he was quickly and quietly shipped to ONE Championship, and the onus fell on Cejudo to keep the flyweight division alive. And similar to “boss battles” in video games, it was Henry Cejudo in one corner, defending the livelihood of all the flyweight fighters in the UFC, against the then bantamweight champion T. J. Dillashaw, who had no qualms in saying that the UFC boss had hand-picked him to put an end to the 125-pound division.
— Henry Cejudo (@HenryCejudo) August 15, 2019
Saying Henry Cejudo saved the UFC flyweight division would be akin to praising Fidel Castro for his educational reforms in Cuba: unpopular in the eyes of the world, yet not untrue. The self-anointed “King of Cringe” defeated Dillashaw in what was a swift and decisive win, and proclaimed himself to be the savior of 125’ers. The reaction wasn’t what many expected; instead of hailing him, the fans didn’t seem to care much about his accomplishments. Cejudo was once again cast aside, even after beating T. J., who many considered to be the future of the 135-pound division.
Over the course of the past two years, Cejudo defeated Johnson, Dillashaw, captured the bantamweight title by beating a former WSOF champion in Moraes, and more recently, defeated arguably the greatest bantamweight of the past decade in Dominick Cruz at UFC 249. That resume alone should make the former two-division champion a strong contender, when fans talk about MMA G.O.A.Ts.
How The History Books Will Remember Henry Cejudo
The more pedantic fans would argue that Henry Cejudo’s exploits, while being remarkable, do not warrant him a spot in the list of true elites, just because of his longevity — or lack thereof — in MMA. Cejudo’s first fight in the UFC was in December 2014, and by mid-2020, he had announced his retirement from the sport.
It is often said that fans of any sport suffer from recency bias. In Cejudo’s case however, some fans believe that he hasn’t spent enough time inside the cage to be considered a legend. At the age of 33, Cejudo walked away from a sport that he dominated, while beating some of the best fighters to ever don the MMA gloves.
In the future, when fans turn back the pages to read about fighters that had achieved everything there was to achieve, Cejudo’s name will undoubtedly be in the list, along with the GSPs and B.J. Penns. Sure, his antics sometimes were cringe-worthy, but he never tried to emulate Conor McGregor.
Unlike other fighters, who continue to rely solely on their fighting abilities, Cejudo developed an interesting character that either made you root for him, or made you want to see his face hit the canvas.
Thank you for the awesome experiences uncle @danawhite I will forever be grateful. Thank you for taking a chance on the sport that people thought would never make it. To all my coaches and fans it been a wonderful ride. Triple C is out 🎤 #retiredontop pic.twitter.com/ZoHa3asoDU
— Henry Cejudo (@HenryCejudo) May 25, 2020
History books do not have prejudices. And when all is said and done, Cejudo will be remembered for being one of the most intriguing characters, and for being a two-division champion, who beat a flyweight legend, a bantamweight legend, and two of the brightest, most talented fighters in the 135-pound division.
That should be as unambiguous as it can get.