Cejudo seeks to add UFC belt to Olympic gold in UFC 227 title fight rematch with superstar Johnson

By Gary Abbott, USA Wrestling | Aug. 02, 2018, 10:30 a.m. (ET)
Photo of Henry Cejudo courtesy of UFC.

Henry Cejudo is focused on making history again. Doing something very few expect from him is nothing new to Cejudo.

In 2008, at the tender age of 21, Henry Cejudo won an Olympic gold medal in men’s freestyle wrestling. A relative unknown outside the USA, Cejudo became the youngest U.S. wrestler to win an Olympic gold medal with his victory at the Beijing Games. (Kyle Snyder has since taken over that honor with his 2016 Rio gold at age 20).

This Saturday night, at UFC 227 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Cejudo is attempting to become the first Olympic gold medalist to win a UFC World Championship as he fights for the flyweight title.

The odds are against Cejudo once again. He will have a rematch with UFC champion Demetrious Johnson, known as “Mighty Mouse,” and considered by many the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. Johnson has a 27-2-1 record in the cage. He won the belt in UFC 152 in September of 2012. He has defended his title 11 times, the all-time UFC record for title defenses.

Dubbed ‘The Messenger,’ when Cejudo first met Johnson for the title belt at UFC 197, he was beaten by TKO. Many are predicting that it will happen like that again.

Cejudo, 12-2 in MMA, has beaten the odds before. He is confident he will beat the odds again. He has an Olympic gold medal and he sees a UFC belt in his future.

“Absolutely. I think about that all the time. It is cool because the journey does not stop. It is something I learned from wrestling. It doesn’t stop. It doesn’t matter who beats you, or what happens. I am still in the fight,” he said in early June during his induction weekend at the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

The fact that he has to beat Johnson to achieve that UFC dream does not faze him at all. In fact, it inspires him.

“I am against the pound-for-pound best fighter in the world, the best fighter in history. There is no better man to put in that cage with him than Henry Cejudo. I am here to take him out, not just for me, but also for the sport of wrestling,” said Cejudo.

The MMA world is full of a lot of trash talk and loud promotion, but at the official pre-event teleconference this week, both competitors expressed respect for each other.

“I am super excited for this fight against Henry Cejudo. Obviously, we had a battle two years ago. I am sure he is going to come out there and try to show me something new and I am looking forward to it,” said Johnson.

Cejudo confirmed that he would be bringing more to the cage with him this time, because that will be necessary for him to come out as the champion.

“Demetrious Johnson is a guy who is prepared everywhere. I tell people, ‘you don’t fake it ‘till you make it. You face it.’ He has done everything right. He knows how to mix his fighting. I have trained everything. I travelled the world. I have been everywhere. I have been to Holland, I have been to Brazil, been to Thailand. I have been with the best versions of MMA. I have done my homework on Demetrious Johnson. I have done my due diligence. I can’t wait until Saturday,” said Cejudo.

When asked to be more specific about what he has done for preparation, Cejudo remained general in his response.

“It is every area, from the grappling aspect to even to the wrestling aspect and the striking. This game takes time,” said Cejudo.

Johnson is aware that rematches are often different than the first match, and has prepared accordingly.

“I have had rematches before. Obviously, you approach the fight differently. It is a brand new fight. Whatever happened in the past is the past. I expect to see a newly minted Henry Cejudo. I will go out there and test his skills… His changes have been good. He is a little more patient with his striking. Other than that, we will find out more on Saturday” said Johnson.

Many of the media asked Johnson questions about the previously proposed “Super Match” with fellow UFC champion D.J. Dillashaw, who is also defending his bantamweight title during UFC 227 in the main event against Cody Garbrandt. Johnson said he was not looking ahead past Cejudo, but the media kept bringing it up.

Cejudo would have none of it.

“Hold on ladies and gentlemen. Demetrious has to get past me first. You are jumping the gun, reporter. You are jumping the gun a little on this. Demetrious Johnson has a fight this Saturday with ‘The Messenger,’” Cejudo said.

All four athletes in the UFC 227 featured bouts have a strong wrestling background, making this a must-see UFC card for wrestling fans who enjoy MMA.

Cejudo has a Hall of Fame wrestling background, with his Olympic title, Junior World medal, U.S. Open title while in high school and many international achievements. The others were also successful in wrestling. Dillashaw was a Div. I college wrestler and NCAA qualifier at Cal State Fullerton. Garbrandt was an Ohio high school state champion and runner-up in wrestling. Johnson was a good high school wrestler in Washington.

“When you think about it, it all falls back on wrestling. It is what I am doing now. I am still somewhat wrestling, just in a different way. I am doing wrestling, with striking, with submission, in a strategic way. I have used wrestling to be a pedestal to fight, to set myself financially free. When you wrestle, you do it for the love, for the pureness of being the best in the world. Fighting has been an outlet for us wrestlers to have an opportunity to buy a nice house, a car, to live the way we want to live. That is something I owe to wrestling, not mixed martial arts, but to wrestling,” Cejudo said.

“Wrestling is the toughest sport in the world. Wrestling is challenging, pushing everybody to the limit. With me going through college and going D-I, that was what really made me become a man. I grew up during those years. I owe a lot to my coach Dan Hicks. I had a lot to learn. I wouldn’t be here without wrestling. It kept me on the straight and narrow and kept me working hard,” said Dillashaw.

“Growing up wrestling in Ohio is one of the deep-rooted states for wrestling. It was constant. Every weekend, every day, it was eat, sleep, dream wrestling and then train. I come from a small town that was home grown. We had our own wrestling camp. It molded me into the man I am. It gave me life lessons along the way. Wrestling is the greatest sport in the world,” said Garbrandt.

“Wrestling was a great time. I never won a state championship, never wrestled in college. It was a good time,” said Johnson.

In order to achieve great things, athletes often must push themselves to a place beyond their own limits. Becoming a champion in wrestling and MMA does not happen to the faint of heart. Cejudo brings the same self-confidence and dreams with him into his UFC career that he had in wrestling. His Olympic gold medal is living proof.

“I was a kid who always had this ambition. Since I was a kid, I always believed in myself. I never had a lack of confidence. That is a credit to USA Wrestling. You guys gave me opportunity, you gave me a second home. You gave me the resources. That is all I needed. I needed great coaching, good training partners, a home at the Olympic Training Center. I couldn’t be more thankful,” said Cejudo.

There are a lot of differences between wrestling and MMA, but there are also many common threads. That is one of the reasons that wrestlers have been very successful in Mixed Martial Arts. With Henry Cejudo, it was the battle that attracted him to become a wrestler and now sustains him as he reaches for the stars in his MMA career.

“I think it was the pure grind of the sport. You wrestle one-on-one with your opponent and there are no excuses. If you lose, it’s based on you. I loved that. I loved that I could become the best in the world and have nobody to point the fingers to. It is the combat of it. It is the closest thing to war. That is what I love about wrestling,” said Cejudo.