The last thing that you wish to happen while being a champion is being in a situation where the choices have run out. Considering that the road to becoming a champion in the UFC is a long and hard one, for anybody, fighters look for a little more leeway as a champion. Fair? Maybe not. But historically, that is the way things have been. With the exception of megastars of course – the likes of Conor McGregor and Georges St-Pierre – they tend to get mostly what they want.
But Henry Cejudo currently sits in a very tough situation, arguably the toughest one that a champion could be in. The starting point is that in a matter of months, the flyweight division might not even be around. For a good period now, the rumor that flyweight division might be cut from the promotion has been floating around. Especially with the recent loss of a long-reigning champion in Demetrious Johnson, it certainly seemed like the UFC was heading in that direction.
It only confused many people when it was announced that Cejudo would be defending his flyweight championship against the bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw on the first card of the ESPN era. It wasn’t a typical situation, as Dillashaw’s quest for the second belt meant that he would have to move down a division, and it seemed to all the more boost the truthfulness of the rumor.
It also did not help Cejudo, either, as it put his back against the wall. By putting his title on the line rather than going up and challenging for Dillashaw’s title, he no longer has a ‘safe ground’ to retreat to. It is a must-win for him now. Maybe this will affect him; maybe it won’t. However, whether he feels it or not, there is certainly extra pressure for Cejudo to prevail against Dillashaw now, as his future is almost preposterously unpredictable.
The riskiest part about this whole thing for not just Cejudo, but flyweights as a whole, is that if Dillashaw does manage to win his second title, then his intentions at this point are unknown. He may be serious about defending his newly won belt (depending on how he feels about the weight cut, of course), he may want to go up a weight division next and test his mettle there, or he may want to return to bantamweight and fight whoever is available to be the number one contender. Regardless, Dillashaw will have plenty of doors open with the addition of another belt to his legacy, and that could mean trouble for the flyweight division.
Johnson’s departure from the promotion did not help, either. For years, Johnson managed to put on excellent performances one after another, fighting the critics that the flyweight division is ‘uninteresting.’ Take nothing away from Cejudo and his victory against Johnson back in August, but it is no secret that many fans were not happy with the decision that was given, feeling as though Johnson did enough to keep his title. Although not exactly voluntarily, Johnson is now no longer with the company, and it just may have hurt the stock of the division. For as long as the sport has excited, or rather, the division has existed, flyweight had an asterisk next to its name when it came to headlining pay-per-views. With the absence of the division’s biggest name in the history, it is now up to Cejudo and other contenders left to generate interest for the division, which has a strong possibility of being an extremely tough task.
Should Cejudo lose against Dillashaw, it may be the last moment with a title for the Olympian. If Cejudo does prevail, it is likely that he will continue to be allowed to defend the title at flyweight, as there are still contenders in the division. Mainly, Joseph Benavidez, who has been tasked with being the back-up for January 19’s main event, in case of an unfortunate turn of events. There is also Jussier Formiga, who has been unstoppable since his last loss against Ray Borg, going 3-0 since then with two finishes. However, there is also a possibility of the UFC simply not being interested in booking any of the fights mentioned due to lack of interests, which, in time, could also turn out bad for the division.
No other champion in the history of the UFC had to deal with such commotion before heading into their first title defense. Respect should be given Cejudo’s way for taking on challenges with desirable rewards. But with big rewards, there is always an equivalent amount of risk, and with this fight against Dillashaw, Cejudo is certainly risking it all.
Jaewon Paik is an MMA writer mainly contributing with editorials and feature articles. He is also a contributor at FanSided and CombatPress, and has formerly contributed over at MMALatestNews. He currently studies over at Ohio University.