Henry Cejudo entered UFC 227 seen as nothing more than another stepping stone in Demetrious Johnson’s historic title defense. After suffering a first-round TKO in their first match-up, “The Messenger” was understandably an underdog in everyone’s eyes.
Five rounds later, Cejudo accomplished the impossible—dethroning Johnson ending his six-year reign as flyweight champion by a split decision.
“I felt disrespected this whole time,” Cejudo said in his post-fight interview. However—despite taking down the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC—the disrespect did not stop.
For many fans, Cejudo was not the better fighter as “Mighty Mouse” out-struck Cejudo 121 to 80 (81-51 for significant strikes). While the Olympic gold medalist displayed his wrestling pedigree controlling Johnson on the ground, he attempted zero submissions and lacked significant damaging strikes while on the ground.
With Olympic gold on his neck and UFC gold on his waist (the first to ever do so), murmurs of Cejudo as one of the greatest combat sports athletes ever began popping up—mostly met with dismissal. No one doubts Cejudo’s elite talent as a wrestler, but his victory over Johnson is seen as a fluke of bad scoring.
UFC Fight Night 143 on ESPN+ is Cejudo’s chance to prove everyone wrong. By winning the right fight at the right time, Cejudo suddenly finds himself in a super-fight against reigning bantamweight champ TJ Dillashaw.
Dillashaw—one of the greatest bantamweights to fight in the UFC— is moving down weight classes challenging Cejudo for the 125-pound title in one of the toughest first title defenses in UFC history. “Killashaw” brings explosive striking speed with knockout power and a unique wrestling style, making Cejudo once again, the underdog.
Taking down Dillashaw would be Cejudo’s career-defining moment, extending his MMA record to 14-2 and defeating two champions in a row who had decimated their respective divisions. A victory would also put him firmly in the #1 contender spot in the bantamweight class to challenge Dillashaw for his belt.
“He is helping me by going down to 125 pounds,” Cejudo said on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show. “Then I am going to go up and beat him there, too.”
With Cejudo on a six-fight contract, he’d be in a prime position for some interesting matchups in both the flyweight and bantamweight divisions. However, if the rumors are true and Dana White disbands the flyweight division, Cejudo believes his contract could be void in which case he is not ruling out switching over to ONE Championship to complete the trilogy with Demetrious Johnson.
January 19 is a crossroads for Henry Cejudo’s career, but one thing is for sure—beat TJ Dillashaw and the MMA community has to respect his greatness.