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Cejudo Chases a New Kind of Gold

"I’m a very confident person, and I go into every fight knowing I’m going to win, but I never take anything or anybody lightly." - Henry Cejudo

Henry Cejudo really shouldn’t be this humble. Six years removed from becoming the youngest American wrestler to win an Olympic Gold medal, Cejudo has seen more than most UFC debutants.

He’s written two books, he’s dealt with the media since before reaching the legal age to drink, and he’s been sponsored by the likes of Coca-Cola, Ralph Lauren, Tide, and Crest, to name just a few. Cejudo even had a play, “American Victory” written and performed about his life at Arizona State University.

Name another UFC fighter who can claim that.

But Cejudo doesn’t carry himself like someone who has that type of background behind him. Talk to him, and he’s just another prospect trying to make his name in the UFC and looking to ascend the flyweight ladder.

“I have no ego,” Cejudo laughs, and you believe him. As for the origin of this refreshing attitude, he said it was born at home, honed in the wrestling room, and perfected in the gyms he trains in at home in Phoenix.

“It’s the way I was raised, and it’s my sport,” he explains. “The sport of wrestling humbles you. You can be the best in the world one day and then the next be the worst guy on the planet. You’re never too good for the sport of wrestling because there’s somebody out there just as good. So I’ve always known that the moment I think I know it all or the moment I think that my crap don’t stink, that’s the moment I’m going to get knocked off. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a very confident person, and I go into every fight knowing I’m going to win, but I never take anything or anybody lightly.”

That approach served him well on the world stage in wrestling, where he won the 2008 Olympic Gold medal in freestyle wrestling at just 21 years old, and thus far in a mixed martial arts career that began in 2013, he’s 6-0 with four knockouts heading into his Octagon debut this Saturday against Scott Jorgensen. “Young Guns” is a tough out for the best in the world. For a UFC rookie, that’s some mountain to climb, but the 27-year-old is ready for Jorgensen and the pressure that goes along with being only the third Olympic Gold medalist (following Kevin Jackson and Mark Schultz) to compete in the UFC.

“I’ve learned to embrace pressure, I’ve learned to make that my friend, I learned to hug it,” Cejudo said. “A lot of fighters are really good in practice, but when you get them out and they have to fight live, the nerves are different. I’ve heard from a few friends that when they’re ready to fight they feel like they’re going to die, and I don’t feel like that. I feel ready, I feel like there’s a purpose for me in the cage, and I’m just excited to compete.”

If Cejudo is successful, he’s doing so at the perfect time. The UFC will be holding its first show in Mexico in November, and Phoenix will get an event in December. “The Messenger” would be a perfect add for either show, and he agrees. And when you suggest that if he gets on the Mexico card, wins in 30 seconds, and is good to go right away for the Phoenix event, he laughs, but you know he would do it.

“If I’m healthy, I’ll fight anytime, anywhere,” Cejudo, whose family hails from Mexico City, site of UFC 180, said. “I love to compete, and the more I compete, the better I get and the smarter I get. In the sport of mixed martial arts, you’ll never stop learning. There’s too much technique for someone to know it all.”

Cejudo is off to a good start though, and if he can beat Jorgensen, that’s a statement to the world that he’s ready for prime time. Of course, in a flyweight division that has been dominated by champion Demetrious Johnson, it only takes a few good wins to get into the title picture. So how does Cejudo avoid rushing things?

“If I believe I’m ready, I’ll do it,” he said. “I believe I’m ready to go out there and fight with the best of them, I really do, even though I never fought in the UFC. It’s just because of how I train and how I put myself through so much suffering in training. But that’s up to the UFC and that’s up to the way I perform. My goal is to get up there, and eventually, I’m very confident that I will become a world champion.”

He hasn’t been wrong yet.
Henry Cejudo makes his Octagon debut Saturday in the UFC 177 Prelims, starting at 8pm ET/5pm PT.  Check your local listings.