It’s time to get excited – again - for Henry Cejudo’s UFC debut.
Sure, people were excited when it was originally scheduled to happen at UFC 177 in August in the flyweight division against Scott Jorgensen. Cejudo was not only an undefeated top MMA prospect, but he was the youngest American wrestler to ever win a gold medal in the Olympics.
Yet on weigh-in day, Cejudo had difficulty making the 125 pounds and was removed from the card for medical reasons stemming from the unfortunate weight cut. The positivity over this new addition to the roster turned negative. Needless to say, it has been a long four months since that weigh-in day for Cejudo, as he has shouldered his own disappointment as well as the fans’.
“I had trouble making weight,” Cejudo said. “I pretty much cut too much weight in a short period of time. I was feeling good. It was just a miscalculation of what I was doing and I missed weight. There’s nothing else that I can say. It was a miscalculation. I can’t do what I used to do for the Olympics. I’m older now. I have to be smarter about what I do. That back-tracked me a little bit. I had a lot of negative publicity from it. All I can do now is learn from the past, live for today and plan for tomorrow.”
Now it’s December and Cejudo is still undefeated as a pro with a 6-0 record, he’s still the 2008 U.S. Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling at 55 kg and he’s set to make his Octagon debut at UFC on FOX: Dos Santos vs. Miocic this Saturday. Nothing has changed when it comes to why fans should be excited to see Cejudo fight. What has changed is that Cejudo is, hopefully, avoiding any weight cut issues by bumping up to bantamweight.
“With what happened in August, I got bashed pretty bad,” Cejudo said. “But I’m looking forward and I’m looking to have a good performance. That’s the only thing I can promise. I think 135 will be an easy cut. I’m going to feel healthy. I’m going to feel good. It’s going to make fighting fun. Not to say that it wasn’t before, but I won’t be focused on the weight. I feel good. I’m from Phoenix, I was raised out here. I am a competitor. I want to fight. I want to get into the Octagon.”
Instead of Sacramento, the 27-year-old will have his first UFC fight in front of his hometown fans at the US Airways Center. While born in Los Angeles, Cejudo’s family moved around when he was a kid before settling in Phoenix, where he still lives and trains today. Turning a wrestling phenom into an MMA star has been Fight Ready MMA’s goal since Cejudo officially announced he was switching sports in January 2013. With the help of fellow UFC fighters like Frankie Saenz and John Moraga, Cejudo has transformed himself into an aggressive, non-stop attacking fighter who owns four of his six pro wins via first round TKO.
“I love to compete,” Cejudo said. “I will do anything I can to beat my opponent. I hate to lose. I hate to lose more than I love to win. Anybody who hates to lose like that makes them edgier (laughs). I’ve always had that. I take getting hit and I take losses very personal. I know fighters are not supposed to be so emotional, but I am also a very smart fighter. Wrestling is my base. My MMA style does go off my wrestling, but mixed martial arts isn’t wrestling. It’s wrestling with punches. It’s wrestling with submissions. While I take you down, I punish you.”
Once he steps foot inside the Octagon, Cejudo will be only the third Olympic gold medalist to do so, behind Kevin Jackson and Mark Schultz. Unlike Jackson and Schultz, Cejudo did not wrestle in college and went from winning four high school wrestling state championships to training with USA Wrestling in Colorado Springs. At only 21 years old, Cejudo grabbed the top prize at the Beijing Games in 2008.
Nowadays, former Olympians are all the rage, tearing up the UFC’s rankings like Daniel Cormier, Yoel Romero, Sara McMann, Hector Lombard and, of course, UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, to name a few. While he does feel they share something athletically in reaching their past achievements, Cejudo knows he has a lot to prove to keep his name in the same breath as theirs in terms of current success inside the Octagon.
“I do feel like I have an edge because of that, but I can’t just rely on that,” he said. “I’m glad for all these Olympians that are doing well. I’m glad to be a part of that. It’s a very tight, niche club. But, at the same time, I’m not Yoel Romero, I’m not Ronda Rousey, I’m not Daniel Cormier. I have to build my own legacy. It’s cool that I’m among the elite like that, but I just have to fight - first and foremost. I have to show my skills off before people start assuming that I’m going to be throwing people around the cage.”
Finally, Cejudo will make his long-awaited debut on December 13th against submission ace Dustin Kimura. With an 11-2 pro record, Hawaii’s “The Diamond” is young and dangerous, owning two wins inside the Octagon via the tapping variety. It should make for an action-packed tangle, as Kimura has shown his willingness to scrap wherever the fight goes, coupled with Cejudo’s eagerness to give credence to his hype.
“He’s a tough competitor,” Cejudo said. “He’s not just a submission specialist. He’s ready to stand on his feet and trade punches with everybody. Obviously, I’ve been working on my ground game quite a bit. I know he hasn’t submitted anybody with an ankle lock, but I noticed he likes to go after ankle locks. And I have got to protect my neck off of takedowns with him jumping guard. Little things like that you have to be on top of. This isn’t my first rodeo. Some people want to see me win and some people want to see me lose. The pressure? I’m used to it. I’m a competitor and I love to compete. And whatever goal you put in front me, it’s not just to win - it’s to dominate.”