During his streak of 11 consecutive flyweight title defenses, Demetrious Johnson rarely lost rounds as he usually outclassed every opponent put in front of him.
Henry Cejudo was one of those victims, losing to “Mighty Mouse” by technical knockout in the first round at UFC 197 in April 2016. The Olympic gold medalist continued to improve after that setback, and he entered the rematch at UFC 227 on a three-fight winning streak. In a tension-filled bout, Cejudo emerged with a split-decision triumph at the Staples Center in Los Angeles in a strong 2018 “Upset of the Year” candidate.
When Cejudo made his MMA debut on the regional circuit, Johnson was already flyweight champion. A little more seasoning was all an athlete of Cejudo’s caliber needed to pull an upset. Even then, the scorecards could have just as easily gone against him.
“It was a close fight. Demetrious is a guy that you really have to adjust to. That’s all it was. I know it could’ve gone either way,” Cejduo said on Fox Sports 1. “He’s been the champ for a reason. He’s strategic. I think the difference was is I was able to use my wrestling to control and show that dominant side to the judges.”
It’s true: Cejudo’s three takedowns on Saturday likely played a key factor in swaying two of the three judges to his side. While “The Messenger” didn’t land fight-altering ground-and-pound on any of those occasions, the control he demonstrated is something rarely seen against Johnson. And according to Cejudo, it made all the difference in the fight.
“It was having Demetrious come to me, put him on his back and control him. And if he does [get up], make him work for it. I could tell Demetrious got tired a little bit,” Cejudo said. “He’s good on his feet, but when you transition to wrestling it changes the fight a little bit for him.”
Even after Cejudo suffered the lopsided loss to Johnson at UFC 197, his confidence never wavered.
“It was always there. My belief was always there. That never changed,” he said. “Because the way I went out the first fight, that put a chip on my shoulder. It made me fall in love with mixed martial arts even more so because my first fight with Demetrious I thought I was gonna drag him through the mud, I really did. I got a reality check, but I used that as a motivator.”
After his victory, Cejudo expressed an interest in moving up to challenge for bantamweight gold. Becoming a two-division champion is all the rage these days, but Cejudo’s motivation stems more from feeling disrespected leading up to UFC 227. Much of the pre-fight talk centered around Johnson defending his belt against 135-pound champ T.J. Dillashaw after the event, and Cejudo took exception to that.
Still, he acknowledges that Johnson’s career accomplishments do warrant a rematch. But if a champion vs. champion opportunity arises, he’d have to at least consider it.
“Yeah absolutely [Johnson deserves a rematch]. I want to talk to the UFC. The only reason I say that is how I was neglected,” Cejudo said. “They’ve always talked about the TJ-DJ, even the promos, I would get two seconds rather than the whole 10 seconds that TJ or Demetrious would get. What I’m saying is I’m here too. I just defeated the pound-for-pound best fighter in history.”