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Henry Cejudo walked away from mixed martial arts at the peak of his powers.
A rare simultaneous two-division titleholder in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the former Olympic gold medalist rose to the top of the 125- and 135-pound weight classes before announcing his unexpected retirement following a May 9, 2020 technical knockout of Dominick Cruz. Cejudo exited the stage with a 16-2 record that included victories over some of the sport’s most accomplished competitors. Now 34, he has hinted at the possibly of someday returning to the cage, but for the time being, “The Messenger” remains on the sidelines.
As Cejudo continues to put more and more distance between himself and his most recent appearance, a look at some of the rivalries that helped shape his historic career:
The perennial flyweight contender withstood a knockdown, benefitted from a point deduction and earned a split decision over Cejudo in “The Ultimate Fighter 24” Finale co-main event on Dec. 3, 2016 at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. Judges Glenn Trowbridge and Derek Cleary scored it 30-26 and 29-27 for Benavidez, while Marcos Rosales saw it 29-27 for Cejudo. Neither man seemed interested in giving ground to the other, and the result was a 15-minute barnburner. Cejudo floored the World Extreme Cagefighting veteran with a left hook in the first round but saw his good work go to waste when he was docked a point for a pair of low blows. The 2008 Olympic gold medalist worked over his rival’s body with punches and kicks, while Benavidez answered with sustained punching bursts, knees and leg kicks. Striking margins were ridiculously tight in all three rounds. Benavidez finished with a 69-68 advantage in significant strikes, and Cejudo closed with a 70-69 advantage in total strikes.
Cejudo overthrew the longtime divisional kingpin by the narrowest of margins and dethroned “Mighty Mouse” by split decision in the UFC 227 co-headliner on Aug. 4, 2018 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, becoming just the second undisputed flyweight titleholder in Ultimate Fighting Championship history. The Fight Ready star struck for takedowns in the second, fourth and fifth rounds and paired them with top control, helping to offset the damage he absorbed to the legs and body from repeated kicks. The loss was Johnson’s first at 125 pounds and ended his historic reign atop the division at 2,142 days. A trilogy was thought to be in order—the AMC Pankration cornerstone had put away Cejudo with knees to the body in the first round of their initial encounter at UFC 197 some two years prior—but instead, the UFC exchanged Johnson’s contract with that of Ben Askren and sent the all-time great to One Championship in a stunning move.
“The Messenger” retained his undisputed flyweight crown in a statement-making performance, as he dismissed Dillashaw with punches in the first round of their UFC Fight Night 143 main event on Jan. 19, 2019 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Cejudo brought it to a close just 32 seconds into Round 1. It was a result few anticipated. Cejudo vaulted out of the gates, pairing leg kicks with rapid-fire punches upstairs. He pushed an off-balance Dillashaw backwards, wobbled him with a partially blocked head kick and dropped him to all fours with a well-placed right hand behind the ear. Cejudo followed up with a ferocity he had rarely shown, even as his dazed counterpart reached for a single-leg out of pure desperation. Dillashaw was met with unanswered rights and lefts to the head, leading referee Kevin MacDonald to call for the stoppage despite the reigning bantamweight champion’s protests.
The 2008 Olympic gold medalist became the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s fourth simultaneous two-division titleholder when he took care of Moraes with ground-and-pound and captured the vacant bantamweight belt in the third round of their UFC 238 main event on June 8, 2019 at the United Center in Chicago. The end came 4:51 into Round 3. Already in possession of the UFC flyweight crown, Cejudo overcame considerable difficulty to reach the 135-pound summit. Moraes obliterated his legs with lightning-quick kicks in the first round but could not break the Fight Ready star’s spirit. Cejudo adjusted his approach between rounds, pressured the former World Series of Fighting champion with punches and hammered him with knee strikes from the collar tie. Ultimately, Moraes’ gas tank failed him. He had little to offer in the third round, where he was met with more close-range knees and became entangled in an anaconda choke that allowed Cejudo to assume top position. Laced with elbows and hammerfists, heavy ground-and-pound followed and led to the stoppage.
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