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After Henry Cejudo vanquished Dominick Cruz via second-round technical knockout in the UFC 249 co-main event, he surprisingly announced that he was ready to retire from mixed martial arts.
Speculation immediately began that Cejudo’s decision was little more than a negotiating ploy, that “Triple C” was trying to leverage the UFC into a more lucrative deal. Cejudo insists that is not the case. The Arizona native has dreams of starting a family, and he can’t do that if he’s focused on fighting.
“I want to start that new chapter of my life .. I could never fight and try to raise a family,” he said at the UFC 249 post-fight press conference. “I know what it takes, and I know that I’m very selfish to myself.
“It’s not a plot. When I walked away from wrestling I completely walked away, never looked back. I almost feel the same way with mixed martial arts, and wrestling was my first love.”
Dana White said that he knew Cejudo had been mulling over the decision for a while now, but the UFC president didn’t necessarily know the champ would do it after becoming just the second person in promotion history to defend titles in two different weight classes.
“He’s been talking about retirement to us for the past several months,” White said. “I didn’t know he was gonna do it tonight. But I knew he’s been talking about it. You know my opinion on that. If you start talking about retirement in this business, it’s probably a good idea. I think he’s one of the best in the world, he looked incredible.”
In 2008, Cejudo became the youngest American ever to win Olympic gold in freestyle wrestling. He retired from the sport shortly after, but made a comeback in 2012, where he came up short in Olympic qualifying trials. Reminiscing on those days, he recalls being initially satisfied with his decision to retire only to be called back to the sport for financial reasons. He sees similar parallels with his UFC career, and he left the door ajar — if only slightly — for a potential return to the Octagon if certain terms are met. At a certain point in time, Cejudo said, fatigue begins to creep in no matter how successful you might be.
“This is the God honest truth: it gets stagnant, man. It makes you want to explore different areas, if you know what I mean. I’ve been doing this since 11. I’m 33 years old now. I want to leave on top,” he said. “..I could’ve left on top too in wrestling at the age of 21 because I started to hate the sport. It’s a crazy story, but I just knew whether I was gonna win the Olympic gold medal or not, I knew I was done with the sport because I’ve given everything to the sport. I’d pretty much retired, and they convinced me to come back because of the financial side.
“I almost feel like the same thing here. I know what I’m worth. I know my price. I just think I’m so satisfied and so happy with my career that I think I just want to move on to that next chapter of my life.”
If this is indeed the end, Cejudo finishes his MMA career on an incredible run that included victories over Demetrious Johnson, T.J. Dillashaw, Marlon Moraes and Cruz. Of those, only the fight with Johnson went the distance. Taking a split-decision over “Mighty Mouse,” considered by many to be the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world at the time, is what Cejudo considers to be his greatest achievement.
“I think [the pinnacle of my UFC career] was beating Demetrious Johnson, even though a lot of you guys probably don’t think I won,” Cejudo said. “But I’ll take that razor-thin victory because Demetrious Johnson is a very special athlete, a very special mixed martial artist. If you were to ask Triple C who was the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, it’s Demetrious Johnson.”
Cejudo admitted that moving back down to flyweight was never in the cards, but his win over Dillashaw, who was moving down from bantamweight, remains a significant moment for the division. Had Cejudo lost, the entire weight class looked to be on its way out of the UFC. Cejudo, at least for now, is proud to leave at the top of his game with an impressive portfolio of accomplishments.
“I saved the flyweight division. I defended my flyweight title. I defended my bantamweight title. I can die in peace, guys,” Cejudo said. “I deserve this, man. I deserve to leave on top with two belts. There’s no flyweight champion because that flyweight champion is right here.”