Henry Cejudo has already done what he calls “the manliest thing you can possibly do.” He’s won an Olympic gold medal, captured a UFC world championship and, in his last two fights, beat men who were ranked Nos. 1 and 4, respectively, on the UFC’s pound-for-pound list.
He’s been so successful recently that he attracted the attention of WWE superstar Nikki Bella, and says his success has made it impossible for him to go to nightclubs to relax and have some fun.
“If I did, I’d be taking pictures all night,” he said, sounding at least a bit wistful.
Pressed for details on his relationship with Bella, which bloomed after an appearance on Ariel Helwani’s MMA podcast on ESPN, Cejudo laughed heartily.
“Come on, man, they all want a piece of me,” he said, chuckling. “Single, trilingual and ready to mingle, from Sunday to Domingo.”
He has an important task ahead of him which has nothing to do with Bella or going out to party anonymously. On Saturday at the United Center in Chicago, he’ll fight Marlon Moraes for the vacant bantamweight title in the main event of UFC 238.
A win would make him just the fourth UFC fighter to hold titles in two weight divisions simultaneously. He’s the reigning flyweight champion and will fight for the bantamweight belt that T.J. Dillashaw surrendered after failing multiple PED tests.
He said that Moraes is “unquestionably the toughest guy I’ve fought in my career,” but he’s as relaxed and confident as he’d be if he were just going through a light workout with a first-timer. He’s thinking in the most grandiose of terms.
Beating the hard-hitting Moraes, who has scored three consecutive first-round finishes in a combined time of just four minutes, 57 seconds, would put him on a pedestal nobody else has reached.
“I’m here to put my stamp on sports, not just MMA,” Cejudo said. “I want to be known as the greatest combat sports athlete of all-time. I’ve got an Olympic gold medal and a UFC title. After Saturday, I’ll have two UFC titles. And I’m not slowing down.
“I know it’s a cliche, but nothing is bigger in sports than an Olympic gold medal. Not the UFC, not the NFL and not the NBA. Not anything. I’ve done that. A long time ago, I set these very high goals for myself, but I’ve accomplished them. If anyone was laughing before, they’re not laughing now. And so when I say I want to be the greatest combat sports athlete of all-time, it’s not joke. I’m extremely serious.”
How Ruiz Jr. inspired Cejudo
He also has a chance to be a role model. Though he was born in Los Angeles and is an American, he said he was “raised Mexican.” It’s one of the reasons he cheered so loudly last week when boxer Andy Ruiz Jr. upset previously unbeaten Anthony Joshua to become the undisputed heavyweight champion. Like Cejudo, Ruiz was born in Southern California of Mexican parents.
“I was so happy for Andy,” Cejudo said. “I was cheering him on hard. And to be honest with you, as a Mexican American, I feel like his victory was partly mine. That belonged to all of us. There were so many greats before us. When we were coming up, a guy like Oscar De La Hoya won the gold medal and showed us what was possible.
“It’s inspiring to think that there’s a chubby kid somewhere in South Central [Los Angeles] who saw Andy and was inspired by him, or that there are kids who have seen my journey and decided to follow in my footsteps.”
The UFC has yet to develop a truly huge Mexican star, but as proud as he is of his heritage, Cejudo said the one thing you’ll never see is him wrapping himself in the Mexican flag.
“The reason you haven’t seen me come out with that Mexican flag is because I am an American, and I’m a patriotic American,” he said. “It’s a free country and people can do whatever they want. In my opinion, I’m a kid who has been helped out a lot by this government. I was a welfare kid. I was a kid who was getting a lot of government assistance, living off food stamps.
“It’s hard for me to [walk out wearing the Mexican flag] because of that, but I do acknowledge and fully embrace my Mexican heritage. But this is the country I was born in and this is the country that helped me when I needed it most and this is the country I represented in the Olympics.”
Cejudo: ‘I’m always looking to create diamonds’
Cejudo posts videos every Monday on Instagram that he refers to as “Motivational Monday.” He finds topics he thinks will be of interest and posts short videos about them.
This week, he posted about the pressure fighters feel, but he said he channels it properly.
He is, he said, a carefree person because he knows he’s done what it takes to win.
“Pressure can do one of two things,” he said on his most recent ‘Motivational Monday’ video on Instagram. “It can either burst pipes or create diamonds. And I’m always looking to create diamonds.”
Beat Moraes, who is a slight favorite at Sportsbook USA, and he’ll be well on his way toward at the very least earning serious consideration as the greatest MMA fighter of all-time.
He’s got a tough road to make it to where he wants to be, but how can one doubt him after what he’s overcome? He didn’t sleep on a bed by himself until he moved to the Olympic Training Center as a teenager.
His family was extraordinarily poor and moved dozens of times. His father, who was a drug and alcohol user, once stole the children’s Christmas presents to buy drugs.
If there is one thing Cejudo knows other than fighting, it’s adversity.
“When you come from where I’ve come from, and been through what I’ve been through, it puts a strength inside of you and lets you know you can do anything,” he said. “I’m living proof. Not too long a, I was the lowest of the low, absolute bottom.
“Look at me now. Olympic champion, UFC champion, my name and face all over the place. Just look at me now. Who would have believed this a few years ago, but that dream I had, it’s all coming true.”
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