At UFC 298, Henry Cejudo faces the ‘all or nothing’ moment of his career

IRVINE, Calif. – Henry Cejudo could retire after UFC 298, or his fight with Merab Dvalishvili could be the first step toward capturing a third division title.

That’s the pressure the former UFC flyweight and bantamweight champion is putting on himself. At least on the outside, Cejudo appears to be in a calm state of mind heading into Saturday night’s pay-per-view matchup at Honda Center in Anaheim.

“My goal, and you guys are probably gonna give me a lot of sh*t for this: The goal is still 145 pounds,” Cejudo said during Wednesday’s UFC 298 media day session with reporters. “I’ve already defended my 135-pound (title). Yeah, I lost my last fight by split decision, but I’m not wavering from the goal of going up. I just feel like a win over Merab … I want whoever has that belt at 145 pounds. I feel like I’ve earned it.

“And to top all that off, this is all or nothing. I told the team, ‘It’s either gold or bust.’ I either win it all, or I’m not gonna have it all, and I’m out. I am putting that timeline, that pressure on me, because I do take this sport seriously. I’ve done everything there is do to. What the f*ck, like what do I have to prove? Now it’s a motivation more motivated by a little bit of anger. I’m pissed at myself a little bit, but I’m still motivated.”

Aljamain Sterling (red gloves) fights Henry Cejudo (blue gloves) during UFC 288 at Prudential Center. (Ed Mulholland, USA TODAY Sports)

Cejudo, 37, originally retired in May 2020 while he was double champ of both the flyweight and bantamweight divisions. After three years, he returned last May and fell short in his attempt to reclaim the 135-pound title by split decision to then-champ Aljamain Sterling.

Assuming his word on a second retirement with a loss holds true, Cejudo (16-3 MMA, 10-3 UFC) faces a tall task to keep his career going as Dvalishvili (16-4 MMA, 9-2 UFC) has been on a roll with an impressive nine-fight winning streak that dates back to 2018. That includes a clean-sweep unanimous decision against former champ Petr Yan in March 2023, the type of performance that has become synonymous with Dvalishvili, who is non-stop with his wrestling thanks to perhaps the best cardio in the UFC.

Given his background as an Olympic gold medalist wrestler, you can be sure Cejudo welcomes the challenge.

“The thing is, can you control someone on top? That’s the key,” Cejudo said. “The takedown does mean something, but if you can’t hurt somebody up top – I mean, this is where Khabib made his living. This is where Islam, a lot of these Dagestanis are making a living, and they’re taking it from the Americans. They’re taking it from folkstyle wrestling – tying up the legs, top control, things like that. Sure, I guess if you want to play it that way, we can play it that way. Yeah, I’m taking it personal (laughs).”

As far as Cejudo is concerned, this fight between the No. 2 and 3 ranked bantamweights is the premier showdown of the division – not next month’s UFC 299 title fight featuring champ Sean O’Malley and Marlon Vera.

“I think even between me and Merab, this is the best fight. This is the best fight at 135 pounds,” Cejudo said. “This is the real world title. Sean’s gonna pick a No. 6, gonna pick a guy that freaking lost 50-45 to Sandhagen? Like, that’s who gets a title shot? It makes no sense, but I also get it.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC 298.

Story originally appeared on MMA Junkie