Henry Cejudo’s incredible third-round TKO victory over Marlon Moraes at UFC 238 last weekend saw him prove himself to be a very, very special talent.
I’m quite proud to say that I’ve been aboard the Henry Cejudo bandwagon for quite some time now, ever since I witnessed the dramatic shift in his style upon losing back-to-back fights against Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez in 2016.
In early 2018, I picked him to be in possession of the flyweight title by year’s end and prior to UFC Brooklyn, I put my neck out there and said that he would knock out TJ Dillashaw in the very first-round.
Believe me, there were not many who shared those hopes for The Messenger – especially in my latter prediction. And yes, that first-round KO call came from a mixture of suspicions I had about the effects of TJ’s strenuous weight-cut coupled with Cejudo’s new-found karate style, but overall, I felt compelled to bet on this guy being a special fighter.
Of course, when UFC 238 came around, despite everything on paper telling us all that Moraes was going to continue his brutal streak of finishes, I chose to side with Cejudo again – albeit with a prediction for a decision.
As someone who has been singing this man’s praises for the last three years, Henry Cejudo still managed to leave me completely and utterly shocked on Saturday night.
It was a thrilling display on both sides and one that proved Henry’s ability to completely change his approach in order to get the win – a mid-fight switch-up that contained within it parallels to the manner in which he has approached his career thus far.
No matter how you feel about the razor-thin Demetrious Johnson decision or the divisive stoppage in his showdown against TJ Dillashaw in January, there is simply no denying at this point that Henry is an outstanding athlete.
That much was true when he became an Olympic gold-medalist but now, I believe that it’s time to have another conversation entirely.
As the only Olympic gold-medalist to have ever won a single UFC title, the question now – as the exclusive ‘champ-champ’ club gets another member – is where the king of the UFC’s flyweight and bantamweight divisions falls in the grand scheme of things.
Pound for pound?
Dana White raised a few eyebrows when he placed Cejudo third in his own personal pound-for-pound listings, only behind Jon Jones and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Speaking to the media post-UFC 238, White – either intentionally or through a lapse in memory – omitted the former light-heavyweight champion, current heavyweight champion and P4P #1 Daniel Cormier from his top-3.
‘I heard he said he’s the pound for pound best in the world. Listen, it’s awesome that he believes in himself like that and he’s so confident. But you’ve got to be realistic.
“You’ve got Jon Jones out there. Khabib’s never lost, he’s undefeated. And look at the guys these guys have run through, and look at how long Jon Jones has defended his title. Yeah, so.”
I’m almost in agreement with the UFC president but, to be honest, I’m going to sub out Khabib for his AKA teammate Daniel Cormier on that one.
A look at each man’s resumé through their most notable wins paints a more vivid picture.
Demetrious Johnson DEC
TJ Dillashaw TKO
Marlon Moraes TKO
Jussier Formiga DEC
Sergio Pettis DEC.
Conor McGregor SUB
Al Iaquinta DEC
Edson Barboza DEC
Michael Johnson DEC
Rafael dos Anjos DEC
Khabib is one of the most impressive fighters in the game today and in many ways, one of the two most dominant lightweights the sport has ever known (alongside Tony Ferguson), but after a trio of wins that contained a former P4P king, a two-time 135lb champion, and a powerful top contender who was finishing guys for fun, I believe that Cejudo has proven himself to be in the elite of the elite.
Remember, nothing helps your cause on the pound-for-pound list quite like proving yourself in a heavier division.
The 10lb difference that exists between 125lbs and 135lbs is more significant – relative to one’s overall weight – than the gap between 145lbs and 155lbs.
After UFC 238, in my opinion, the pound-for-pound list update (which is due on Wednesday) should see Cejudo leapfrog Khabib into a third spot, just behind Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier.
Assessment: Third-ranked pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
MMA G.O.A.T Status?
It cannot be understated how impressive it has been to see Henry battle through the adversity that saw him quickly dispatched by Demetrious Johnson at UFC 197 to go on one of the most noteworthy three-fight stretches we have seen in some time.
This man has the type of mindset necessary to remove ego from the equation and make the required adjustments to turn a one-round annihilation into a five-round triumph.
With that being said, the upper-tier that is reserved for the likes of Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, and Fedor Emelianenko within MMA history requires a consistency that an electric streak such as this just cannot match.
Years of dominance need to pass before you enter the conversation but even still, Cejudo has certainly established himself as one of the best fighters of the era – that much is for certain.
Assessment: This one is far too premature.
Combat Sports G.O.A.T Status
As Cejudo hoisted his second UFC title onto his shoulder, he declared himself to be the greatest combat sports athlete of all time on the back of his gold medal in the Olympics and dual-weight accomplishments in the mixed martial arts.
I honestly think there’s more merit to this argument than his aforementioned claim at being MMA’s P4P best but even still, an athlete’s prime is no time to make this call.
Cejudo has already defended his UFC flyweight title once – which many people forget – and right now, after achieving his own special piece of history, it cannot be denied that he is one of this generation’s most accomplished combat sports athletes.
Olympic gold medalists are not crowned every year and in a sport as gruelling as freestyle wrestling, being able to take home the world’s top prize at 121lbs (55kg) in that realm before achieving both the 125lb and 135lb A-standard titles in a new sport entirely gives The Messenger a very credible argument.
I don’t know who the greatest combat sports athlete of all-time is and I am not certain that success across multiple sports or dominance in one sport is the required criteria but for now, let’s just say that he makes a solid point.
Again, I do believe that his career will need to be viewed as a whole upon his retirement before we jump to this conclusion.
Assessment: Premature but in possession of a very unique argument.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena