For about the first two minutes after entering the cage to do war on April 23, 2016, things were going good for Henry Cejudo. The 2008 Olympic Gold Medalist had taken down longtime UFC flyweight champion Demetrius Johnson early in the fight — a true rarity — and he was on top. The young man who had received a title shot just four fights into his UFC career had the fight where he wanted it…
But then Johnson got to his feet, and then the knees started coming. It got really bad for Cejudo really quick after that.
Now, a little more than twenty-seven months later, The Arizona native gets a second chance to dethrone the man who many consider the most dominant champion in UFC history. While most consider Cejudo to be a very good fighter who has earned his second crack at the title, most believe that he will simply be notch number twelve on “Mighty Mouse” lamp post.
Yet for those hoping that Cejudo can pull off the upset, there are some reasons to hope. Of course, you could make a case for any of the dudes that DJ has been handling since putting away Cejudo, but the man known as “The Messenger” has a legit chance.
Let’s dig a little deeper into this:
1) Cejudo fought Johnson too early the first time
Let’s be real, Henry Cejudo should not have been challenging Demetrious Johnson for the world title in April 2016. He had only been a pro for a little over three years at the point, he had only had four fights in the UFC, and he hadn’t even beaten another top guy in the division at the point. But with a lack of challengers for DJ and Cejudo having that ultra-sexy credential of Olympic Gold Medalist, the UFC decided to rush him in there. It’s a little sad what happened to Cejudo that night because of it.
That being said, Cejudo is probably glad that he had that experience that against DJ. Not only did he get to feel the pressure of a title fight, experience what it’s like to be in the cage with DJ, but the worse possible thing happened to him that night in the cage. He can only go up from there. The experience of April 23, 2016 should be seen as positive for Cejudo.
2) Cejudo is A LOT better now
After getting stopped by Johnson, Cejudo went right from the frying pan into the fire, coaching in the Ultimate Fighter against Joseph Benavidez and fighting him at the finale of December 2016. At that time, Benavidez was the best second-best fighter in any division in the sport. Yet that night, Cejudo did extremely well against him, in the eyes of most out striking and outhustling the flyweight pioneer. With a pretty bogus point deduction complicating manners, most observers that Cejudo did no worse than a draw, yet the veteran Benavidez got a pretty bogus decision.
But then after losing some time because of a hand injury, Cejudo shook everything off. Last October in Edmonton against Brazilian Wilson Reis, “The Messenger” looked like a whole new fighter. Employing a McGregor like stance, Cejudo came out and dominated, stopping the most recent title challenger at the beginning of the second, flattening him with a right hand. He followed that up last December in Detroit by smothering the surging Sergio Pettis, using his wrestling game completely for the first time in the UFC to win an easy decision. Henry Cejudo is peaking at the right time.
Like many top-flight wrestlers, Cejudo has used his wrestling in reverse, stopping opposing takedowns and staying mostly on his feet, using his solid hands and powerful kicks to push his opponent back. Now he’s figured out ways to his level changes and takedowns into a fully integrated attack. He’s not the same guy that DJ smashed two years ago for sure.
3) Johnson is a little older
Yes, we live in a different era now, where thirty years old is no longer a death sentence for a fighter, but Johnson is now thirty-one years old and is going into his thirty-first pro fight. He has fought a lot of five round fights, and he has clocked in thirteen more rounds since beating Cejudo. Also, Johnson is coming off a ten-month layoff and shoulder surgery, so he may not be at the top of his game where we normally see him. If there was ever time for Cejudo to get his rematch, it may be now.
Plus, there are things that Cejudo can learn from Johnson’s recent fights, a five-round decision over TUF 24 champion Tim Elliot, a dismantling of BJJ ace Reis, and a highlight reel submission victory over Ray Borg. The Elliot fight especially showed that a physically strong pressure fighter with good grappling can give DJ trouble. Elliot is the only fighter in recent memory to even win a round against the champion, and while Cejudo doesn’t have his height, he has the skill set to give Mighty Mouse similar problems.
4) It Was Always a Tough Style Matchup
As Cejudo pointed out before his first fight with DJ, Johnson has controlled most of his fights by outwrestling and outgrappling the majority of his foes. That’s probably not going to happen against Cejudo, who was at the time the youngest Olympic Gold Medalist in freestyle wrestling history and changed the way young wrestlers approach the sport in some ways. Cejudo simply did not have the maturity and experience to impose his skills properly two years ago. He may have it now.
Cejudo will probably look to fight at least the first round of this fight at distance, using the skills he’s picked up in the last two years. Eventually, he needs to close the distance and impose his wrestling and begin to wear Johnson out, but he has to be smart in how he works to those positions. Johnson was able to get to the clinch and brutalize the overeager Cejudo with knees to the body when he got too close, too fast, and Henry cannot allow this again. Also, I have hunch that if Johnson can get close early, he’s gonna look to take Cejudo’s back. I don’t think DJ can hold him down long, but if he can get his back and use his superior jiu-jitsu, that’s to his advantage.
The best thing for Johnson to do is to move a lot and use his kickboxing, preferably from middle range. That’s where his speed advantage and experience is to its biggest advantage. Also, Johnson is the smaller fighter, and he knows the distance issue. This fight will be all about real estate for sure.
5) The Numbers Game
Johnson’s eleven title defenses are the most in UFC history, and no matter what you want to say about his level of competition, that can never be taken away from him, mostly because the man has not slipped yet. Every other UFC champion has slipped. With respect to the fighters who finally got to them, but the likes of Anderson Silva, Georges St Pierre, and Ronda Rousey were victims of the numbers game more than anything. Every champion has to fall sometime, every dog has their day…
And for Henry Cejudo, there is no reason that day can’t be this Saturday.
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