Henry Cejudo stoked a great deal of excitement in the wrestling community when he announced that he would be joining the ranks of the MMA world. The 2008 gold medalist had mulled the move for awhile prior to coming up short in his bid to make the 2012 Olympic team. MMAFrenzy takes an in-depth look at Cejudo’s background and recent MMA fights to determine whether the fighter is for real or pure hype.
Rise to Stardom
Henry Cejudo was born to Mexican immigrants in South Central Los Angeles, California and frequently moved wherever his mother was able to find work. With his father in and out of prison with drug issues, the family constantly moved between the American Southwestern states before finally landing in Arizona. Cejudo was introduced to wrestling by his brother Angel and quickly fell in love with the sport.
Henry would pick up four state championships (two in Arizona and two in Colorado) and the 2006 ASICS wrestler of the year award. While this was impressive, it is usually a big jump to think a wrestler could bypass the college ranks and move on to the international stage. It was not a big jump for Cejudo however, as he prepared to make a big splash on the international scene.
As Henry Cejudo prepared for the 2008 Olympics, it was clear he had the total package to be a media star: humble beginnings, extreme talent, and natural camera presence. While this is a great start, you still have to have the performance to back it up and Cejudo certainly did by making the Olympic team. Cejudo would travel to Beijing, with his mother legally unable to go due to her immigration status, and continued his improbable run by winning a gold medal and becoming the youngest American to do so at only 21 years old.
After his impressive run, Cejudo was a hit on the talk shows and other media events following the Olympics. The wrestler also used his new-found pedestal to challenge increasingly harsh laws regarding illegal immigrants in his adopted home state of Arizona. Cejudo decided to take up boxing as a new challenge and did well with it. Cejudo would try to make the 2012 London Olympic Team, but failed to do so and decided to do his own version of the wrestling tradition of taking your shoes off on the mat to signal retirement and threw them to the fans who rose in a standing ovation for the wrestler who meant so much to so many different communities.
The wrestler looked for a new challenge, and announced his move to MMA in January of 2013.
The Wrestler Becomes the Fighter
Henry Cejudo has been extremely active since his first professional fight on March 2, finishing all three of his fights with a blend of strikes and elite wrestling. The young fighter decided to take the scenic route to the bigger stages, unlike fellow London hopeful Shannon Slack who immediately signed with Bellator, and has been looking to establish himself in the MMA ranks. MMA fans have constantly heard about the wrestling credentials of various fighters, only to see them fall to “lesser” grapplers and strikers. So it is generally tough to determine how a wrestler may translate their skills to the cage. With that said, Cejudo’s early efforts have certainly showed promise.
As previously mentioned, Cejudo has been exposed to boxing and that has certainly translated in his first few fights. The Olympic wrestler moves fluidly in the cage and does a nice job of setting up his takedowns with strikes rather than just diving for takedowns early and often. Watch for his boxing to become a major factor going forward for the fighter, because the more experience he gets while striking in competition will make him a more relaxed fighter.
If there is one thing that needs to be watched in the standup, it is that Cejudo often waits for the other fighter to fire off first. While he is not a true counter-striker, he often seems hesitant to throw first and that can be hard to watch if he is matched up with a similar fighter. Once the first shot is fired, he seems to relax and fires solid strikes. That said, once he has a chance to take you down, he will and he will do it with authority.
On the ground Cejudo is pretty much a straight ground-and-pound fighter for now. The former Olympian does a good job of avoiding wrist control and posturing up to deliver accurate and vicious striking that has simply overwhelmed his competition to this point. Cejudo may not have the jiu-jitsu to roll with the higher level BJJ practitioners, but his balance and posture on the ground allows him to control position and helps him pass submission attempts. One thing that stood out in one his preliminary fights was how well he adjusted to dealing with a taller fighter, if he stays at bantamweight, this is a huge key to his success. All of this provides a solid base for any MMA fighter.
So What’s the Verdict?
In many ways, Cejudo comes off as a raw, but more talented, Team Alpha Male fighter based on what I have seen from him to this point. If the fighter gets setup with the right team, you could see an explosion in his progression. At only 26, he is much younger than most of the former Olympians that come over to MMA and this typically means his body has experienced less wear-and-tear than the average former Olympian.
All the physical tools are there for the former Olympic champion, as he does not have the a lot of the awkwardness in the standup that most transitioning wrestlers have. Plus, his wrestling style is based off takedowns, which is a key element for a wrestlers’ success coming to MMA as Chael Sonnen once pointed out. One thing that Cejudo may need to do once he moves on to more established competition is drop down to flyweight. At bantamweight, Cejudo has the speed, power, and skills to beat the majority of bantamweights (like Joseph Benavidez) but at only 5’4″ he may struggle with the taller and longer fighters at 135.
When you work with Cejudo though, you will be dealing with a total package fighter who can work a mic just as effectively, if not more. That said, Cejudo is also going to be a guy who needs a promotion less than a promotion would need him. For his first fight, he actually came out with an entourage and his own personal rapper that reminded more of Floyd Mayweather Jr. than most MMA fighters. For most MMA promotions, like the UFC, this could be problematic since most prefer to put the brand before the fighter.
In the end, I think Cejudo is worth it to any promotion. While you may have to deal with some growing pains, Cejudo’s star-potential is off the charts. This is much needed at the lower weights in any promotion. If you combine that with the UFC looking hard to expand into the Mexican market, considering the fighter’s heritage, this could make him a valuable addition to not only the UFC but their competition. With all that said, how far the 2008 gold medalist is ultimately up to him. If Cejudo truly wants to be the best at MMA, then the pedigree and skill is there to quickly rise up the ranks. Whichever way this plays out, it will certainly be a story to watch going forward.