The red carpet has been rolled out for Henry Cejudo ever since he signed with the UFC. He added a new wrinkle to a talent-rich flyweight division deprived a personality. His world-class wrestling was seen as potentially the great equalizer to UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson.
Even with a 6-0 professional record, the Olympic gold medal dangling from Cejudo’s neck gave him early passage into the UFC. Johnson’s sustained dominance likely also played a role in the rush to find new blood.
The UFC champ has run through contenders like Ronda Rousey in the women’s bantamweight division. It’s getting to the point where Joseph Benavidez, who has already been defeated by Johnson twice in the last three years, is positioning himself for a third title fight. The thought of a champion fighting the same contender every other year is enough to send a clipboard flying across the room in any matchmaker’s office.
Former boxing world champion Holly Holm fell from the skies and added a twist to the Rousey narrative, and the MMA world has been waiting to see if Cejudo can do the same to Johnson.
I’ll preface by saying Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson is the most complete fighter in all of MMA. If you were tasked with molding a fighter from unshaped clay, Johnson should be the prime candidate as the inspiration behind your creation. Striking, wrestling, submissions, clinch work, conditioning, speed, intelligence — the guy has every conceivable attribute of a world-class fighter.
And he’s still improving.
Fans have often overlooked Johnson’s accomplishments due to a misguided belief that the flyweight division simply lacks talent. But there is a plethora of talent at 125 pounds. The division is mistaken as underwhelming because top fighters are only being compared with Johnson.
Cejudo has looked promising in amassing a 10-0 professional record, but he has never faced anyone like Johnson. He also didn’t exactly convince the masses he was ready for a title shot on Saturday night at the TUF Latin America 2 Finale, where he eked out a split decision win over Jussier Formiga.
But it hardly matters at this point, as Cejudo is the only sensible fight on Johnson’s itinerary.
In four UFC bouts, Cejudo has shown continued improvements with his striking and footwork. He’s a strong-willed fighter with solid conditioning and an iron chin. The hallmark of every great wrestler is the ability to embrace the grind. If the fight goes into the championship rounds, I have no doubt that Cejudo will be able to hang with the champ.
The gap doesn’t begin to widen until you get to the technical nuances of the fight game. Cejudo has shown some defensive woes and a tendency to get wild with his striking. His ability to secure takedowns has been apparent since his UFC debut, but he has struggled controlling opponents and maintaining top position. Chico Camus stuffed nearly every takedown attempted by Cejudo at UFC 188.
None of that bodes well against another strong wrestler like Johnson, who has successfully defended 66-percent of the takedowns attempted against him. Even if Cejudo nabs a takedown or two, it’s hard to imagine him actually keeping Johnson on his back for any extended period of time. Johnson would find ways to explode back to his feet and win the striking exchanges.
Cejudo is a deserving and legit contender in the flyweight division, but against Johnson, the usual game of cat and mouse would likely end with the mouse once again finding a way to escape with the cheese.