Henry Cejudo’s ultimate goal — and one of the main reasons he’s coming out of retirement — is to fight for the UFC featherweight title. But Cejudo is more likely to initially return to bantamweight.
Cejudo told ESPN in an interview published Tuesday that he wanted to fight Alexander Volkanovski for the featherweight title in an effort to do something no one has ever done in UFC history. Cejudo, an Olympic champion wrestler, is the former UFC flyweight and bantamweight champion. No fighter has ever won titles in three UFC divisions.
The UFC, however, seems to prefer Cejudo to return to the bantamweight division first. Cejudo defended his title against Dominick Cruz at UFC 249 in May 2020, then surprisingly announced his retirement in his post-fight interview. Cejudo is returned to USADA’s drug testing pool in April and will be eligible to return to the Octagon in October.
“That’s the only reason I even go down to 135 pounds,” Cejudo said of possibly fighting Volkanovski in the future. “These guys are not on my level – none of these guys are on my level. And they all know it. So if I have to go down to 135 pounds [and win back] my belt to challenge Alexander Volkanovski, that’s what I have to do.”
Cejudo, 35, is on a six-fight winning streak, during which he ended Demetrious Johnson’s record 11-fight title defense streak to win the flyweight belt, then beat Marlon Moraes to win the bantamweight title.
Aljamain Sterling, the current UFC bantamweight champion, is scheduled to defend against TJ Dillashaw at UFC 279 on Sept. 10 in Las Vegas. Cejudo owns a win over Dillashaw at flyweight and said he would like a crack at the winner of this fight. Cejudo pointed to longtime UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, who came out of retirement and fought for the middleweight title after a four-year absence, and said that he would rather not have a “tune-up fight”.
“Nobody beat me,” Cejudo said. “I left, I gave up my belt. I was never stripped. … I’m here to make history.”
If it’s not a title fight, Cejudo said he has some interest in a fight against rising bantamweight Sean O’Malley. The two have been back and forth a bit on social media, and Cejudo crashed an interview with O’Malley during UFC 276 fight week earlier this month.
But Cejudo says he doesn’t think this fight is what the UFC wants.
“The UFC is not ready for him to die,” Cejudo said. “It took Sean O’Malley five days to get back to me after I planted his interview. … He didn’t even tag my real name. He plays games. I’m going to hurt that dude. I don’t think the UFC is ready to do that.”
Cejudo said he doesn’t regret retiring two years ago. His body needed a rest after competing in wrestling or MMA since he was 11 years old. In his spare time, Cejudo got married, and he and his wife, Karolina, had a baby girl, America. He said he was now back in the gym, working on the fundamentals and strengthening his body ahead of a future training camp. Cejudo said he would like to fight this year, but he’s “really in no rush”.
The top of the featherweight division is in flux. Volkanovski needs thumb surgery, and UFC President Dana White said he had an interim title fight between top contenders Yair Rodriguez and Josh Emmett.
Cejudo said he had a lot of respect for Volkanovski and was impressed with what he was able to do. ESPN ranked Volkanovski No. 2 in the world on its pound-for-pound list. Cejudo was once in a similar range as a top-five pound-for-pound MMA fighter before drifting away.
“I really believe I could beat him,” Cejudo said. “I would never take a fight that I don’t think I can win.”
Cejudo is the only athlete to win an Olympic gold medal and two UFC division titles. He said he would like to add another UFC belt to his collection and take the next step. Cejudo called on White, who he spoke to a bit after his retirement, to give him a chance.
“I know I’ve talked about a lot of things, calling you Dana Bald, Dana Aldo,” Cejudo said. “But, boss, I respect you. I understand what you’ve done for the UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts. I only wanted to get attention for situations like this – to fight and write history. You always told Dana, that “I’m never going to stop anyone from making history. Well, here it is right here, man.”