'you have gotten by no means met anyone like Henry Cejudo': How the UFC's cringe king plans to level into GOAT

Henry Cejudo walked on stage sporting a janky crown and an low-cost-wanting robe. In his arms had been a extreme hat and plastic scepter. Cejudo, like a two-bit magician, produced from the hat in sequence: an costly mouse, a rubber snake and a white rabbit — all of which he violently tossed or swatted at with the scepter.

It was June 6, 2019, UFC 238 media day, and Cejudo had no draw again performing a fool, wanting like somebody who had dressed himself with the plunder of a raid on social gathering metropolis.

Marlon Moraes, his opponent, shook his head in disbelief. UFC president Dana White seemed skyward, as if he wished he had been wherever else. Cejudo simply accomplished the staredown with a straight face after which imply-mugged for the cameras.

“you will see the replay fights on ESPN,” Cejudo’s energy and conditioning coach, Matt Wiedemer, mentioned. “… and also you are like, ‘God, he was such a cheeseball.’ He was cringey, proper?”

Two days later, Cejudo would win the UFC bantamweight title, making himself solely the fourth fighter in UFC historic previous to maintain two divisional titles concurrently, as he already held the flyweight belt.

Cejudo, taking half in off what MMA followers mentioned about him in social media suggestions, dubbed himself Triple C (two UFC championships and an Olympic championship) after which the King of Cringe in 2019. At first the latter was a reluctant acceptance, however then he leaned up to now into it he virtually fell over, making cracks that wouldn’t even meet the decrease threshold of a dad joke and developing with inane nicknames for divisional rivals. all of the whereas, he was placing collectively amongst the numerous best fight résumés ever inside the UFC.

A yr later, on the peak of his popularity and proper at first of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cejudo stunningly retired from the fight recreation. After knocking out former champion Dominick Cruz to effectively defend his bantamweight title at UFC 249 in might 2020, Cejudo made the announcement in his postfight interview, unceremoniously, in entrance of an empty area.

“Triple C is out,” Cejudo advised Joe Rogan. “You guys do not should take heed to my ass no extra.”

there have been a quantity of causes for Cejudo to retire, thought of one of which was monetary. Cejudo mentioned on the time he wasn’t getting paid ample. however what Cejudo actually needed was a break. He was 33 and had started wrestling at eleven years outdated. He gained a gold medal on the 2008 Olympics, and continued wrestling earlier than transitioning into MMA in 2013.

“i used to be like, ‘you understand what? i am sick of this, man,'” Cejudo mentioned. “i am uninterested in competing. that is all I’ve ever carried out was compete, and that is all I’ve ever carried out was win.”

And on Saturday evening time in Newark, New Jersey, Cejudo will try to win as quickly as as quickly as extra. He’ll try to regain the belt he by no means misplaced inside the cage, combating in opposition to Aljamain Sterling at UFC 288 (10 p.m. ET on ESPN+) and making an try to win over the followers who, even in any case these years of success, have largely did not completely acknowledge how good he has been.

CEJUDO’S COACH ERIC Albarracin met Cejudo when he was 17 years outdated. as prolonged as he has acknowledged him, Albarracin mentioned, Cejudo has had three targets: Win an Olympic gold medal, flip proper into a UFC champion and start a household. With the essential two already inside the bag, Cejudo’s time away from the Octagon allowed him to carry out the third. He obtained married in 2021, and he and Karolina had their first little one, a daughter named America, on Nov. 18, 2021. Cejudo not too prolonged in the past introduced that Karolina is pregnant as quickly as extra they usually’ll welcome one other little one later this yr.

Cejudo spent the essential yr away from the UFC touring and constructing a relationship collectively with his household. however for the previous two years, he has been at fight ready in Scottsdale, Arizona, 5 days every week when he is on the metropolis, in line with coach Eddie Cha mentioned. Cejudo did some teaching himself, particularly over the previous yr, however earlier to signing on for his personal fight, he had flip proper into a extreme-profile coach inside the teaching camps of a quantity of of the UFC’s biggest. He additionally started a YouTube channel full of fight breakdowns which have drawn raves throughout the MMA world for his or her consideration to element.

Over the previous 24 months, Cejudo has helped prepare the likes of current or former UFC champions Jon Jones, Zhang Weili, Deiveson Figueiredo, Jiří Procházka and Cris Cyborg. He has additionally developed what he calls a “good friendship” with Demetrious Johnson, his outdated rival, from whom Cejudo gained the flyweight title of their 2018 second meeting. Johnson and his spouse, future, have a summer time dwelling in Arizona. final yr, he reached out to Cejudo, and the two decided they’d prepare collectively. they’ve clicked and become inexplicably shut.

“he is a genuinely good particular person,” Johnson mentioned. “I like him masses. … i do not assume there [are] two martial artists who fought every utterly different who truly converse in confidence to every utterly different on how we ought to method our fights and truly take that advice from every utterly different.”

Jones returned after three years to win the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 285 in March, beating Ciryl Gane inside the essential spherical with a guillotine choke. After the fight, Cejudo’s group posted a video to his YouTube channel of Cejudo displaying Jones the exact method that Jones used to get the submission. That YouTube website is full of fight breakdowns from what former UFC middleweight title challenger Chael Sonnen mentioned comes from Cejudo’s “educated thoughts for the sport.”

“We discuss about happiness and being exact with feelings, and his teaching is greater than merely fight strategies,” Jones mentioned about Cejudo in 2021. “He actually tries to make you in all probability the biggest man you will be, and it actually seems like he is a man that i want to be round.”

Cejudo’s subsequent act? A return to the Octagon in an effort to level into the biggest UFC fighter of all time. With a victory on Saturday, Cejudo has made it clear he would eye a problem for the belt at featherweight subsequent. No UFC fighter has been a champion in three weight divisions.

Having a youthful household was not the motivation for Cejudo to return to MMA, he mentioned, nonetheless it is one factor he considers inside the teaching room at fight ready as he will get ready for this large comeback bout.

“i like my spouse,” Cejudo mentioned. “i like my little one. they do not even want me to fight. i am not the sort of man that brings my youngsters to a fight. that is simply not me. i am doing this to be in all probability the biggest on the planet. It has nothing to do with my household. however is it an incentive? a hundred%.”

Cejudo is extra critical as of late. nonetheless the King of Cringe hasn’t completely been phased out. simply considerably deemphasized. He makes no apologies about that.

“whether or not you hate my persona or adore it, i am right here to make historic previous,” Cejudo mentioned. “i do not want a pat on the again from anyone, truly. I simply want extra accolades. that is what i am digging for.”

Cejudo was sporting one factor utterly different than the magician outfit that afternoon in Chicago at UFC 238 media day: his Olympic wrestling gold medal. In 2008, a 21-yr-outdated Cejudo turned the youngest American to ever win an Olympic championship in wrestling, one yr after not scoring a stage and ending in thirty first on the planet championships.

The King of Cringe has many layers, and do you should assume he is solely that, then the joke will probably be on you.

“you have gotten by no means met anyone like Henry Cejudo,” mentioned Daniel Cormier, a former UFC double champion and U.S. wrestling group captain. “you simply have not.”

CORMIER REMEMBERS CEJUDO as a outcome of the “annoying little little one” on the Olympic teaching center in Colorado. Cejudo arrived there at 17 years outdated, becoming a member of a group full of wrestlers of their mid-to-late 20s. that is the place Cejudo started to understand he had his personal mannequin of foolish humor, which was constructed by way of constructive reinforcement.

“If it is a corny joke and [his teammates] giggle, he says extra corny jokes,” mentioned Albarracin, now a longtime shut confidante who was additionally on the Olympic teaching center then. “after which that is sort of how he stayed corny.”

The origin of the King of Cringe character, although, will be traced to when Cejudo coached reverse Joseph Benavidez on “the closing phrase Fighter” actuality current in 2016. Cejudo took the function significantly and made his biggest effort to be a sound mentor for his fighters. however issues went sideways shortly when Cejudo’s then-teammate Brandon Moreno ended up on Benavidez’s group.

“the closing phrase Fighter 24” was distinctive as a outcome of it involved all flyweight champions from utterly different promotions, and in distinction to in most seasons of the current, the fighters had been seeded. The event winner would get a title shot. When Cejudo chosen Alexandre Pantoja collectively with his extreme choose, he later found that Pantoja was seeded No. 1 and Moreno, the No. sixteen seed, could be his opponent. That despatched Moreno routinely to group Benavidez. Moreno took that considerably personally, as he was dwelling with Cejudo on the time and Cejudo had helped him get onto the current. Cejudo immediately turned the unhealthy man. Or no decrease than, that was the notion.

Albarracin mentioned Cejudo felt so unhealthy about what occurred that he wouldn’t go to the fighter dwelling all by filming.

“He cared what all people would take into consideration him,” Albarracin mentioned. “and also you’ll see it inside the current how Benavidez was intimidating him with issues like that.”

Cejudo was painted as a outcome of the villain inside the enhancing of the current, additionally assisted by the fact that Benavidez was a longtime fan favourite. Then Cejudo misplaced to Benavidez by way of break up choice in December 2016.

whereas issues had been simmering inside him, there nonetheless wasn’t a marked change in Cejudo’s interviews or social media presence till he dethroned Johnson at UFC 227 in August 2018 to win the UFC flyweight title. Cejudo snapped Johnson’s file of eleven straight UFC title defenses by handing the all-time good his first loss in seven years.



Henry Cejudo: the right heel

Henry Cejudo meets all of the elements for being the UFC’s glorious heel.

in line with Albarracin, Cejudo anticipated to lastly get the credit rating as a outcomes of him after such a historic win, particularly contemplating that Johnson had accomplished him the essential time the two met in 2016. That fan acceptance did not happen. The rematch was shut, and a few thought Johnson was the rightful winner. Cejudo was nonetheless seen as a little bit of a rogue, and it made him really feel very like when he was criticized after he introduced, following his worthwhile of the Olympic gold medal, that he was taking a break from wrestling.

“He does not sleep for two years till he fights Demetrious Johnson as quickly as extra,” Albarracin mentioned. “And in his thoughts, when he beats Johnson, all people’s going to love him. however what occurred? Oh, it was controversial. ‘[Cejudo] misplaced — blah, blah, blah, blah.’ And nonetheless, he by no means obtained the love. and that i really feel that was the breaking level. That was the stick that broke the camel’s again as a outcome of that is when he mentioned, ‘i do not give a s— what of us take into consideration me anymore.'”

collectively with that feeling, on the time the UFC was contemplating abolishing the flyweight division. Johnson was traded to at least one Championship for Ben Askren later in 2018, and the UFC launched a quantity of extreme a hundred twenty five-pound fighters. Cejudo felt like he needed to make some waves to get the load class some buzz.

“i do know all people says that, however truthfully, he is greater than he was three years in the past. that is all I can say.”

Eddie Cha

His first title protection was scheduled for January 2019, a superfight in opposition to then-bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw, who could be transferring proper down to flyweight to aim to level proper into a two-division champ. Borrowing from Conor McGregor’s description of Dillashaw as a “snake inside the grass” on “the closing phrase Fighter” years earlier, Cejudo used that line usually in his trash discuss. all by fight week, earlier than a promotional faceoff with Dillashaw, Cejudo launched an limitless rubber snake with him onstage and commenced whipping it in opposition to the underside violently, simply ft from the place Dillashaw was standing.

Cejudo knocked out Dillashaw in 32 seconds to retain the belt. The UFC additionally decided later that yr to not kill off the flyweight division in any case. The King of Cringe was making waves.

“after which he did get greater,” Cejudo’s hanging coach, Cha, mentioned. “His followers went up, the whole lot went up. maybe as a outcome of they hated him, no matter. however he actually laughs when he posts one factor and also you will see 500 suggestions and 300 of them are all destructive. He simply laughs at it. i am going, ‘Henry, why are you entertaining these guys and responding?’ He goes, ‘i do not care about this stuff. I simply giggle at it. … however i am getting the suggestions, proper? i am getting the likes.’ So, he does not thoughts being the unhealthy man.”

CORMIER FLEW TO Arizona final month to interview Cejudo in Cormier’s function as a UFC broadcaster. whereas there, Cejudo confirmed him a chart that retains observe of his teaching camp, proper down to the percentages of how onerous he would work every day. Saturday, in Cejudo’s plan, is a very extremely effective one — it is when he simulates fight day.

Cormier did not should enter element about what the chart contained, however he mentioned he was blown away by the eye to element. Cejudo then gave Cormier a mannequin of the chart for Cormier’s Gilroy (California) highschool wrestling group.

“It was loopy,” Cormier mentioned. “He was like, ‘DC, i do not simply do my camp — I do my camp on this methodology.’ And he confirmed me all this stuff. i used to be like wow. This dude will not be simply teaching to put together for a fight. he is getting ready for a fight like not many others do. … it is fulfilling to see somebody deal with this like an exact sport.”

Albarracin mentioned Cejudo retains a purple e book with him to place in writing down strategies and knowledge he has gleaned about his future opponents. Cejudo breaks down foes in 5 packages: assault, counterattack, anticipate, really feel and take hazard. based mostly on how he analyzes fighters, Cejudo will current you a recreation plan after which gears his preparation to match that.

“I flip it proper into a card recreation — my 5 senses in opposition to their 5 senses,” Cejudo mentioned. “and that i start to dabble into how i am truly going to fight the fight. Having that skill to regulate to a fighter may even be key.”

Wiedemer calls Cejudo “good” as a outcome of of this of methodology he is in a place to evaluation what goes to not be working in his recreation after which understand the foundational steps he can take to enhance these issues. it is a extra complicated mannequin of working smarter, not tougher. Wiedemer is a longtime energy and conditioning coach for Jones, who referred him to Cejudo. Wiedemer and his confederate Stan Efferding, who additionally handles Cejudo’s vitamin, have been flying to Arizona on alternating weeks all by this teaching camp from Cincinnati and Las Vegas, respectively.

“that is the true genius of Henry,” Wiedemer mentioned. “He understands strategies to dissect one factor. In our teaching, we do not do something that is not measurable, progressive and transferrable. … Henry will inform you we do not do an superior deal of barbell lifts, as a outcome of it is not pertinent to what Henry is doing. The exercises we have Henry doing are going to be transferable to his sport.”

the two staple exercises of Cejudo’s teaching camp, per Wiedemer, have been the “power Pohl” and a belt squat. the flexibility Pohl is a prepare system worn throughout the shoulders and torso that zeroes in on the hips, as effectively as to the glutes, hamstrings and spinal erectors. The belt squat incorporates a platform Cejudo is strapped into the place weight is pulling him down from the floor. Cejudo has been using as a lot as 200 kilos of strain inside the belt squat, and Wiedemer has him do his MMA drills — collectively with sparring — whereas strapped into the machine.

“he is 30% stronger in his hips and his glutes and his hamstrings [since the start of training camp],” Wiedemer mentioned. “he is 25% stronger in his greater again. His conditioning is by way of the roof. I imply, he can blow by sparring rounds. When he started, three three-minute rounds might’ve given him trouble. Now he is blowing by 5 5-minute rounds no draw again. he is leaner. he is by no means been this lean and large heading proper into a fight. His weight is right the place he wants it to be, however he is by no means been this muscular.”

Cha has seen associated positive factors in Cejudo’s MMA efficiency inside the gymnasium.

“truthfully, that is in all probability the biggest we have seen him,” Cha mentioned. “it is the backside he has been in weight, however he is methodology stronger. he is simply so twitchy quick. He understands the sport. to not give an extreme quantity of away, nonetheless it is onerous to clarify how good he is proper now. i do know all people says that, however truthfully, he is greater than he was three years in the past. that is all I can say.” If Cejudo was going to return the Octagon, it was by no means going to be midway. He has designs on not solely worthwhile again the bantamweight title, however defending it earlier than the extreme of summer time in opposition to rising star Sean O’Malley. After that, Cejudo want to hone in on the UFC featherweight title and current champion Alexander Volkanovski.

Cejudo is already the one fighter to win an Olympic gold medal and two UFC divisional titles. Now, he desires to be the essential athlete to level proper into a UFC triple champion. Albarracin mentioned Cejudo believes doing so would make him the greater of all time in MMA.

“As a lot as Henry says he is the biggest fight athlete of all time — and he is as a outcomes of what he has carried out inside the two utterly different sports activities, the hardest sports activities of all of them, and who he beat to do it — he nonetheless does not place himself on [GOAT] mountain,” Albarracin mentioned. “… i really feel him coming again is the first step to him climbing GOAT mountain.”

money is a think about his return. household has been an incentive. and teaching all of the very biggest-stage fighters he has acted as an inspiration, Cejudo mentioned. however greater than something, the one factor driving him to fight as quickly as extra is the fact that there is extra legacy left to be written. “i am in it to win it,” Cejudo mentioned. “Persona aside — neglect the whole lot that I simply mentioned — i am a competitor and that i am the closing phrase, biggest man you will ever meet. and that i take my teaching critical. I take the whole lot I do critical.”

effectively, virtually. simply if you assume the King of Cringe is inclined to be despatched into hibernation, Cejudo can not assist however slip again into character all by an interview earlier than UFC 288, poking fulfilling at Sterling’s Caribbean heritage.

“i am solely a cornball,” Cejudo mentioned with fulfilling. “i am a cringey human being who simply is aware of strategies to win. that is it. that is who i am.”


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