Why is it so difficult to anticipate Henry Cejudo’s performance versus Aljamain Sterling at UFC 288 in Newark?

Cejudo’s ascent to the top and abrupt demise walk a fine line between opportunism and supreme talent.

Picking off right where he left off, Henry Cejudo. Almost three years after he left the UFC as the bantamweight champion, Cejudo is back to take on Aljamain Sterling for the title at UFC 288 on Saturday. People are unsure of how the Olympic gold medalist will return to the game after leaving it as one of the biggest success stories in combat sports.

In the height of his career, Cejudo retired from competition. During his current six-fight winning streak, he held the titles of bantamweight and flyweight simultaneously, defeated the legendary Demetrious Johnson through controversial split decision, and stopped three more opponents via TKO in a row. The most promising performances were his final three. Marlon Moraes, Dominick Cruz, and T.J. Dillashaw were all stopped by strikes from Cejudo — three fighters with striking reputations significantly greater than Cejudo’s. It marked his transition from an Olympic wrestler to a top-tier mixed martial artist and “his technical maturation as a fighter,” according to commentator and “Morning Kombat” co-host Luke Thomas.

“He didn’t win at all with wrestling in his last few fights,” Thomas remarked. There are some obviously mitigating conditions there. “He won it almost solely with striking and did it against the very toughest opponents of his career. a man whose name I’ve known when I first heard him was a dynamic athlete.

Despite having not competed in over a year, Cejudo is a slight favorite over the current champion thanks to his superior, all-around skill set. Cejudo is presently listed as a -115 favorite against Sterling at Caesars Sportsbook. Sterling is a fantastic grappler who is especially skilled in the back mount. Whether Sterling has the offensive wrestling to use his ground game against the Olympic gold medalist is a heavyweight-sized question mark. Sterling is a competent but not particularly outstanding striker. Although Cejudo’s hands and feet showed consistent growth, insufficient data was mined to identify its limitations.

Only four UFC competitors have attained the title of champ-champ, including Cejudo. Alongside Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, and Amanda Nunes, he joins elite company. However, Cejudo’s “cringe” persona and the circumstances surrounding his brief reign at the top occasionally overshadow his talent. When Dillashaw switched to flyweight, he was incredibly exhausted. After Moraes’ freefall in the ensuing battles, his war with him fared poorly. Cruz fought for the first time since his last match three and a half years prior on the first episode of the epidemic.

When discussing Henry Cejudo’s expanding legacy, “Morning Kombat” co-host and CBS Sports analyst Brian Campbell admitted that he may have unfairly penalized him. “He was an opportunistic fighter who took advantage of numerous opportunities, giving him a quicker chance than he necessarily deserved to proclaim himself one of the greatest.

“While that is still somewhat true, the fact that he is one of the best mixed martial artists in the history of our sport is utterly discounted by that line of thinking. When you combine that with his Olympic wrestling success, he takes on the persona of a combat sports Jim Thorpe folk hero.

On May 24, 2020—one week after Cejudo’s title was formally vacated by the UFC—the official bantamweight Top 15 rankings for the organization looked like this.

FIGHTER
1. Marlon Moraes
2. Aljamain Sterling
3. Petr Yan
4. Cory Sandhagen
5. Raphael Assuncao
6. Jose Aldo
7. Pedro Munhoz
8. Jimmie Rivera
9. Cody Garbrandt
10. Rob Font
11. Dominick Cruz
12. Cody Stamann
13. John Dodson
14. Song Yadong
15. Marlon Vera

 

In just three years, a lot has changed. Moraes, who was the top-ranked bantamweight contender at the time, is presently competing in the PFL and has lost his last six matches all by way of stoppage. At the time’s Nos. 5 and 6, Assuncao and Aldo, respectively, have both left MMA. Bare-knuckle boxing is something that Rivera and Dodson have experimented with. Even Yan, who took Cejudo’s place and won the bantamweight title, is barely clinging on after suffering three straight defeats to some of the top bantamweights.

Since then, there have also been success stories, especially among the newer generation of fighters. Leading talents include Sterling, Sandhagen, Song, Vera, and Font. At the time of Cejudo’s retirement, Merab Dvalishvili and Sean O’Malley were not even listed in the rankings; today, they are ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.

Despite not competing in the Octagon, Cejudo has maintained a strong presence in mixed martial arts. He has evolved into a sort of super coach. Jon Jones, the heavyweight champion of the UFC, recruited Cejudo before his eagerly anticipated and eventually successful comeback. Cejudo and Zhang Weili collaborated to reclaim the UFC women’s strawweight title. During his championship campaigns, Cejudo also collaborated with flyweight Deiveson Figueiredo and light heavyweight Jiri Prochazka. Three years later, the effectiveness of Cejudo’s physical abilities is still up in the air, but his cerebral tools remain razor-sharp.

Even if he receives his due respect, Campbell noted that there are occasions when his legacy is under question. “Given how brief it is, it’s difficult to really put a strong hold on it. Early on, he had the opportunity to win two divisional championships. Before someone of that caliber had earned it, according to some. But if you go back and put it all together, he developed into a skilled fighter and problem-solver.

He did rely on favorable circumstances, such as getting to face Dillashaw and losing weight, to acquire a passport stamp, but he was also prepared, willing, and capable of changing for each of those crucial close-up opportunities. a genuine living icon who, to be honest, is not given the respect he truly merits.