Assessing the Future of Henry Cejudo Following UFC 238

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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 19: During a camera interview, Henry Cejudo talks to TJ Dillashaw after winning their UFC Flyweight title match at UFC Fight Night at Barclays Center on January 19, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Over the course of the last 10 months, Henry Cejudo has put together quite an impressive run of success. Last August, he picked up a closely fought split-decision victory over Demetrious Johnson to become the UFC flyweight champion. Five months later, he defended his 125-pound title with a 32-second knockout victory over then-bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw.

And now most recently, Cejudo scored a highly impressive stoppage victory Marlon Moraes this past weekend at UFC 238 to win the promotion’s vacant 135-pound belt. With the win, Cejudo became only the fourth fighter in promotional history to simultaneously hold two titles in two different weight classes.

In his post-fight interview following the win over Moraes, Cejudo called out big names such as Urijah Faber, Dominick Cruz, and Cody Garbrandt. And while it makes sense that he would be targeting the most lucrative fights, those options appear to be quite unrealistic. With a belt now on each shoulder, however, Cejudo does indeed have more realistic options awaiting him.

Options at Flyweight

Heading into UFC 238, some felt that if Henry Cejudo added the bantamweight title to his collection, the end of the road could be near for the flyweight division. After all, it has seemed as if that division has been on its last legs for about a year or so now.

After the event, however, UFC President Dana White appeared to have dismissed that idea, implying that the division may, in fact, remain around. It is, of course, important to remember that anything can happen and that anything can change in this sport.

Regardless, Cejudo defending his 125-pound belt next seems to be a realistic option as of now. And while the division is incredibly thin at the moment, there is a challenger that makes sense: the winner of Joseph Benavidez vs. Jussier Formiga.

Benavidez, a two-time title challenger, has long been one of the division’s best, but he could never get by Johnson. He does, however, own a win over Cejudo. After coaching against each other on The Ultimate Fighter and stirring up a bit of a rivalry, the two met in December 2016 when Benavidez scored a split-decision victory.

When you take into account that Benavidez owns a win over the champion in addition to the fact that he’s won eight of his last nine fights, a win over Formiga would certainly make him deserving of a shot at gold.

And with Formiga, the Brazilian has also been a longtime contender at flyweight, though he’s never received a title shot. Now a winner of four straight, a win over Benavidez would also make him a logical next contender to the flyweight title of Henry Cejudo.

Bantamweight Contenders

Of course, however, it’s quite possible that Cejudo’s next bout doesn’t take place at flyweight given that he’s now the proud owner of two titles. And if that’s the case, the dual-champion has options at 135 pounds as well. The options he mentioned, however, shouldn’t be in the cards.

Faber, for example, retired after a victory over Brad Pickett in 2016. He’ll be returning next month against Ricky Simon, but even with a win, wouldn’t be deserving of a title shot at this moment. Cruz, meanwhile, is coming off of a loss and hasn’t competed since 2016. And finally, Garbrandt is riding a three-fight losing streak with all three of those losses coming via stoppage.

Simply put, the UFC shouldn’t consider any of those three men for Cejudo to make his first title defense against at bantamweight. The promotion should, however, consider granting the opportunity to the division’s No. 2-ranked contender Aljamain Sterling.

The Long Island native known as the “Funkmaster” is currently riding a four-fight winning streak and most recently competed at UFC 238 alongside Cejudo. That string of victories includes wins over Brett Johns, Cody Stamann, Jimmie Rivera and Pedro Munhoz.

Few in the division are more deserving of a title shot than the 29-year-old Sterling. And, the timing would likely work out perfectly with him and Cejudo to square off later this year.

If for some reason, Sterling isn’t next, rising contender Petr Yan has been making waves at bantamweight as well. The 26-year-old, who also competed at UFC 238, holds a 13-1 professional record and is 5-0 in the UFC thus far. Yan is also a former ACB (Now ACA) champion. He shouldn’t be too far off from a shot at gold, though it’d be difficult to see him jumping Sterling at this moment.

Reality

In today’s mixed martial arts landscape, rankings ultimately seem to mean very little. “Money fights” have reigned supreme and we’ve seen many champions chase the biggest and most lucrative fights instead of chasing the fights with the most deserving contenders.

Conor McGregor, for example, did this when he held two UFC divisions hostage to take on Floyd Mayweather in a boxing match in 2017. Even heavyweight titleholder Daniel Cormier is a bit guilty of this, as he’s been chasing a fight with Brock Lesnar, who hasn’t technically won a fight since 2011.

Point is; when fighters get to the top of the mountain, they tend to set their sights on cashing out. And we’ve already seen this a bit with Cejudo. With the names that he called out after UFC 238. Also the fact that he expressed his interest in chasing a title at 145 pounds as well, it’s clear that he wants the fights that will line his pockets the most.

With that being said, it’s quite possible that he doesn’t take on any of the aforementioned contenders in his next bout. But, if he has an interest in defending one of his titles against a fighter who is actually deserving, he has good options at either weight.

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