Cejudo thrives once again in underdog role

Henry Cejudo celebrates his victory with two belts (Jeff Bottari, Zuffa LLC/Getty Images)

Most people would call it adversity.

But not Henry Cejudo.

Looking overwhelmed and overmatched early in his UFC title fight against Marlon Moraes on Saturday night in Chicago, Cejudo did what he's done his entire life.

He kept fighting.

Cejudo's been an underdog since the day he was born as the son of undocumented immigrants from Mexico.

He's a guy who grew up so poor he didn't often know where his next meal was coming from. Or if there would even be a meal.

Falling behind against Moraes would've finished most fighters, but not the resilient and determined Cejudo.

Cejudo made an incredible recovery, setting a fast pace and eventually wearing Moraes out with a relentless attack before the fight was stopped in the third round.

Cejudo won the UFC bantamweight world title at 135 pounds to go with the UFC title he also owns in the flyweight class at 125 pounds.

When he won his second UFC title Saturday night, it once again made me reflect back on Cejudo's wrestling career.

As many of you know, Cejudo made a decision to step away from wrestling after winning the 2008 Olympic gold medal in men's freestyle at 55 kilograms. He was just 21 years old.

Wrestlers weren't receiving the huge bonuses and paydays for winning the Olympics back then and that definitely factored into his decision to step away. He also has experienced tough weight cuts at the 2007 Pan American Games and 2008 Olympic Games to make 121 pounds.

Cejudo eventually came back to wrestling at the 2012 Olympic Trials, but came up just short after losing an entertaining bout to world fifth-place finisher Nick Simmons.

Cejudo hadn't trained and competed much at the time, but he still showed he had the same talent and ability he put on display in 2008.

Who knows what would've happened if he would have remained committed for one more Olympic cycle?

He certainly would've contended for Olympic gold in 2012. No question about that.

But if Cejudo wins another Olympic gold medal in wrestling, maybe he never pursues a career in mixed martial arts. Who knows?

The good news is that we still have an opportunity to watch him compete. And at a high level.

Cejudo is 32 years old, but he looks as strong and explosive as ever. He's a dynamic athlete who still has lightning-quick speed.

He has the total package for a mixed martial artist. He has excellent striking skills to go with his superior wrestling ability.

One of the reasons he may look so good at age 32 is he didn't train and compete at a top level that much from age 21-25 during the 2009-12 Olympic cycle. That may have saved some wear and tear on his body.

He's also very strong mentally. He knew he was in great shape and he was well aware he could use his high level of conditioning to his advantage Saturday night.

He disclosed that he had suffered a serious ankle injury just before the bout, but he fought through it to prevail Saturday. One underrated part of Cejudo's repertoire is his toughness. He is as gritty and hard-nosed of a competitor as I've ever seen. And he has a tremendous work ethic.

He also has that same confidence he's always had. He believes in his abilities and he trusts his coaches and his training. He's an intelligent person who knows exactly what he's doing.

Cejudo has come up with a few interesting, and even offbeat, ways to market and promote himself outside the ring, but he is one of the most genuine, kind and considerate guys you will ever meet.

He is a happy person who loves to smile and joke around. He is a charismatic guy who fans should rally around and support.

He's a unique and tremendous talent. And his fights are exciting and highly entertaining. Why not embrace that?

Shortly after his latest win, UFC president Dana White draped Cejudo's championship belts over each of his shoulders and he proclaimed himself "the greatest combat athlete of all-time."

He didn't need to say it.

Cejudo owns an Olympic gold medal in wrestling and two UFC world championship belts.

That speaks for itself.

Who else has a resume in combat sports that even comes close to that?

Late Saturday night, Cejudo even talked about bumping up to 145 pounds to try and win a UFC title in a third different weight class.

It may seem a little ambitious, but remember who we're talking about.

The guy who excels in the underdog role. And who absolutely loves proving people wrong.

When Cejudo was in high school, he wasn't dreaming about winning an Olympic gold medal. He was planning on doing it.

Henry Cejudo is someone nobody should ever count out.

His performance Saturday night once again was proof of that.

Craig Sesker has written about wrestling for more than three decades. He's covered three Olympic Games and is a two-time national wrestling writer of the year.


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