Henry Cejudo’s attempt to save the flyweight division might inadvertently destroy it
Flyweight champion Henry Cejudo stood tall at UFC 238, relentlessly raining down punches and elbows on top of bantamweight contender Marlon Moraes—every concussive blow serving as a mortal wound to the 125 pound division. Help came for Moraes in the form of referee Marc Goddard at 4:51 of the third round, but none is coming for the flyweight division, which is now bereft of life and lying stone cold on the blood-spattered canvas.
Demetrious Johnson has already moved on. The UFC already moved on. After winning his third major sports title, Cejudo finally moved on.
“I have a hit list, but I want to start making heavyweight money,” Cejudo told UFC commentator Joe Rogan after the fight. “I’m going to give you guys that list right now because I’m a prize fighter, Joe. For all of you 135-pounders, I’m going to call out people personally. Dominick Cruz, Cody Garbrandt, Urijah Faber—and then I would like to eventually go up a weight class and solidify another belt too.”
Cejudo’s itinerary towards all-time greatness was set without a mere mention of the flyweight division or any of its participants. Never mind the fact that Joseph Benavidez and Jussier Formiga, the top-two flyweight contenders in the world, are fighting in less than a month. That ship sailed into the sunset the moment the words “prize fighter” left Cejudo’s lips.
How ironic the man heralded as the flyweight savior could be the one to save the bantamweight division instead.
An argument could be made that Cejudo is currently the most marquee fighter in the bantamweight division. T.J. Dillashaw is serving out a two-year suspension for a failed drug test, and Cruz is still recovering from a significant shoulder injury. Meanwhile, Garbrandt is expected to take some time off after being stopped by strikes in three consecutive bouts. Bantamweight arguably needed a hero more than flyweight, and it has seemingly found one in the brash, triple-crown champion.
UFC President Dana White confirmed the flyweight division was sticking around at the UFC 238 post-fight press conference, despite the stench from the division’s rotting carcass billowing from the United Center. Most of the talent in the division has already been released, including legendary former flyweight king Demetrious Johnson, who was traded to ONE Championship in 2018. There are enough vacancies at flyweight to sign a UFC contract and immediately be introduced into the promotion as a top-15 fighter.
The most coveted destination once revered for its 125-pound talent has now been reduced to a barren wasteland. The division merely exists for the aesthetics of Cejudo walking around with two belts and an Olympic gold medal. Being champ-champ-champ has become the major selling point, and Cejudo appears determined to land fight contracts as big as the names he’s crossing off.
There is no going backwards after he basically called out every top bantamweight contender, along with teasing a move to 145 pounds. So that essentially leaves the flyweight division with few recognizable faces and no defending champion, which could be the final nail in the coffin for a weight class that came into existence only seven years ago.
The truth is the writing was already on the wall the moment the UFC made the move to trade Johnson after a controversial split decision loss to Cejudo. Not even time can alleviate the sting from arguably the greatest fighter in MMA history being denied an opportunity for a rematch after 11 consecutive UFC title defenses.
From strictly a business perspective, however, it would be hard to argue the promotion made the wrong choice by going all-in on Henry Cejudo. While he’s 1-1 with Johnson inside the octagon, his shtick as an entertainer far outweighs what the UFC got in return from the former pound-for-pound king. Make no mistake, Johnson is one of the most exciting fighters in the world, but Cejudo, cringe-worthy or not, is better at selling fights and willing to move weight classes to do so.
Henry Cejudo brought props. pic.twitter.com/O7XC4DA4ko
— Ariel Helwani (@arielhelwani) June 6, 2019
Even the possibility of Henry Cejudo defending the bantamweight title against a 40-year-old Faber would be far more marketable than any fight the UFC could scrape together with the scattered remains of the flyweight division. If Cejudo believed differently, he would have name-dropped one of his peers from his old stomping grounds at 125 pounds.
Yet, he opted to turn the page once he got a taste of something bigger; more importantly, an opportunity to solidify a legacy far greater than any fighter that has ever stepped foot in the octagon. The flyweight division put him on the path to that journey, but it was never meant to be the destination. Not every fighter is content to spend an entire career defending one belt in one division.
Henry Cejudo may not save the flyweight division, but he legitimized it in a way few ever thought possible. By knocking off Dillashaw and Moraes, he single-handedly proved how underrated the division has been for so many years. The punchline weight class with fighters that have often been ridiculed for their lack of power and size now stands taller than ever before, even if an end is inevitable.
Benavidez will fight Formiga, Cejudo will chase prize fights and the remains of the flyweight division will dissipate into nihility—a quiet, yet unsurprising ending to an under-appreciated division lucky enough to get a decent funeral.
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 6/11/2019.
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