Henry Cejudo had waited silently long enough. Finally, he couldn’t take it.
“Hold on ladies and gentlemen,” Cejudo pleaded (demanded?) during a conference call in advance of his UFC 227 co-main event flyweight title fight Saturday. “You’re jumping the gun on this.”
The gold medal wrestler-turned top-ranked mixed martial arts fighter didn’t want to hear another word of glowing praise for his opponent, Demetrious Johnson (27-2-1). One reporter had asked Johnson if he considered himself the best UFC fighter in history. Another had asked which fight he would take next. Another speculated that it might be time for him to jump to another weight class and expand his territory and legacy.
“Demetrious Johnson has a fight this Saturday,” Cejudo butted in, “with the Messenger.”
It’s not that Cejudo (12-2) doesn’t understand what he’s up against. The Coronado High School graduate and former Olympic Training Center resident even compared the champ to LeBron James this week.
But Cejudo suggested he might play the role of Steph Curry.
“(We’ve) got a good team that’ll challenge him,” Cejudo said. “That’s the way I see it now.”
Cejudo didn’t come about this confidence for a rematch with Johnson with ease. He lost his first title fight in 2016 when knees from Johnson sent him into the fence and referee John McCarthy stepped in and stopped a hail of punches at the 2:49 mark of Round 1 — handing Johnson the TKO victory.
Knowing he couldn’t close that gap with a simple fix or by learning something that could exploit a weakness in Johnson’s repertoire — “You can’t do that. He’s done everything” — Cejudo instead sought help. The Messenger turned into The Listener. And The Traveler.
He went to Amsterdam. Brazil. Thailand. Every place he picked up something new, even on the wrestling and grappling aspect of his game that gave him an obvious advantage because of his background as the best in the world.
It was a holistic approach that spilled over into Cejudo’s choice for prefight camp. He enlisted the help of NeuroForce1 to provide a scientific approach reminiscent of what helped Cejudo thrive at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs before he won gold at 21 in Beijing.
“I’m sure he’s going to come out and try to show me something new,” said Johnson, who puts his record and title belt on the line. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Was Cejudo’s attempt at a reboot enough? He’ll find out, along with everybody else, on Saturday night at the Staples Center in the pay-per-view event.
“I’ve done my due diligence,” Cejudo said, “and I can’t wait until Saturday.”