Henry Cejudo heard the fire alarm go off in his hotel around 2 a.m. on Oct. 9. He figured it was just a mistake.
“I looked outside my room, nothing is going on,” Cejudo told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s episode of The MMA Hour. “I look outside my bedroom window and nothing is going on. There are cars there, nothing is moving. I thought, ‘OK this is a malfunction.’”
So, Cejudo, who was in Santa Rosa, Calif., for a celebrity charity golf event, just went back to bed. He woke up at 4:30 a.m. coughing. It had nothing to do with the wine he drank the night before at the gala. It was smoke filling his room — and his lungs.
Cejudo’s quick actions in the proceeding moments likely saved his life. And the UFC flyweight fighter will still be fighting Sergio Pettis on UFC 218 on Dec. 2 in Detroit. The Olympic wrestling gold medalist is currently in Brazil training.
With his trouble breathing inside that hotel room at the Fountaingrove Inn, Cejudo snatched open the curtains to see what was going on. What he witnessed was horrifying. Half the hotel was engulfed in flames. The wildfires that have been wreaking havoc in Northern California were on his doorstep.
“i’m talking about fire coming out the windows — like flame,” Cejudo said. “The whole thing is on fire.”
Cejudo, who was wearing only a towel, grabbed the only things he could find quickly: the pair of slacks he wore the night before and his phone. He then jumped from two-story window onto a branch. The branch, Cejudo said, was on fire. But that was a risk he needed to take at the moment.
“I knew I was gonna get burnt,” Cejudo said. “I didn’t mind getting burnt as long as i was able to breathe.”
Cejudo hit the branch and then the ground. His foot was on fire and he had to stomp it out. When he looked around, he was completely deserted and alone. There was fire everywhere, but no cars or people. He spotted a police car about a quarter mile away on a freeway and bolted toward that, figuring it would be his only hope of survival.
“I was scared,” Cejudo said. “I thought I felt adrenaline fighting. This is something I’ve never felt before. I was kind of in survival mode. I’m a fighter, I’m a wrestler. The only thing I know how to do is survive.
“I was thinking this is a horrible way to die, man. Maybe I deserve to die, but not like this.”
Cejudo, 30, said he had to hop multiple fences on his way to the cop car. The third and final one was flimsy, he said, and it folded up and hooked onto his slacks on the way down, ripping half of them off and cutting into his butt.
As all this was happening, the cop car ended up leaving. Cejudo made it to the freeway, with one pant leg left and a burnt foot, and he was alone again. Suddenly, a fire truck came by and picked him up and drove him to safety. The firemen told Cejudo that he was a “lucky guy” and the hotel evacuated more than two hours earlier. There was no one else there.
In the fire, Cejudo lost his Olympic gold medal, his Olympic ring and a belt his mentor made for him. All of those things were sentimental to him. But the Arizona native doesn’t mind too much right now.
“I wasn't even thinking about that,” Cejudo said. “I was like, man! I just dodged a bullet, man.
“I’m just happy to be alive. They're like, ‘Aren't you sad?’ Nah, I’m happy. I kissed the floor when i got back.”
Cejudo said he has now motivated by what happened and plans to donate $50,000 to the victims of the fires. Forty people have died in the fires and dozens are still missing. Cejudo knows that could have been him and he plans on taking the memory of those lost with him into the cage in December.
“If God had to pick somebody to go through that, it would be me,” Cejudo said. “Because I'm here to tell the story. I don't think your average Joe would have gotten out of there.”