Back at UFC Brooklyn in January, Cejudo successfully defended his title against Dillashaw, the bantamweight champion who was going down a division for a second belt, winning by first-round TKO. Dillashaw and UFC president Dana White argued that the stoppage was premature and it appeared that the two were destined to meet again, either in a rematch for Cejudo’s title or with Cejudo returning to 135 pounds for his chance to become a dual-division champion.
Any discussions on that front are now moot with Dillashaw voluntarily relinquishing his title as his case is investigated and he serves a one-year suspension from the New York State Athletic Commission.
MMA Fighting spoke to Cejudo’s head coach Eric Albarracin (calling from the BioXcellerator stem cell treatment center in Medellin, Colombia, where he is preparing Patricio “Pitbull” Freire for his upcoming fight with Michael Chandler) to get his thoughts on the situation and he expressed remorse for Dillashaw should this prove to be a misunderstanding, and also lamented what could be a lost opportunity for Cejudo.
“My instant reaction to tell you the truth was I felt sorry for T.J.,” Albarracin said. “I was like, man this guy was the champ chasing another belt, he had to come down a weight class, trying to beat the guy who beat the G.O.A.T. to become the pound-for-pound best and he lost it all. I kind of felt sorry, I was hoping it was a mistake on two different ends. I was hoping it was a mistake because he’s got a family to support and I don’t wish that on anybody, that fall from glory.
“But then on the other hand it kind of sucks for Henry because Henry really wanted that rivalry fight and that money fight and the belt at 135 and that made the most sense. Let’s move up, we shut the critics up, we get another fight at 135, we beat him again, we win the belt, there’s a rivalry there, everybody wants to watch it because [Dillashaw was] on Joe Rogan and telling everybody that he didn’t lose the fight, Henry didn’t beat him. We were going to shut the critics up once and for all. Dana was saying that the fight was stopped early, so we were going to shut everybody up.”
Asked how close a Cejudo-Dillashaw rematch was in coming to fruition, Albarracin said it would have been perfect for them to be part of the UFC 239 card in Las Vegas during International Fight Week. He wouldn’t even mind if Cejudo’s next fight played the co-headliner to the return of Conor McGregor.
“It kind of throws a wrench in our plans because we were really pushing for that International Fight Week, Henry vs. T.J.,” Cejudo said. “Especially if Conor McGregor was going to be on that card, that would have been something to be part of.”
Albarracin reiterated multiple times that he hoped it was simply a mistake, though he added that Cejudo’s victory over Dillashaw would be that much more impressive in retrospect should it be proven that Dillashaw was benefiting from banned substances.
Dillashaw, a two-time bantamweight champion who has wins over Cody Garbrandt, Renan Barao, and Raphael Assuncao, has already put together a resume that puts him among the all-time greats, and Albarracin thinks that Cejudo beating him made a statement not just for Cejudo, but the entire flyweight division.
“If (Dillashaw) was on something, that just raises Henry’s stock,” Albarracin said. “For a flyweight, the flyweights who everybody thinks sucks and are boring and want to get rid of the division, and he beats the greatest bantamweight of all-time who has an adverse USADA finding.”
The field is wide open now for Cejudo, who could schedule another flyweight title defense and give the UFC a reason to keep that division around or still make that jump back up to bantamweight and face another top contender there for a vacant title. Albarracin mentioned Marlon Moraes as likely being first in line to claim a spot in the next bantamweight title fight, though he noted that Moraes and Cejudo have the same representation.
Another name he brought up was Joseph Benavidez, a longtime UFC flyweight title contender who holds a 2016 split decision win over Cejudo. Albarracin said that Cejudo would love to “serve Joe Benavidez up a cold plate of Aztec warrior revenge.”
Albarracin believes that its Cejudo who holds the cards now in deciding his next matchup.
“If I know Henry, he still wants that [bantamweight] belt,” Albarracin said. “But I don’t know if that’s the money fight though. To tell you the truth, I think Henry’s the money fight now.
“Henry’s created his own kind of legacy in his own division and people should be wanting to come to him to fight him because of what he’s done in this sport as far as beating Demetrious Johnson, the greatest pound-for-pound fighter of all time, 11 straight title defenses, and then beat the greatest bantamweight of all-time. So Henry, to me, has created his own superfight division.”