He accomplished that goal with a third-round TKO to claim the UFC bantamweight title, capping off an action-packed night of fights from Chicago.
Meanwhile in the co-main event, Valentina Shevchenko defended her throne as the reigning UFC women’s flyweight champion with one of the scariest knockouts in recent history when she nearly decapitated Jessica Eye with a head kick in the second round.
Tony Ferguson also got back on track with a win over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone after busting up his face and earning a TKO after doctors would not let the UFC and WEC veteran continue due to a swollen eye that completely shut down his ability to see.
We already know who won and lost on Saturday night in Chicago but as we dig a little deeper into the card, what passed and what failed on the latest pay-per-view card?
This is Making the Grade for UFC 238: Moraes vs. Cejudo.
All Hail the King of Cringe
Henry Cejudo has fully embraced his gimmick where he will do things like show up to a media day dressed like ‘The Wiz’ from “Seinfeld” and then pull stuffed rabbits and rubber snakes out of a hat but the self-proclaimed ‘King of Cringe’ is also one hell of a good fighter.
On Saturday night at UFC 238, Cejudo became the latest UFC ‘champ-champ’ after he won the bantamweight title with a third round TKO against Marlon Moraes, which came less than a year after he won the flyweight belt with a split decision victory over Demetrious Johnson.
Cejudo’s current three-fight run stands up there amongst the best trio of wins in history when you think about dethroning Johnson after 11 straight title defenses, knocking out T.J. Dillashaw in just 32 seconds and then finishing off Moraes inside three rounds.
Afterwards, Cejudo called himself as the greatest combat sports athlete in history thanks to his two UFC titles and a 2008 gold medal in freestyle wrestling from the Olympics. Cejudo may still have some work to do before he can stand head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd when it comes to ‘all-time great’ status but he’s not far away from the top either.
Cejudo said after his latest win that he also hopes to eventually move up to featherweight and tackle a third world title. It might be tough to imagine that actually happening any time soon, but at this point if Cejudo says it, we should all at least listen to him.
Head Kick Heard Round the World
Every fighter hopes to for the kind of performances that will one day end up on a highlight reel and that’s exactly what UFC women’s flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko managed to accomplish in her first title defense on Saturday night.
Following a dominant opening round, Shevchenko uncorked a devastating head kick that knocked out Jessica Eye cold before she even hit the mat. The audio from the replay only amplified the jaw-dropping finish as Shevchenko’s foot bounced off Eye’s head bringing a stop to the fight just 26 seconds into the second round.
Shevchenko remains undefeated at flyweight while once again staking her claim as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in all of the women’s divisions. The only problem Shevchenko is going to have is finding worthwhile competition at 125 pounds.
While there are plenty of veteran contenders hoping for a shot at gold, Shevchenko has separated herself from every other fighter in the flyweight division by a wide margin. Much like Demetrious Johnson once did in the men’s flyweight division in the UFC, Shevchenko might have to wait for some time before a serious contender truly emerges but until then she will happily collect title defenses as the 125-pound division continues to grow and evolve.
Aljamain Sterling has long been considered one of the best prospects in the UFC bantamweight division but he had failed in past attempts to truly transition into a legitimate threat to the title. Losses to Bryan Caraway, Raphael Assuncao and Marlon Moraes stopped Sterling dead in his tracks every time he began a run that could have put him into the top five rankings in the division.
In his past four fights, Sterling has rewritten the narrative about his potential in this division with the exclamation point coming at UFC 238 in a strong showing against Pedro Munhoz.
At times, Sterling has been criticized for a somewhat reserved strategy when taking on the top fighters in the world at 135 pounds while constantly being pegged as a suffocating grappler rather than a well-rounded mixed martial artist. Well on Saturday night, Sterling barely even looked at the canvas while showcasing a diverse striking attack to dismantle Munhoz over the course of 15 minutes.
If not for the slugfest that ensued on the main card between Tony Ferguson and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone, there’s a good chance Sterling would have gone home with ‘Fight of the Night’ honors for his three-round battle against Munhoz.
More importantly than all of that is Sterling staking his claim to a potential title shot with this latest triumph as he hopes to become the first fighter in the bantamweight division to challenge Cejudo now that he’s champion.
Main Card Contention
When the UFC builds an event there are always considerations taken when it comes to the placement of certain fights from the main card all the way down to the early prelims. UFC 238 was one of the most stacked events of 2019 so it was an embarrassment of riches with only five fights on the pay-per-view broadcast and with two title fights and the lightweight showdown between Ferguson and Cerrone, that only left two slots available.
Now displaying a top prospect like Petr Yan on pay-per-view seems like a great idea and everybody loves a good old fashioned heavyweight slugfest like the fight that was scheduled between Blagoy Ivanov and Tai Tuivasa but putting those fights on the main card came at the expense of three potential No. 1 contender’s bouts.
Aljamain Sterling locked up his claim to a bantamweight title shot with a win over Pedro Munhoz while Tatiana Suarez remained undefeated with a win over Nina Ansaroff with both fights on the preliminary card. Katlyn Chookagian also called for her own title shot with a hard fought win over Joanne Calderwood — in the first fight of the night on the early prelims.
While Sterling vs. Munhoz was a crowd pleasing affair, there were no standing ovations for Suarez vs. Ansaroff or Chookagian vs. Calderwood but that doesn’t mean all of them had to serve as preliminary bouts with a chance to shine on the main card. In particular, Sterling vs. Munhoz as a fight between two top five ranked fighters competing for a potential title shot with the new champion being crowned in the main event seemed like a slap in the face for what it takes to get recognition.
The same could be said for the fight between Chookagian and Calderwood considering the women’s flyweight division is still trying to find its footing and it doesn’t help matters much when a marquee matchup between two top 10 ranked fighters is buried on the undercard.
At least Sterling and Suarez gained the benefit of fighting on ESPN but it’s still a matter of recognition to earn a slot on the main card versus the prelims. Sterling in particular had to take it as slight that he was bumped down to the prelims while Yan faced off against Jimmie Rivera — who Sterling defeated earlier this year — on the pay-per-view main card. If the UFC hopes to build any of these fighters into future title challengers, at least one of them deserved a shot on the main card to shine alongside the rest of the champions and top contenders.
Flyweight Life Support
The writing appeared to be on the wall that the UFC flyweight division was dying a slow death that would probably culminate in the plug being pulled if Cejudo won the bantamweight title on Saturday night. All signs pointed in that direction, especially after the UFC released virtually every 125-pound fighter on the roster.
In fact, the flyweight division no longer even boasts enough athletes to fill out the top 15 rankings that the UFC promotes.
So it’s curious when UFC president Dana White says that the flyweight division isn’t going anywhere yet there’s no indication whatsoever that the organization actually intends on building the weight class again. To add to the confusion about the future of the division, Matt Schnell revealed on Sunday that he just signed a new four-fight contract with the promotion.
Now contracts come and go when a fighter can be released at any time off a loss but it’s still a baffling situation where the UFC has a flyweight division yet no one seems to know what the future holds for that weight class.
Even Cejudo cast doubts on his return to flyweight while simultaneously making a plea for the future of the division.
“It’s saved,” Cejudo said about the flyweight division. “I’m a flyweight, went up, I beat Marlon Moraes on a 15-fight win streak. What’s wrong with the division? Demetrious Johnson was just so dominant. It’s not up to me. I suffer making 125 pounds. Whether I stay up or I go, the division is good.
“[Joseph] Benavidez has a win over me. What is it ESPN? What is it Dana White? Let’s restructure this for the sake of a bunch of families.”
The problem is the UFC flyweight division was once thriving with plenty of fighters to fill the ranks. Now with only 13 athletes left competing at 125 pounds in the UFC, White can proclaim all he wants that the division isn’t going anywhere but the actions of the organization say otherwise.