UFC bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo said he really plans to hang up his gloves. But if promotion president Dana White wants to keep him fighting, money talks.
“He knows the number, but let all these other bantamweights kill each other,” Cejudo said after his surprise retirement after defending his title against Dominick Cruz at UFC 249. “Let them have fun, if they’re complaining that I’m picking fights.
“You can say whatever the hell you guys want, but I’ve done everything, and I do feel like I should be part of Mt. Rushmore when it comes to combat sports. I do feel like I’m the greatest combat athlete of all time with what I’ve accomplished.”
Cejudo said he consulted with his longtime mentor about his decision and had a long time to think about the choice as he recovered from shoulder surgery earlier this year. The chance to move on proved to tempting to the former Olympic gold medalist.
“Man, I love freedom,” he said. “You saw me at a lot of UFC events. I enjoy that stuff. Since I was 11 years old, I probably have about 600 competitions of wrestling matches in my life. That’s all I’ve ever done. I don’t have kids – finally got a girl now. But I want to step into that new chapter of my life. I’ve been extremely selfish, rightfully so, to obtain what I’ve obtained.
“I want to leave on top. I did it in wrestling, and now I want to do it in the sport of MMA. I want to remain king forever.”
That wasn’t the prevailing sentiment as fighter, fans and MMA observers reacted to Cejudo’s decision. Quite a few of them thought the move was nothing more than a ploy to get a better contract from White.
This past December, Cejudo told MMA Fighting he would leave the sport if he wasn’t paid more by his promoter. Shortly thereafter, he relinquished the flyweight title he’d held onto during his injury recovery.
Cejudo said his promoter wasn’t entirely thrilled by the sudden retirement, though there were no hard feelings.
“At first he was like, do what’s best for you,” Cejudo said, indicating White gritted his teeth through a smile. “But he’s like, ‘Sh*t, we lost a good one.’”
White didn’t seem overly fazed, however, during his turn at the post-fight presser. To the UFC exec, Cejudo had signaled his intentions for several months.
“I didn’t know he was going to do it tonight, but I knew he’s been talking about it,” White said. “And you know how I feel about that. If you start talking about retirement in this business, it’s probably a good idea. Although I think he’s one of the best in the world.”
Cejudo indicated he’d like to start a family and go into business and real estate in his next moves. As the child of a single mom, he said he would never start a family while trying to compete professionally, and he laughed at how big his extended family had grown while he focused on himself.
For 33 years, that’s suited Cejudo just fine. But now, he said things have changed.
“It’s not a plot,” he said. “When I walked away from wrestling, I completely walked away. Never looked back. I barely went to a wrestling event, and wrestling was my first love.
“I love to do certain things. I’m like a bird. I love to fly. I love to experience new thinigs. I’m a conqueror. I’m corny. I’m cringey. But I’m a champ, too.”