“Cejudo’s just such a good competitor,” Sandhagen told MMA Fighting. “He acts like an idiot online, but the guy knows how to fight. At the end of the day, that’s what matters. I think he’s an amazing fighter.”
Following a second-round TKO of Dominick Cruz at UFC 249, Cejudo made a surprise announcement that he was calling it a career, and on Monday, his bantamweight title was officially vacated. While Cejudo earned his nickname by adopting a pro wrestling persona during interviews and on social media, his reputation was defined by his UFC accomplishments.
Sandhagen was always impressed by Cejudo the competitor, even as he pursued an opportunity to compete for the bantamweight title. The performance against Cruz just further solidified his opinion about the now-former champion’s first title defense at 135 pounds.
“As far as the fight [with Cruz] goes, it looked to me that Cejudo was in control of that whole fight,” Sandhagen said. “I was really impressed. I’m always impressed by Cejudo. He’s a great fighter.”
In the aftermath of the retirement announcement, Cejudo said he might be convinced to return for the right dollar figure, and the UFC knows the number that would bring him back. Cejudo’s manager Ali Abdelaziz later speculated the 2008 Olympic gold medalist would return as early as this summer. Meanwhile, his coach, “Captain” Eric Albarracin, told MMA Fighting that he was convinced Cejudo would actually walk away for good while planning to start a family in the near future.
For his part, Sandhagen feels like Cejudo made the right move based on his current situation, but he wouldn’t be shocked if the champ eventually returned.
“I think he’s actually done for the amount the UFC pays him now,” Sandhagen said about Cejudo’s retirement. “I think if the UFC throws enough money at him, he’ll definitely come back. I don’t know. The guy’s a freaking roll of the dice. I have no idea with that guy. I don’t like to waste a lot of energy thinking about his next moves. I have no idea what that guy’s going to do. He’s a wild card.
“It sounds to me fairly genuine that he was serious about hanging up the gloves. Leaving on a high note definitely gives him more leverage if he wants to come back. I think it was a wise move on his part.”
Few fighters stay retired in MMA, and even fewer walk away after a win, much less holding onto a UFC title. For now, Cejudo is definitely breathing rarified air.
As far as the future of the bantamweight division goes, Sandhagen looks forward to business picking back up again with the UFC crowning a new champion. With a fight already on the books against Aljamain Sterling on June 6, he isn’t spending much time thinking about the title. But it remains his primary objective in the long run.
“I think justice has kind of been restored and everyone can go to sleep a little bit more at peace, with hopefully things working a little bit more logistically than Henry was operating on,” Sandhagen said about the bantamweight division. “Dana [White] said in an interview that [Petr] Yan is the next one to fight for the belt and then he said it’s against somebody. I think that somebody is either me or Aljamain, depending on how we perform.”