Chael Sonnen has a novel theory about why Henry Cejudo didn’t retire after losing to Aljamain Sterling at UFC 288.
The three-time UFC title challenger and MMA broadcaster believes a staredown and near-melee between Sterling, bantamweight contender Sean O’Malley and Sterling teammate Merab Dvalishvili gave Cejudo time to reconsider on going back to retirement.
“He was going to retire,” Sonnen said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “I’ll tell you how I feel about it. He took the gloves off — in that moment, he was retired. They took too long to get to him.
“Between him deciding he was going to retire and then finally getting to him — and imagine being Henry, you’re in the ring, your heart’s broken, your glove’s in your hand. You’re gonna throw them down, and you’re gonna walk away, the right way. Not the way you did it last time, you regret the way you did it last time, with a pipe bomb. You’re gonna actually say and have the ceremony.
“Meanwhile, you’re watching the three top-ranked guys in your weight, all of the three are doing what you wish you could do — one of them putting a belt on, one of them agitating the crowd, one of them getting ready to be the next guy. You’re sitting there and you’re looking at him, saying, ‘I want this, I want all of this, and I want it from all of them. If I walk away, they take everything. If I stay, they don’t.’ He changed his mind. When he had those gloves off, if they would have come to him sooner, like they should have, he would have been retired by right now. They came to him too late. He changed his mind.”
Order was eventually restored between Sterling, O’Malley, and Dvalishvili, and UFC commentator Joe Rogan interviewed a glove-less Cejudo. The former two-division champ wrestled with the question of what was next for his career.
“It’s like Ricky Bobby [in the movie Talladega Nights], if I’m not first, I’m last,” Cejudo said. “If I can’t beat Aljo — my biggest goal was to go up to 145 pounds, and if I can’t get the victory over [Sterling], then I just don’t know where that puts me.”
Cejudo continued to question his future at the post-event press conference for UFC 288. But on Monday, he reversed course, calling out Dvalishvili for a fight that the Georgian fighter quickly accepted.
Sonnen sees no reason why Cejudo shouldn’t soldier on.
“I mean, an official judge on Saturday said he’s the baddest dude in the world,” said Sonnen, referring to a score of 48-47 for Cejudo against two for Sterling. “Like, of course he’s still competitive, and not to mention that was with a layoff. I don’t think that was the best Henry we’ve seen.
“I thought he dug really deep. I thought he worked really hard. I thought he got really fatigued about 15 minutes in, but pushed it out anyway. And there was nothing there that I saw from a physicality standpoint that says retire. I will just share with you because it’s fun to do, when he took those gloves off, he was done. It took too long to get him the mic. He changed his mind.”
Sonnen, ever the promotional mastermind, also sees nothing wrong in the way things transpired after UFC 288, particularly when it comes to Dvalishvili snatching O’Malley’s coat.
“It was the best, that was the greatest thing on TV,” he said, adding, “He makes up work. He gets in there like a school bully. He drops the jacket, now he’s face-to-face with the baddest dude in the world. And then one of the onlookers takes his coat and puts it on.
“Now, the reason that’s a problem, Sean must get the coat back. Otherwise he has no shirt. He has to go back into the audience with no shirt, and then back of the locker room, and then onto the bus and off to the hotel with no shirt, like a fool. He has to get it back. So he goes over to get it back, when he’s getting it back, ‘Aljo,’ the principal in this story, is cutting a promo to what they’re referred to as his backyard — I mean, I’m from Oregon, if I go to the state of Washington, they’re my neighbors nearby, but it’s not my backyard. Maybe you east coasters do things different, but we’re all supposed to pretend that this is his friends.
“Fair enough. He’s cutting a promo. Then you’ve got the greatest of all-time [in Cejudo], who’s removed his gloves. The removing of the gloves is sending a signal to Joe Rogan, who sends it to Craig Borsari in the truck — don’t go off no matter what, this man is about to retire, and no matter what it costs us to buy 15 extra seconds in the window, we’re doing it out of respect — Dana doesn’t have time to deal with that. He’s got to go over to the corner and make Merab give the coat back to ‘Sugar’ Sean.
“It was the greatest part of the night, and nobody understood what was happening.”