Henry Cejudo’s longtime coach is calling his shot for UFC 288.
“‘Triple C’ takes him in three,” Eric Albarracin predicted Wednesday on The MMA Hour, days out from Cejudo’s return against UFC bantamweight champion Aljamain Sterling.
“I think it’s going to be a submission. Henry might be saying something else, but I think it’s going to be a submission.”
Cejudo, 36, and Sterling, 33, face off Saturday in the main event of UFC 288, which takes place at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
It’s a comeback long in the making for Cejudo. The Olympic gold medalist and former two-division UFC champion stunned the MMA world in 2020 when he announced his retirement following his successful defense of the bantamweight title over Dominick Cruz at UFC 249.
Cejudo has consistently teased a return to MMA in the years since, however questions remained regarding his seriousness and the UFC’s willingness to meet his demands.
Now Cejudo is back though, on the hunt to reclaim the bantamweight title never lost inside the UFC’s octagon — and as his coach for more than a decade, Albarracin isn’t surprised.
“Henry tried to [relax], he wanted to relax,” Albarracin said. “He had a target on his back since he was 12 years old, because he’s been No. 1 since he was that age and he wanted to relax. He wanted comfort. But now I realize Henry wasn’t made for relaxation or comfort. Henry was made for greatness. And that is why he’s back.”
Cejudo has been open about his ultimate goal: He wants to move up in weight and challenge Alexander Volkanovski for the UFC featherweight title — a feat that, if he were successful, would make Cejudo the first three-division champion in UFC history.
Cejudo attempted multiple times over the past few years to secure an immediate title shot against Volkanovski, however the UFC rebuffed his efforts. That’s why Cejudo ultimately returned at 135 pounds. He explained at UFC 288 media day on Wednesday that he hopes to defeat Sterling, defend his title against popular contender Sean O’Malley, then use the momentum gained from those two fights to vault into his title shot against Volkanovski.
Albarracin likes that plan better than Cejudo’s original goal of challenging Volkanovski as his first post-retirement fight.
“You’ve got to get your feet wet,” Albarracin said. “Alexander, pound-for-pound, this guy’s been competing. I’d like to see Henry really build up to this fight, not only physically, but more getting into a rhythm. But even more so, as Henry gets into his YouTube career, you have to always think twice as he becomes a businessman. I could see him beating Volkanovski, and then what’s left? You don’t go back down.
“So this kind of builds it up. So now everything builds, from his YouTube channel, from his mental mindset, from his physical mindset. He gets into his rhythm, he gets the crowd, he’s getting pay-per-views, everybody wants to see him. Now he’s made a name for himself again. Now they can’t deny him. Now let’s make the pound-for-pound versus the greatest combat athlete of all-time. Can Henry become C4? Or can Alexander Volkanovski take out the greatest combat athlete of all-time.”
The matchup between Cejudo and Sterling is currently listed as a near pick’em on several betting sportsbooks, but Albarracin scoffs at any comparisons between the skill sets of the two fighters, especially any comparisons between Sterling and Cejudo’s grappling.
“If it remains standing throughout, Aljamain is getting knocked out by ‘Triple C,’ if he tries to keep it on the feet. But how can he stop Henry’s wrestling? Tell me that,” Albarracin said.
“They want to say wrestling [is equal]. The fact that you say wrestling cancels out wrestling — Division III cancels out Olympic champion wrestling? Are you guys out of your mind? I think you remember back in 2019 when [T.J. Dillashaw’s coach] Duane ‘Bang’ Ludwig said that on the show, go back and watch it, and watch how heated I get when you guys bring that up. No, there is no [comparison between] their wrestling. We’re going to show you why Long Island is called Strong Island, because I was born on Long Island and we’re going to show you why world-class wrestling is king on Saturday night.
“Bet the house if you’re so confident in what’s going happen, that [Sterling’s] grappling [is better],” Albarracin continued. “How’s he going to take [Cejudo’s] back? This is going to be played out where Henry decides.”