UFC flyweight champion Henry Cejudo is ready to be the hero 125-pounders everywhere need right now.
Whispers of an impending demise for the UFC’s lightest men’s weight class always have surrounded the division, and the departure of longtime champion Demetrious Johnson to Asian competitor One Championship only has increased their volume.
But at Wednesday’s open workouts ahead of what could be the UFC’s final flyweight title fight this weekend, Cejudo made his case for keeping the division running with him as its face.
“I’m out here not just for the victory for myself and to add to my legacy, but also for all the 125-pounders that are looking to someday become a world champion in the UFC,” Cejudo said.
“This is much bigger than me.”
Cejudo defends his belt for the first time at Saturday’s UFC Fight Night at Barclays Center, the first UFC event to air on ESPN Plus. He faces current bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw, who is cutting to flyweight for the first time in his career.
Cejudo became the UFC’s 125-pound king last August when he won a rematch with Johnson, previously the UFC’s only flyweight champion. When Johnson left the UFC without settling the score and no obvious No. 1 contender, a superfight with Dillashaw was put together.
If Dillashaw wins the title Saturday, he would hold both the flyweight and bantamweight belts, which would allow the UFC to easily consolidate the two divisions should the promotion choose to no longer hold fights at 125 pounds.
Cejudo doesn’t want to make it that easy for them. He believes somebody can step up to save the division for the next generation of fighters, and he’s the perfect person to do so.
“Why not?” Cejudo said. “I tell people all the time, if you’re going to throw the Hail Mary to somebody, throw it to me.”
At open workouts Wednesday, the typically friendly Olympic gold medalist was more aggressive with his trash talk, saying it was time to “skin the snake,” referring to Dillashaw. It’s all part of his plan to keep interest in the flyweight division high.
“This is the new Henry, if you guys noticed my persona, it’s all changed because I care about this division,” Cejudo said. “I care about what it has to offer for the future of our weight class, not just me, but everybody and their momma, literally.”
Cejudo has others on his mind entering this fight, but Dillashaw can’t be bothered thinking about the future of flyweight.
“If the UFC wants me to be an assassin, if they want to hire me to go down and end it, I’ll end it. If I’m the champion in both weight classes, bring it up anyways. If they don’t cut it, awesome too. I don’t really care, it’s more about myself,” Dillashaw said. “This is a selfish sport, you go in there yourself, you get paid yourself. Obviously I’ve got a team that helps me get there, but when you’re out there and you’re doing it, you’re by yourself.”
Dillashaw didn’t rule out defending the flyweight should he win on Saturday, but said it’d have to be the fight that made the most sense for him.
Cejudo also didn’t rule out a move up to bantamweight to challenge Dillashaw for that belt, given he leaves Brooklyn with a win. But after a fight off pay-per-view, he wants to get paid what he believes he’s worth, regardless of weight class.
“This is a Cinderella story. I beat this guy, I resurrect the flyweight division and that’s all there is to it,” said Cejudo. “I’m willing to sacrifice some of my money for the sake of others. But after this fight, let it be known I am a prize fighter, so Uncle Dana and everybody’s going to have to kinda cough up cause I ain’t fighting for free.”