It wasn’t all that long ago that Henry Cejudo was considered by some as a squeaky-clean also-ran in the UFC’s flyweight division.
Now he’s the world champion and he’s having fun with his public-facing persona.
His earnest approach to interviews and keenness to push a positive message and set a good example flew in the face of the trash talk of the likes of Conor McGregor and Colby Covington. And, despite his legitimate athletic credentials – he won Olympic wrestling gold in 2008 – it came off a bit… what’s the word… cringey.
Cejudo challenged Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson for the UFC flyweight title at UFC 197 and was comprehensively beaten. Back into the pack he went, and he worked his way back up.
When he returned to the top for a second crack at ‘Mighty Mouse’, he did so with a new approach and a savvier way of presenting himself.
Rather than being upset by the criticisms of his honesty, he’s decided to embrace the haters and has adopted a more self-deprecating approach.
He still says the same stuff he always said, but now he also adds a little bit of self-deprecating humour to the point that he’s almost taking the p*ss out of himself, including referring to himself as ‘The King of Cringe’ during interviews.
He’s evolved inside the cage, too. He competed on level terms with pound-for-pound great Johnson and edged him out via split decision to win the UFC flyweight belt at UFC 227 last year.
He then stunned an EPO-fuelled UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw in just 32 seconds to retain his title at UFC Brooklyn in January.
Now established as the UFC’s top flyweight, Cejudo is moving up to bantamweight to challenge for the belt vacated by the now-banned Dillashaw. He’ll take on former World Series of Fighting champion Marlon Moraes, who has put away a trio of contenders inside the distance to earn his shot at the gold.
It’s a huge fight for the UFC’s smallest world champion, who at 11/10 is the betting underdog heading into the bout.
But despite his underdog status, Cejudo is keeping up the smiles as he makes his final preparations.
During a media luncheon ahead of fight week, he cut a wrestling-style promo that saw him give himself a host of (mostly self-appointed) nicknames, then playfully take aim at UFC president Dana White, who is widely believed to be considering shutting down the flyweight division.
Cejudo’s actual fighting nickname is ‘The Messenger’. And his message to everyone getting set for Saturday night’s spectacular fight card in Chicago is clear.
— Simon Head (@simonhead) June 5, 2019
“I will be the next pound-for-pound king,” he declared.
“And you can tell Daniel Cormier, you can tell Jon Jones, you can tell Khabib Nurmagomedov – there’s a new sheriff in town, and his name is Henry Cejudo.
“And guess what, Dana White if you’re watching, he happens to be a flyweight.”
Henry Cejudo: 11/10
Marlon Moraes: 4/6
* All odds correct at time of posting.