Henry Cejudo has finished four of his first five opponents. | Photo: Robert Lopez/Sherdog.com
When 2008 Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo decided to devote himself to being a professional mixed martial arts fighter, he went all in.
Cejudo had his first professional fight in March and has already fought five times in nine months. A perfect 5-0 with four finishes, he will climb back in the cage at Legacy Fighting Championship 27 on Jan. 31, when he takes on the unbeaten Elias Garcia at the Arena Theatre in Houston.
“So far, so good,” said Cejudo, who captured gold in freestyle wrestling in the 55-kilogram division. “I feel very, very mature for this sport, and it feels natural to me. It almost caters to my style of wrestling, and I like the fighting part of it. When I wrestled, I loved to compete, and I’d have four or five competitions, all within a year. As long as I stay injury-free, I feel like I can continue to progress with every fight. Obviously, I know it’s going to get harder, but so far, so good.”
One of the aspects of MMA that appeals to Cejudo is the combination of multiple disciplines that makes versatility a must.
“What I like about MMA is that you can’t just box like a boxer or wrestle like a wrestler,” he said. “MMA is a full-blown fight. I finally made that transition. I learned that you can’t just box. In one of my fights, I took a knee to the face, and it dropped me. You can’t break it down into separate sports. It’s a whole sport. It’s a collaboration of all styles.”
After failing to qualify for the 2012 United States Olympic team, Cejudo retired from wrestling and instead tried to make the squad in another sport.
“I think at first I wanted to try and make the Olympic team in boxing,” said the 26-year-old Cejudo. “I wanted to develop my hands. I’d been boxing for four and a half years, so I thought I could do it; but I saw that my chances weren’t so good and saw that I wouldn’t be able to do seminars or book signings and do it, so I dropped it.”
In January, Cejudo announced via Twitter that he was training for his first professional MMA bout. He debuted in March, striking Michael Poe into submission with first-round punches at a World Fighting Federation event in Tucson, Ariz. Cejudo sees stepping into the cage as the culmination of his longtime passion for the sport.
“Actually, I’ve been watching MMA since 1998 and 1999, when people like Randy Couture and Mark Coleman were on the scene,” said Cejudo, who fights at 135 pounds. “I saw some of the legends. Anything that gives me a rush catches my attention, and MMA really did. There’s really a sense of excitement and a little bit of fear, and it makes you just want to hit it straight on and see how tough you really are.”
After the win over Poe, Cejudo fought again before March was over and racked up wins in April and May, all of them first-round finishes. Last month, he went the distance for the first time, as he won a unanimous decision over Ryan Hollis at LFC 24. Cejudo donated a portion of his fight purse to the North Texas branch of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, a practice he said he intends to continue in future fights.
“Every fight, I’ll be contributing to Make-A-Wish,” he said. “It’s an organization that’s been good to us, and I think it’s time to be good to them. I feel in my heart it’s the right organization to help. Make-A-Wish has always been one of those legit organizations that brings celebrities in and makes kids smile. I’ve always been a big fan of that and helping people find a way.”
Having accomplished so much on the international stage already, Cejudo claims to have a different motivation now that he has transitioned to mixed martial arts.
“I don’t fight for titles and medals,” he said. “I fight for something bigger, and that’s a better world. It’s something new with my persona. I’ve always been a giver, and it’s something I feel passionate about. The fact is I’ve been very successful and it’s time to give back what has been given to me. It makes me feel so good, and I can’t describe it in words.”
That is not to say Cejudo does not have designs on capturing a world title someday.
“My goal now is to win a world title in whichever organization that will have me,” he said. “It might be in a whole new sport. I just want to conquer a world title. I’m not a fighter. I’m a mixed martial artist and a competitor, but I’m not going to just talk about it. I’m not a talker. I let my skills do the talking.”