Henry Cejudo, a two-weight champion in the UFC and a former Olympic gold medalist wrestler, is apparently going out on top.
Cejudo (16-2) defended his 135-pound title for the first time Saturday night, as he finished Dominick Cruz (22-3) via TKO at 4 minutes, 58 seconds of the second round at UFC 249 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
The 33-year-old shocked the mixed martial arts world moments later when he announced he does not intend to fight again.
“I’m happy with my career,” Cejudo said. “I’ve done enough in the sport. I want to walk away and enjoy myself. I’m 33 years old. I have a girl now, watching me from back home. Since I was 11, I’ve sacrificed my life to get to where I was tonight. I’m retiring tonight. Uncle Dana [UFC president Dana White], thank you. Everybody here, thank you so much.”
White appeared on SportsCenter later Saturday and said he wasn’t surprised by Cejudo’s announcement.
“It really didn’t shock me,” he said. “Cejudo has been talking about retirement to us for months. I’m of the belief that if you’re talking about retirement in the fight business, you should probably retire.”
Before leaving the cage, Cejudo declared himself the best combat-sports athlete of all time. His only two losses in MMA came against Demetrious Johnson, the longest-reigning flyweight champion in UFC history, and Joseph Benavidez. Cejudo avenged his loss to Johnson two years after the first meeting.
If this does prove to be Cejudo’s final appearance, it was an impressive one. Cruz, 35, hadn’t fought in 1,226 days because of injury, but he was still widely recognized coming in as the greatest bantamweight of all time.
Cejudo’s longtime head coach, Eric Albarracin, told ESPN that he believed Cejudo was still “in his prime.”
“I only think he’s getting better. It’s a somber moment, when someone retires in his prime,” Albarracin said. “I understand it, though. We’ve been on a hell of a run. I’ve been with him since 2004. He’s gotten it done — every goal we’ve ever set, he’s accomplished. He’s beaten every legend they set in front of him.”
Albarracin said “there was something a little bit off this week” with Cejudo.
“I was trying to figure it out, but I couldn’t put my finger on it,” Albarracin said. “I was ready to have him call out Jose Aldo, Alex Volkanovski and Conor McGregor after this fight, and he told me no. I think if Dana White were to add another zero to his paycheck, he’d have a hard time not coming back, but maybe he just does want to move on.”
Cejudo appeared to echo Albarracin’s point, saying at his postfight news conference, “I really do want to walk away, but money talks.”
The second-round finish came after Cejudo badly hurt Cruz with a right knee to the temple. Cejudo immediately pounced on him and dropped a hard right hand and a series of unanswered left hands until referee Keith Peterson stopped the bout. It is the first knockout loss of Cruz’s 15-year professional career.
“I’m ruthless,” Cejudo said. “I may be cringey, corny — but boy, can I fight.”
Cruz was quick to protest the stoppage, as it did appear he was trying to work his way to his feet when the referee stepped in. He was clearly badly hurt, however, and his back was to Cejudo as he used the cage to help him regain his balance. Cruz mentioned afterward he asked Peterson to give him leeway in the event that happened.
“I’m not happy with the stoppage, obviously,” Cruz said. “I specifically asked the ref to let me go until I was out. If I stayed on the floor, fine. But I was working my way up.
“Hat’s off to Henry. I shouldn’t have gotten caught by that knee, which is what put me in that position. But I was standing up.”
It was a competitive fight up until the stoppage, although Cejudo did appear to be getting the upper hand. He attacked Cruz’s legs effectively with kicks and landed the harder shots of the two. Just moments before the finish, the two clashed heads, which resulted in a cut near Cejudo’s hairline. But the injury clearly did not affect him, as he quickly landed the knee after the restart.
Coming into this weekend, ESPN ranked Cejudo the No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
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