A UFC 238 Victory Will Validate Henry Cejudo's Elite Status

Nathan McCarter@McCarterNFeatured ColumnistJune 5, 2019

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 12:  UFC flyweight champion Henry Cejudo speaks with the media during the UFC Seasonal Press Conference inside State Farm Arena on April 12, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Henry Cejudo, the UFC's reigning flyweight champion, will attempt to become the latest two-division champion on Saturday when he meets Marlon Moraes for the vacant bantamweight strap.

Yet it is not just the title that is enticing Cejudo, it's also the status as one of the greatest living fighters that awaits him with a win.

There is little doubt the former Olympic gold medalist and No. 4-ranked pound-for-pound fighter is at the top of his game, but his legacy is still a work in progress.

Cejudo's transition and progression in mixed martial arts was steady and quick. He won six fights to earn a spot on the UFC roster, and another four wins got him the title shot against Demetrious Johnson. His first shot at gold didn't go his way, though, and his opponent finished him inside of the first round.

The path back up the ranks got off to a rocky start with a split-decision loss to Joseph Benavidez. Cejudo wasn't able to dominate like he had been used to.

In 2017, Cejudo picked up back-to-back wins over two contenders, Wilson Reis and Sergio Pettis. He would get a rematch with Johnson for the flyweight championship at UFC 227.

But this is where his pitch for being one of the best gets hazy.

The rematch between Cejudo and Johnson was incredible. It was a fight fan's dream. Two extremely talented, high-level fighters showcasing their entire skill set. It was a human chess match inside a cage. In the end, Cejudo walked out as champion after a narrow split decision.

It wasn't clean or conclusive. The judges weren't the only experts split on who won. Per MMADecisions.com, media members scoring the fight split 13-12 for Cejudo.

Verdict @VerdictMMA

One of the closest fights ever scored on Verdict. Here is the Raw Data for Demetrious Johnson vs. Henry Cejudo. Final Score: 47.60 - 47.46 Cejudo https://t.co/Ha89ldTrX0

Seán Sheehan @SeanSheehanBA

Johnson vs. Cejudo is being made out to be a lot closer of a fight than it actually was. That was the worst decision we've seen in a while. Looking forward to hashing it out on @SevereMMAPod later on.

How can the Los Angeles native claim to be the pound-for-pound best, most elite, fighter on the planet when it is still unclear who is the best fighter at flyweight?

The UFC decided against an immediate rematch and eventually traded away Johnson to ONE Championship. Seemingly, we'll never get a definitive answer and that question of who is the best flyweight will continue to linger over Cejudo.

Not having a trilogy fight to settle the score does diminish the 32-year-old's current push to be recognized as the best.

Luke Thomas @lthomasnews

Henry Cejudo is massively, criminally underrated.

In his first and only title defense, Cejudo quickly disposed of T.J. Dillashaw. On the surface, it is a result that should've helped cement him among the elite. Except more questions than answers remain following the result.

Dillashaw had a brutal cut to 125 pounds. A cut as difficult as that can have a variety of effects on a fighter's performance, including their ability to take damaging strikes and recover.

In addition to the result, Dillashaw then tested positive for EPO. Cejudo takes none of the blame for his opponent's shortcomings, but the facts can alter the perception of what he was able to accomplish. More importantly, it was Cejudo's second straight fight in which he didn't get the rematch to remove all doubt.

Those two missed rematches leave everyone without conclusive evidence that he is better than Johnson and Dillashaw.

Cejudo's skills are undeniable, but his resume leaves some unanswered questions. Saturday, with an emphatic victory, he can move beyond those questions.

Validation and a legitimate argument as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters on the planet are on the line along with bantamweight gold.

Truly, this is a fight for his legacy.