Henry Cejudo Retires at the Top of His Game with Convincing Win at UFC 249

Kelsey McCarsonFeatured ColumnistMay 10, 2020

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - MAY 09: Henry Cejudo celebrates after his knockout victory over Dominick Cruz in their UFC bantamweight championship fight during the UFC 249 event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on May 09, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
Jeff Bottari/Getty Images

Whatever happens next in UFC bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo's life, there's no doubt the 33-year-old is one of the best combat sports athletes ever, which is exactly what he boasted after he defeated Marlon Moraes last June at UFC 238 to become the company's fourth-ever simultaneous two-division champion.

Cejudo announced his retirement Saturday night after stopping former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz in the second round of the co-main event of UFC 249 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.

"I'm retiring tonight," Cejudo told Joe Rogan during the post-fight interview. "I'm 33 years old. I'm happy with my career. Uncle Dana, I want to say thank you for everything. You're the man. Everybody here, thank you so much."

It was a shocking announcement from a fighter seemingly just now hitting on all cylinders.

Cejudo, the only Olympic gold-medal winner to ever become UFC champion, still seemed to be on his way to doing bigger and better things in his MMA career. Heck, it even appeared he thought that too.

Why else would the fighter have shown up to his UFC 249 faceoff with Cruz on Friday with that trash bag and those pillows?

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Cejudo arrived in classic form. Inside the bag were three pillows, each one adorned with the face of a former UFC champion: Demetrious Johnson, T.J. Dillashaw and Cruz.

Cejudo proceeded to dropkick each pillow into the gathered media throng in a not-so-subtle representation of how he defeated Johnson for the flyweight title in August 2018, defended against bantamweight champ Dillashaw in January 2019 and how Cruz would be next at UFC 249.

And that's exactly what Cejudo did Saturday night, though this time he used his knee on his opponent's temple instead.

So the fighter who named himself "Triple C"—representing his status as 2008 Olympic champion, UFC flyweight champion and UFC bantamweight champion—and had been talking up a storm in recent months about daring to move to featherweight to face champion Alexander Volkanovski next, was tracking as well as one could hope for becoming "Quadruple C" someday soon.

Watching Cejudo wreck Cruz almost made it seem reasonable.

After all, Cruz, 35, entered the contest boasting an impressive 20-to-1 takedown ratio. More importantly, he was the first UFC bantamweight champion ever as well as its longest-reigning one and someone who had amazingly already returned from a long layoff due to injury and reclaimed UFC gold once before.

Before facing Cejudo, Cruz hadn't competed in the Octagon in more than three years.

But Cruz had already regained his title back in 2016 after a similarly long layoff, and he was fighting well enough to think he might pull it off again right up until the stoppage came.

On top of all that, Cruz entered UFC 249 with four bantamweight title fight wins. And let's put it this way: If he'd have brought his own trash bag to the faceoff, he'd have much more impressive pillows inside of it than the current champion would, at least in the division.

That's what made Cejudo's win so impressive. He did serious damage to Cruz with his powerful legs.

"Man, he's chopping with those leg kicks," Rogan remarked during the first round.

And while Cruz's awkward movements gave him some openings in the second, Cejudo continued his patient approach of chopping at Cruz's legs the way a seasoned lumberjack might a tree.

Still, Cruz's fast hands and feet saved him at times. His feet got him into position, and his hands were swift enough to frustrate the champion with their precise stabs.

Still, Cejudo seemed the stronger man, and when the chips were down after an unintentional headbutt opened up a huge gash on his head, the champion proved he had the stronger will, too.

JACKSONVILLE, FLORIDA - MAY 09: Henry Cejudo of the United States looks on against Dominick Cruz of the United States in their bantamweight title fight during UFC 249 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on May 09, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Do
Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Because that's the moment Cejudo went to work. He landed a nasty knee to his opponent's temple that sent Cruz down to the canvas, then overwhelmed the former champion until the referee stopped the fight.

"We stuck to the game plan, and that's all she wrote," Cejudo said before dropping the bombshell that he was retiring.

"I may be cringey, corny," Cejudo added. "But, boy, can I fight."

That's certainly true, as is what he said next.

"I am the greatest combat sports athlete of all time," Cejudo said. "Nobody has my resume. I just defended my flyweight title. I just defended my bantamweight title. And I'm an Olympic champ. Did I forget to mention that?"

                    

Kelsey McCarson covers combat sports for Bleacher Report and Heavy. Follow @Kelsey_McCarson on Twitter.   

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