UFC News: Latest on Henry Cejudo Retirement, Khabib-Gaethje and Dominick Cruz

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistMay 11, 2020

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 Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

UFC 249 not only delivered a great night of fights, it also created ripples that will be felt throughout the MMA world in the coming weeks and months. 

At the end of the night, a new interim lightweight champion was crowned in Justin Gaethje. Henry Cejudo successfully defended his bantamweight crown for perhaps the last time. 

Francis Ngannou made it clear he belongs in the heavyweight championship picture, Calvin Kattar put in a breakout performance and former NFL star Greg Hardy got in the win column. 

With those developments in the book, there were plenty of fighters with things to say. Here's a look at some of the biggest things to come out of the UFC's first pay-per-view offering since the COVID-19 pandemic cancellations. 


Cejudo Prepared to Walk Away from the Sport

One of the most shocking moments of UFC 249 was when two-division champion Henry Cejudo announced he was retiring from MMA in his post-fight interview. 

ESPN @espn

“Triple C’s out. You guys don’t have to hear my ass no more.” Henry Cejudo announces he’s retiring after defending the belt. #UFC249 https://t.co/I2aCWgjlEY

The Messenger added Dominick Cruz to his list of former champions he's beaten with a second-round TKO victory. Cruz contested the stoppage (more on that later), but the champion did enough for the referee to step in and stop the fight after the champ landed a knee and subsequent ground strikes.

Amid the (alleged) controversial finish, it was jarring to watch Cejudo announce his intentions to walk away from the sport. After all, he's in the middle of a six-fight win streak that has seen him capture both the flyweight and bantamweight titles then defend each of them. 

But Triple C continued to stick to his announcement later on in the night in the post-fight press conference, per Danny Segura of MMAjunkie:

"Since I was 11 years old, I probably have [had] 600 competitions of wrestling matches in my life. That's all I've ever done. I don't have kids. I've finally got a girl now, and I want to step into that new chapter of my life. I've been extremely selfish and rightfully so to obtain what I've obtained—can I say it again? Olympic champ, (UFC) flyweight champ, (UFC) bantamweight champ, and I defended both world titles. And man, I want to leave on top. I did it in wrestling, and I want to do it now in the sport of mixed martial arts. I just don't see myself coming back, and I want to remain king forever."

At 33 years old, Cejudo isn't necessarily young, but he's only seven years and 18 fights into his MMA career. Retiring earlier than expected would follow a trend with him. He walked away from wrestling at the age of 25 despite being the youngest American to win Olympic gold. 

He took nearly three years off from competition after capturing the 2008 gold medal and re-appeared briefly in 2011 and 2012 before calling it quits and transitioning to MMA. 

This could be a negotiation tactic, as he is one of the best fighters in two different UFC divisions, but there's a good chance his decision will stick. 


Khabib Nurmagomedov Shows Respect to Probable Next Opponent

Let's just call Justin Gaethje Khabib Nurgmagomedov's "probable" next opponent. He is now on a collision course with the champion by virtue of his interim champion status, but strange things have a way of following The Eagle around. 

After all, Nurmagomedov was supposed to be the one fighting Ferguson at UFC 249, but issues related to the coronavirus ultimately canceled the matchup for the fifth time. Now, the fight to make at lightweight is the champion vs. The Highlight, and Nurmagomedov tweeted his respect for Gaethje's breakthrough performance on Saturday night. 

khabib nurmagomedov @TeamKhabib

@Justin_Gaethje it was so impressive, congratulations. Very smart fight.

He offered his first thoughts on a matchup Gaethje via his Instagram (h/t Mike Bohn of MMAjunkie):

"This sport and especially the lightweight division always had the young lions coming at you and if you just relax, then you're done. Some leave and the others come, there is nothing to be surprised. But I won't back off an inch before the shot. We are still coming for war."

The biggest difference between this version of Gaethje and the one who lost two of his first three fights in the UFC is he has learned to optimize his aggression through controlled spurts rather than constant brawling. 

He'll need to continue that against Nurmagomedov, as the champion's wrestling sets up an interesting clash of styles. 

The buildup won't likely reach the fever pitch or contentious tension of the McGregor-Nurmagomedov bout, but the fight sells itself. Gaethje's ultra-violent style mixed with Nurmagomedov's unblemished resume is a matchup that is among the best the organization can offer. 


Dominick Cruz Says Referee Keith Peterson 'Smelled Like Alcohol and Cigarettes'

Dominick Cruz's return from a more than three-year hiatus was one of the biggest storylines coming into UFC 249, and his reaction to his loss might be one of the biggest coming out of it. 

Cruz—who is one of the UFC's most forward-facing personalities due to his role as an analyst—was not shy about criticizing referee Keith Peterson for his decision to end the championship fight in the second round. 

While the Dominator was clearly floored by a knee and took on several unanswered strikes from the champion, he felt as though he was working his way to his feet when Peterson waved the fight off. According to Cruz, his doubts about the referee started before the fight, though. 

"The guy smelled like alcohol and cigarettes, so who knows what he was doing," he told Megan Olivi, per Damon Martin of MMA Fighting. 

It wasn't just a passing comment, either. He continued. 

"I wish they drug tested them. I know Herb Dean is good. He's one of the best refs. Immediately when I saw that ref, I was like, man, is there a way to veto a ref and get a new one? I wonder that. As fighters do we have that choice? I wish we did."

Cruz isn't the first fighter to feel wronged by an alleged early stoppage. It's more surprising when a card goes by without a fighter complaining they could have toughed it out a little longer. However, this is noteworthy because it's a serious allegation to imply Peterson was compromised before the fight, and it's coming from someone with such a high profile as an analyst. 

Fighters can be emotional in the immediate aftermath of a big loss, but it's a story worth monitoring going forward as Peterson is a highly regarded MMA referee.