Breaking Down the Top 5 Opponents for Henry Cejudo's UFC Return Fight

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterApril 14, 2022

Conor McGregor has emerged as a possible opponent for Henry Cejudo's return fight.
Conor McGregor has emerged as a possible opponent for Henry Cejudo's return fight.John Locher/Associated Press

His public persona may be a bad dad joke crossed with an ayahuasca retreat, but Henry Cejudo's status as a living UFC legend is beyond question. Even with all that excruciatingly corny and often tasteless trash talk—he himself has acknowledged his moniker as the King of Cringe—his return to competition after a two-year retirement opens up several exciting matchmaking possibilities.

The Olympic wrestling gold medalist could make instant waves at flyweight or bantamweight, the two divisions he once ruled as champion, including an eight-month stint when he owned the two UFC belts simultaneously, making him one of only four fighters to do so. 

He clearly has the competitive itch again, and at age 35 is going after the biggest possible fights. In so doing, he's plotting a course for uncharted waters. After last week's UFC 273, Cejudo (16-2) once again called out 145-pound champion Alex Volkanovski, and it seems Volkanovski is at least not hostile to the idea. It would be the first time Cejudo has competed at more than 135 pounds.

And there's one Cejudo target that's even higher up the scale. We'll get to that shortly.

There are plenty of options on the table, and we've ranked our top five in ascending order. Keep in mind that Cejudo has only re-entered the USADA testing pool, not the UFC proper. There's no reason to think the process won't go smoothly, as he's never failed a drug test, but barring a Brock Lesnar situation Cejudo will  have to get through six months of testing before he can return to the ring.

But as we are about to see, this could be a good thing. A very good thing indeed.

Here's our list, starting with the least likely and/or desired and moving to the top of the heap.


5. Conor McGregor

Tongues firmly in cheek on this one, but it still feels worth a mention. Such is the case whenever the pixie-dusted Irishman is involved.

The funny part is that Cejudo himself proposed this bout all the way up at lightweight, so it's not just something I'm throwing into the ether. 

Henry Cejudo @HenryCejudo

No cringe. Just straight talk. I've entered the USADA pool. I know I could beat @alexvolkanovski. I want to become the 1st 3-division champion in UFC history. Or, he could shut up the cringe. It would be a treat for fans. Either way, the 👑is back! https://t.co/s0CfnTvFOo https://t.co/lsDpJMnSC8

These two have exchanged words on social media. McGregor isn't hard to find there, but it's interesting that McGregor responded the way he did, calling him—among other things—a "fat little novice" in a since-deleted tweet. In other words, McGregor is responding to Cejudo as if Cejudo is someone he might want to fight.  

Last I checked, social-media chatter doesn't constitute a binding legal contract, but it's not meaningless, either. Both of these guys are keen to be at the center of the spectacle, and a matchup between two double-champs is a surefire blockbuster, a classic striker-grappler matchup under the very brightest lights.


4. Deiveson Figueiredo

The student could become the teacher in this flyweight title bout.

Figueiredo's ongoing rivalry with Brandon Moreno is fun and compelling, but variety is the spice of life.

Henry Cejudo @HenryCejudo

Hey @TheNotoriousMMA let's make a deal. I'll fight you at 155 pounds on one condition-- You have to stay sober. 🍻 If you can do that, I'll agree to measure at 5'4" or under and start the fight on my back. Also Keith Peterson can't ref. Fair? 👑👓: https://t.co/kswHFkeEQS https://t.co/EQ3RLRZDV4

Cejudo, who has coached and cornered Figueiredo, would be a fascinating foil. It certainly wouldn't be the first time that friends and teammates have clashed with compelling results. 

While Cejudo may be loath to cut down to flyweight at age 35, taking the title from the dangerous-in-all-phases Figueiredo would end the debate once and for all over who the greatest flyweight really is. And a bout with Moreno, where there is bad blood, would be an excellent follow-up.

If Cejudo loses to Figueiredo, he has the built-in excuse that he is no longer a good fit for the smallest men's division in the UFC, making this a classic low-risk, high-reward matchup.


3. Edson Barboza

Throw out the record books for this featherweight bout. One way or another, this is guaranteed entertainment.

Volkanovski may well be true to his word when he recently said Cejudo should "prove himself" at featherweight before he even entertained the thought of granting him a title shot. And hey, given that Cejudo has never competed at 145 pounds and hasn't competed at all in more than two years, that's a reasonable request.

Figueiredo (top) and Cejudo (right) after Figueiredo won the flyweight title.
Figueiredo (top) and Cejudo (right) after Figueiredo won the flyweight title.Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

If Cejudo ends up needing at least one fight to establish himself at 145 pounds, who's a better welcome wagon than one of the most battle-tested and dangerous strikers in the division? Plug-and-play Fight Night main event right here.

Although his standup game isn't super polished, Cejudo can still crack. His speed and conditioning may suffer up at the heavier weight class, and if it does Barboza will be there with lethal leg kicks to slow him down even further.


2. Max Holloway/Alexander Volkanovski loser

Notice in his previous comments that Volk didn't completely close the door on a bout at some point, only noting Cejudo had more work to do. So…you're saying there's a chance! 

First things first. The trilogy bout between the second- and third-best featherweights ever (Jose Aldo still tops my board) is simply too important for Cejudo to jump it in line. Both Holloway-Volkanovski fights have been so close that a third matchup is a no-brainer even though Volkanovski won both bouts to date.

Barboza (right) lands a kick on Bryce Mitchell
Barboza (right) lands a kick on Bryce MitchellDavid Becker/Getty Images

But here's where that six-month waiting period could pay dividends. Although the third Volk-Holloway hasn't been formally announced yet, it stands to reason that it could be complete six months from now, allowing Cejudo to conveniently slide into the as the next opponent.

It makes sense to me that Cejudo would face the loser here. It would still be a huge matchup, with a win establishing Cejudo as title-shot worthy at 145 pounds. If he wins, whoever's holding the belt would have all the justification they need to take on the King of Cringe.

It's hard to know how Cejudo might deal with Volkanovski's speed and exhausting physical and mental pressure, or with Holloway and some of the best MMA boxing the world has ever seen. He'd be undersized either way—Cejudo is 5'4" compared with the 5'6" Volkanovski or the 5'11" Holloway—but that wrestling of his could be a great equalizer.


1. Aljamain Sterling/TJ Dillashaw winner 

The six-month waiting period again makes perfect sense here, and for the same reason. Only this time, Cejudo could get the winner.

Sterling-Dillashaw isn't signed yet, but you might as well mark it down. UFC president Dana White has said Dillashaw-Sterling is the fight to make, as opposed to a rematch of Sterling and Petr Yan. 

Volkanovski (left) and Holloway
Volkanovski (left) and HollowayJeff Bottari/Getty Images

Bantamweight is the Goldilocks weight class for Cejudo. It was the last title he held before retiring, and he defeated the great former champ Dominick Cruz in his final bout.

Imagine the ground scrambles with Sterling; could Sterling take his back? Could Cejudo stave off that body triangle? Could Cejudo control and work ground-and-pound on the more dynamic athlete in Sterling?

What about Dillashaw? Could Cejudo really KO Dillashaw a second time? It seems unlikely given Dillashaw's outstanding stand-up game, but Dillashaw is coming back from a yearlong layoff of his own.

Whether it's against Sterling or Dillashaw, this potential Cejudo matchup is the most exciting and sensible bout for all parties involved, including the fans.