Can Olympic Gold Medalist Henry Cejudo Jumpstart MMA's Flyweight Class?

NEW YORK - MAY 05: Henry Cejudo of USA celebrates after defeating Rasul Mashezov of Russia in USA vs Russia freestyle wrestling during the 2011 "Beat The Street" Gala on May 5, 2011 in Time Square, New York City. (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

SBNation's Luke Thomas spoke to Henry Cejudo, the youngest American wrestler to ever win gold at the Olympics about his potential MMA career, the impact of MMA on wrestling and Cejudo's belief that MMA is easier than wrestling.  

Like UFC champ Georges St. Pierre, Cejudo never wrestled in college. Unlike GSP, he jumped directly into the world of international wrestling. His resume is something to behold: four-time state champion wrestler in high school, Pan Am Gold medalist, first high schooler to win U.S. Men's Nationals, U.S. World Team Trials champion and most notably, 2008 Olympic gold medalist.

Here's Cejudo on his potential entry into MMA:

Luke:When can we expect a potential debut of you in mixed martial arts? After the 2012 games?

Henry: After the 2012 games. Obviously I want to finish school. I'm currently or going to be a junior in college. I would definitely love to finish school. I would like to be done with it in a month and a half. That's my ultimate goal and then start [fighting MMA].

I actually started boxing for a while. I actually won the Copper Gloves in Arizona. I started competing on boxing, so I have my hands. I'm an O.K. wrestler, so why not?

Here's Cejudo on the impact of MMA on wrestling:

Luke: Let me ask you, do you think mixed martial arts is helping or hurting wrestling?

Henry: Well, this is a difficult one. I would say it's probably hurting, to be quite honest with you. A lot of our best guys are going into mixed martial arts. At the same time, it's sort of pushing the sport of wrestling to increase their stipends, their winnings. So, yeah, it is a bummer because the sport is losing good guys like Daniel Cormier, Mo Lawal, Ben Askren, they almost lost me for a bit. It's happening because guys are seeing MMA, I hate to say it, but it's an easier sport than wrestling. Wrestling is a sport, just like boxing, it's been around for hundreds of years. It's easy. It's flashy. Cameras, you become famous. You become rich. And you have the best base which is wrestling. 75% I think of all fighters are wrestlers or former wrestlers.

Luke: So, in otherwords, you think at the top it's bad but at the bottom, maybe at the High School level, it encourages more people to participate?

Henry: Yeah, exactly. At the bottom level kids are curious because they see guys like Cain Velasquez, a former wrestler. I can name you a hundred of them, but no one in particular comes to mind.

The other thing about Cejudo is that he wrestles at 125lbs. Currently flyweight is not quite a fully established division in MMA. Would the UFC want Cejudo to fight at 135lbs? He's very young so its entirely possible that he'll fill out enough to fight at bantamweight, but he's also potentially a big enough star to jump start the flyweight division. 

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