At Legacy Fighting Championships 27 we got to see a new side of Henry Cejudo, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling and undefeated MMA prospect. "The American Dream" faced his toughest opponent yet in undefeated Elias Garcia. Though Cejudo failed to weigh in at the contracted weight of 126 pounds or below, he put on an impressive performance, using his wrestling to dominate Garcia for three rounds.
A highlight video of the Legacy 27 card appears below.
The fight began innocently enough as both fighters felt each other out on their feet. The turning point came in the first round when Garcia cracked Cejudo flush in the mouth, sending him reeling. Whenever a big-time wrestler tries his hand at fighting, people always wonder how he will react when he gets hit. In Cejudo's case, he reacted pretty darned well. He didn't panic, and I think he had a bit of an epiphany, realizing that he might have a bit more success if he used his spectacular wrestling skill, and refrained from standing in front of someone intent on shoving their fist down his throat.
My advice to fighters with insanely high-level wrestling ability: use it as much as possible. Get plenty of striking practice in, but design your striking game simply as a means to complement your wrestling. If you are worried about the career boost that comes from finishing, learn to finish on the ground. You want to be thinking less like Chuck Liddell and more like Matt Hughes. Hughes almost never finished fights on his feet, and things turned out pretty well for him.
In other words, if homely Annie McWrestling brings you to the prom, you better damned well take her down to the dance floor, and not mind the people when they stare. She might not have the cutest face, or the firmest ass, but she's a sweet ol'girl, and you better believe she'll stick around when times get tough. Annie's a keeper, and a hell of a cook to boot.
It took a nasty punch to the mouth to knock Cejudo into full wrestling mode, but he's better for it. The rest of the fight consisted of Cejudo repeatedly roughing up Garcia against the cage and on the ground. Look below at that inside trip he hits from double overs, is there anything sweeter on Earth? Cejudo hits it so smoothly and with such economy of motion. It makes my heart sing.
I've been hard on Cejudo, I know it, and I don't back off what I've said in the past. The stuff he's involved himself in away from the cage, and decisions made by him and his management, lead me to believe that we should feel pretty dubious about his future as future UFC champion contender. I have my doubts, but I want him to succeed and I want to be wrong. He's just so amazingly talented, and I do not want to see him squander his potential in MMA the way he squandered his potential in wrestling.
How much potential do I mean? Enough that we really shouldn't be talking about Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo, rather, we should be talking about Olympic gold medalist and multiple-time World Champion Henry Cejudo. It's a big story when an American Olympic wrestling gold medalist pursues a fighting career, but imagine how much bigger a story it would be if it were the greatest American wrestler who ever lived. That could have been the title that precedes Cejudo into the cage had he chosen to make good on his enormous promise rather than sit out of competition for nearly three years.
After the fight, Cejudo mentioned how much weight he had to lose just to come in a couple pounds over. I respect that, but if he intends to do great things as a prize fighter, he'll have to do them at flyweight. While Cejudo seemed clearly bigger than Garcia on Friday night, I don't think he has the sheer size necessary to contend for a UFC title at 135. He might find it tough making flyweight, but he needs to figure out how to successfully execute the cut, or when, and if, he gets to the UFC, he will become just another face in the crowd. Perhaps a switch to a high profile camp would help his wight management issues.
Legacy FC 27 was a nice outing for Cejudo. He showed heart, he showed skill and he showed the ability to fight smart. Now all he needs to do is reduce the overall weirdness, find some elite training partners, and make weight, then maybe, just maybe, he might #besomebody in one of MMA's major promotions.