Henry Cejudo summed it up best after his stunning third-round knockout of Marlon Moraes to win the bantamweight title in Saturday’s UFC 238 headliner in Chicago.
“I’m not a double champion, I’m a triple champion: Olympic champion, flyweight champion and now bantamweight champion of the UFC. I’m the only person in the world who has all these titles, nobody else.”
Those are undisputable facts.
Cejudo won the gold medal in freestyle wrestling at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He was the man who finally unseated Demetrious Johnson as the UFC flyweight champion after “Mighty Mouse” successfully defended that title a UFC-record 11 times. Cejudo defended his 125-pound strap and simultaneously denied former bantamweight kingpin T.J. Dillashaw of achieving double-champ status with a 33-second knockout earlier this year.
And then there was last night. Moraes came to The Windy City on a tear, the winner of four consecutive fights and the owner of three straight first-round finishes. Moraes closed as a -165 favorite at most books.
Moraes got off to a hot start, peppering Cejudo’s lead leg with stinging kicks. Cejudo was completely playing defense against the Brazilian’s kicks for the first seven minutes of the fight. Both of Cejudo’s legs were showing the wear and tear of blistering shin sandwiches by the end of the opening stanza. Cejudo had already failed on a pair of takedown attempts, and it didn’t appear that he was going to have any answers for Moraes.
Until Cejudo suddenly came up with them. The narrative from this scribe and most others coming into UFC 238 was that Cejudo’s path to victory was implementing his world-class wrestling and taking the fight to the later rounds. In other words, he had to get the fight to the ground, wear Moraes out so he wouldn’t have as much power in the later rounds.
But Moraes stuffed both of Cejudo’s takedown attempts and, as we would learn later, the rumors of a Cejudo injury this week were true. He was fighting on a badly sprained ankle that was purple and swollen.
As Cejudo would explain later, “It was all desire.”
Instead of playing defense, Cejudo turned on his offense midway through the second round. Instead of avoiding firefights, he started initiating them and getting the better of Moraes.
If it wasn’t clear that the momentum had shifted to Cejudo, it became completely transparent when Moraes took a stiff jab early in Round 3 and looked at the referee, who briefly called timeout thinking Moraes had been poked in the eye. The replay clearly showed he was simply the victim of a legal punch. At this point, you knew Moraes was in trouble.
Moments later, Cejudo got Moraes in a tai clinch and delivered a slew of knees to the face and to the body. He started working on a standing choke as he backed Moraes up against the cage. Then Cejudo took the choke to the ground, only to let it go to begin delivering ground-and-pound punishment.
From the top, Cejudo started unleashing big elbows and hammer fists until the referee intervened with nine seconds remaining in Round 3.
Cejudo hooked up his backers as a +135 underdog, cashing proposition wagers for him to win inside the distance (+455), in Round 3 (+1800 at William Hill!) and by TKO/KO (+590).
In the co-main event, Valentina “The Bullet” Shevchenko successfully defended her women’s flyweight strap by dusting Jessica Eye with a thunderous head-kick KO that left Eye out cold for several minutes in a scary scene. Eye eventually woke up and was able to walk out of the Octagon unassisted.
Shevchenko set up the head kick with several powerful body kicks. When Shevchenko unleashed the KO kick, Eye moved to protect her body and left her head exposed.
Shevchenko was one of the biggest “chalks” in UFC history, cashing as an enormous -1200 favorite. She also hooked up her backers on props to win by TKO/KO (+300), inside the distance (-105) and in Round 2 (+525).
The People’s Main Event delivered as expected, although the finish was unfortunate. Tony Ferguson extended his UFC lightweight record winning streak to 12 with a TKO victory over Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone (doctor stoppage).
The first round was nothing but action from start to finish, with both fighters connecting with an array of kicks, punches and elbows. MajorWager scored Round 1 in favor of Cerrone.
Ferguson’s non-stop pressure started paying dividends in Round 2. His punches were coming in bunches and Cerrone’s face was showing the impact late in the stanza. Then as both men were trading shots, the bell sounded to end the second round. However, Ferguson threw a late punch that was clearly well after the bell. Cerrone had dropped his hands and the powerful strike from Ferguson landed clean on his nose.
“El Cucuy” immediately raised his hands and said, “my bad!” Cerrone didn’t complain and went back to his corner. There was bad swelling around Cerrone’s right eye and it appeared as if he might have a broken orbital bone. Nevertheless, Round 3 was set to start when Cerrone blew his nose.
This was a crucial error on his part and after blowing his nose, his eye immediately closed with grotesque swelling. Cerrone notified the referee, who called in the doctor to examine it. The doctor waved the fight off right away despite Cerrone’s protests.
Although the referee had issued a stern warning to Ferguson for the late punch, he ruled the fight a TKO win for Ferguson. Cerrone was upset the fight was stopped but didn’t take issue with the ruling.
“That was the fight I think everybody wanted,” Cerrone said. “I don’t quit. I don’t back down. I wanted to keep fighting. I shouldn’t have blown my nose. I’m sorry.”
Ferguson was a -150 favorite for most of the week, but heavy action came in on him to take the price up to -200 in the hours preceding the bout. The ‘under’ (2.5 rounds, -125) was a winner, and the props for Ferguson to win by TKO (+300) and inside the distance (+150) also cashed.
Ferguson expressed a willingness to run it back with Cerrone due to the somewhat controversial finish, but his broken orbital bone won’t allow that to happen anytime soon. Ferguson said he was open to fighting Conor McGregor, who he refers to as “McNuggets,” next or the winner of Khabib Nurmagomedov and Dustin Poirier to unify the lightweight division on Sept. 7 at UFC 242.
Petr Yan bested Jimmie Rivera by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27) as a -350 favorite in a bantamweight clash. MajorWager scored it 29-28 in Yan’s favor.
In the opener of the pay-per-view portion of the card, Blagoy Ivanov won a unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 30-27) over Tai Tuivasa in a heavyweight slugfest. Ivanov hooked up his supporters as a +140 underdog. MajorWager scored it 29-28 in Ivanov’s favor. He is now 2-1 in the UFC.
During the prelims on ESPN, Aljamain Sterling turned in a beautiful performance against Pedro Munhoz in a bantamweight scrap. Sterling put on a career-best performance, demonstrating how much his striking skills have improved in a unanimous-decision victory (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) as a -160 “chalk.” Since suffering a first-round KO loss to Moraes, Sterling has won four fights in a row to make a solid case for a title shot against Cejudo.
Calvin Kattar, Alexa Grasso and Tatiana Suarez were also victorious. Kattar scored a first-round KO win over perennial featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas, while Grasso dominated Karolina Kowalkiewicz in a women’s strawweight clash.
Ferguson and Cerrone took him an extra $50,000 for winning Fight of the Night honors. Shevchenko and Cejudo also bagged an extra 50K for Performance of the Night bonuses.