MMA

Cejudo to UFC’s White: Let me fight Volkanovski

Henry Cejudo’s ultimate goal — and one of the main reasons he is coming out of retirement — is to challenge for the UFC featherweight title. But it’s more likely Cejudo returns initially at bantamweight.

Cejudo told ESPN in an interview published Tuesday that he wants to fight Alexander Volkanovski for the featherweight title in an effort to do something no one ever has in UFC history. Cejudo, an Olympic champion wrestler, is the former UFC flyweight and bantamweight champion. No fighter has ever won titles in three UFC divisions.

The UFC, though, seems to prefer Cejudo come back at first in the bantamweight division. Cejudo defended his title against Dominick Cruz at UFC 249 in May 2020 and then surprisingly announced his retirement in his postfight interview. Cejudo entered back into the USADA drug-testing pool in April and will be eligible to return to the Octagon in October.

“That’s the only reason why I’m even going down to 135 pounds,” Cejudo said of possibly fighting Volkanovski in the future. “These dudes are not on my level — none of those dudes are at my level. And they all know it. So if I have to go down to 135 pounds [and win back] my belt to challenge Alexander Volkanovski, that’s what I have to do.”

Cejudo, 35, is on a six-fight winning streak, during which he ended the record 11-fight title defense streak of Demetrious Johnson to win the flyweight belt and then beat Marlon Moraes to win the bantamweight title.

Aljamain Sterling, the current UFC bantamweight champion, is scheduled to defend against TJ Dillashaw at UFC 279 on Sept. 10 in Las Vegas. Cejudo owns a win over Dillashaw at flyweight and said he would love a crack at the winner of that bout. Cejudo pointed to longtime UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, who came out of retirement and fought for the middleweight title after four years away, and said he would prefer not to have a “tuneup fight.”

“Nobody beat me,” Cejudo said. “I left, I relinquished my belt. I was never stripped. … I’m here to make history.”

If not a title fight, Cejudo said he has some interest in a bout with rising bantamweight Sean O’Malley. The two have gone back and forth a bit on social media, and Cejudo crashed an O’Malley interview during UFC 276 fight week earlier this month.

But Cejudo says he doesn’t think that fight is what the UFC wants.

“The UFC isn’t ready for him to die,” Cejudo said. “It took Sean O’Malley five days to reply to me after I freaking crashed his interview. … He didn’t even tag my actual name. He’s playing games. I’ll hurt that dude. I don’t think the UFC is willing to do that.”

Cejudo said he doesn’t regret retiring two years ago. His body needed rest after competing in wrestling or MMA since he was 11 years old. During the time off, Cejudo got married, and he and his wife, Karolina, had a baby daughter, America. He said he has been back in the gym now, working on fundamentals and strengthening his body before a future training camp. Cejudo said he’d like to fight this year, but he’s “really not in a hurry.”

The top of the featherweight division is in flux. Volkanovski needs thumb surgery, and UFC president Dana White mentioned doing an interim title bout between top contenders Yair Rodriguez and Josh Emmett.

Cejudo said he has a lot of respect for Volkanovski and has been impressed with what he has been able to do. ESPN has Volkanovski ranked No. 2 in the world on its pound-for-pound list. Cejudo was once in a similar range as a top-five pound-for-pound MMA fighter before he stepped away.

“I truly believe I could beat him,” Cejudo said. “I would never take a fight that I don’t think I could win.”

Cejudo is the only athlete ever to have won an Olympic gold medal and two UFC divisional titles. He said he would love to add another UFC belt to his collection and make another milestone. Cejudo appealed to White, whom he trash-talked a bit after his retirement, to give him the chance.

“I know I talked a lot of stuff, calling you Dana Bald, Dana Aldo,” Cejudo said. “But, boss, I respect you. I understand what you’ve done for the UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts. I’ve only wanted attention for situations like this — to fight and make history. You’ve always said it, Dana, that ‘I will never stop anybody from making history.’ Well, here he is right here, man.”

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