There’s a new sheriff in town.
Henry Cejudo made good in his second crack at the UFC flyweight title and shocked the world by ending Demetrious Johnson’s record reign with a split decision victory Saturday night at UFC 227 in Los Angeles.
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The first time Cejudo and Johnson met, in 2016, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist ran into a buzzsaw. Johnson ransacked him with knees and finished him in the first round. Cejudo had to work his way back to another title opportunity — with victories over Wilson Reis and Sergio Pettis — while Johnson broke Anderson Silva’s record with 11 consecutive title defenses. Johnson had effectively cleaned out the division and talk of him facing an opponent outside of the flyweight division dominated conversations. Not only that, but there was a legitimate argument to be made regarding where Johnson ranked among the greatest mixed martial artists of all-time.
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Cejudo wouldn’t lie down and allow Johnson to extend his streak Saturday. In fact, their compelling rematch may be recognized as the greatest fight in the division’s history with an outcome that will be considered controversial by many.
Johnson’s speed and Cejudo’s wrestling produced an intense five rounds that were incredibly tough to score, as evidenced by the two 48-47 scorecards for Cejudo and one 48-47 score for Johnson. Ultimately, Cejudo’s wrestling made difference as “The Messenger” managed to secure several takedowns.
Johnson often won the battle when the two were standing upright; he utilized his movement and effective striking to keep Cejudo off balance. Cejudo kept his poise, however, and sniffed out opportunities to score takedowns and hold top control. Between the intense scrambles and frantic exchanges, it was difficult to figure out who had the upper hand, but there was no question when Cejudo managed to take down Johnson at key points to slow his momentum.
With the fight hanging in the balance in the final round, Cejudo and Johnson held court in the center of the Octagon and exchanged strikes, but a late takedown by Cejudo likely secured the round and the title.
It was the ultimate redemption for Cejudo as few gave him a chance to put an end to Johnson’s dominant run as the inaugural flyweight champion. But it was clearly a different Henry Cejudo who stepped into the Octagon at UFC 227. Rather than be swallowed up by the magnitude of the moment, Cejudo utilized his vaunted wrestling to slow down the lightning-quick Johnson.
“This is a dream come true,” Cejudo said afterward. “From Olympic gold medalist to UFC champion. I was born right here in Los Angeles, in a two bedroom apartment so, from the bottom of my heart, thank you to these fans in California for their support. I felt very disrespected all week, with all of the talk of a super fight so I am standing here now to say that I want the winner of the main event.”
Although he has his sights set on a showdown with UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw — who retained his title in the main event with a first-round knockout of Cody Garbrandt — Johnson has more than earned his right to a rematch. With the series now even at one fight apiece and the controversial nature of the decision, it is not outside the realm of possibility for Cejudo and Johnson to run the fight back.