Henry Cejudo understands the value of gold. He’s won an Olympic wrestling medal of that color, and he became the first such champion to add a shining UFC belt to his collection Saturday night at UFC 227 at Staples Center.
Now, he’s pursuing the cash value of it by mining for a showdown with fellow champion T.J. Dillashaw.
Minutes after producing a captivating end to Demetrious Johnson’s UFC-record 11-fight run of flyweight title defenses by split decision, Cejudo called out Dillashaw, who defended his bantamweight title in the main event, for another possible super-fight.
“Look how muscular, how much bigger I am than Demetrious Johnson,” Cejudo said at the post-fight news conference. “They’ve always talked about a T.J.-D.J. super-fight … but now that they’ve got the winner …
“I’m already an Olympic champion, I’m a UFC champ, and I’m asking to be a triple champ. Forget about the champ-champ, allow me to go to 135 pounds and face T.J. Dillashaw. If he wants to come down, OK, but I’d rather go up.”
As featherweight champion, Conor McGregor coined the term “champ-champ” by knocking out Eddie Alvarez in 2016 to add the lightweight belt. Last month, light-heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier stopped heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic to become the second UFC fighter to hold two belts at once.
Now Cejudo, the Olympian born in South Central, wants his chance at it.
Orange County’s Dillashaw recorded a first-round technical knockout of Cody Garbrandt, whom Dillashaw beat for the bantamweight title last year.
Dillashaw had longed to fight Johnson this summer before a Johnson shoulder injury scrapped the bout.
A two-time bantamweight champion, Dillashaw could opt to enhance his claim as the UFC’s best-ever bantamweight by fighting San Diego’s Dominick Cruz, who won their 2016 title bout by split decision.
But he acknowledged that at 32, he’ll weigh whether Cejudo or Cruz will make a more lucrative fight.
“We’ll see how it all comes together,” Dillashaw said. “[Finances are] absolutely something that goes through your head. I want to be a sportsman and continue to be the baddest man I can. But it goes through your head who’s going to cause the most attention, and I’m up for whatever challenge.”
Cejudo, 31, eventually will revisit a trilogy with Johnson. The former champion stopped him in the first round two years ago and fell by a razor-thin margin Saturday.
But Johnson (27-3-1) believed he suffered a torn right knee ligament and broken right foot that probably will require substantial healing following his first loss since bowing to Cruz in a 2011 bantamweight bout.
“He didn’t blow me out of the water, but I need to get healthy first, see what the damage is and go from there,” Johnson said.
Cejudo agreed a third bout with Johnson is expected.
“He deserves it, but I’m saying I want to go up” in weight, he said. “Let’s do it. I want a challenge.”
Cejudo won the fight by out-wrestling Johnson. The new champion scored takedowns in each of the final four rounds to defuse Johnson’s hand- and foot-speed advantages.
Johnson was “squirmy, I had to continue to work and I noticed when we make him scramble, he gets tired. He’s human. It wasn’t an easy fight. It was very tactical,” Cejudo said.
He wasn’t sure he’d won until he heard “and new … .” in the ring announcement of his champion status.
“In your mind, you can meditate those moments of strapping on that belt,” Cejudo said. “I’ve always seen him as a challenge. Beating Demetrious Johnson was much bigger than this UFC belt. Before I ever started the sport, he was the champion. That motivated me, made me stronger.”
He becomes the UFC’s second Mexican American belt-holder, joining former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, and provides a captivating lifetime narrative that the UFC should market to its maximum.
“I may not be Oscar De La Hoya, but it feels good to carry that torch. I’m a blessed human being, a very prideful American and I love Mexico,” Cejudo said.
“It’s awesome to see what the mind of a believer can do, to shock the world” in the 2008 Beijing Games, “and to be on the top of the world again 10 years later.”
UFC President Dana White said he was thrilled that “A-list celebrities,” including Chris Pratt, Matt Damon and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis, were amid a sold-out crowd of 17,800 that generated a live gate of $2.9 million for his lightest divisions, and he praised Cejudo’s push for a super-fight.
“I love guys who want to fight everybody, and I think the fans love that, too. That’s always good to hear,” White said. “The reason Conor McGregor is such a huge star is because he’s that guy, and when you have that mentality, people like that.”
White stopped short of saying he’s focused on matching champions in fights, although he’ll do so in December when women’s featherweight champion Cris Cyborg is expected to meet bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes.
“It’s not about super-fights. That word is being completely overused,” White said. “Cyborg is beating everybody. Nunes has, too. That’s the fight to make.
“I don’t know if [Cejudo-Dillashaw is] the fight to make right now for these two, but it’s Saturday night and I make fights on Tuesdays.”
Dillashaw said he was pleased to “close the chapter” with bitter rival and former Sacramento stablemate Garbrandt by staggering him with a punch, subjecting him to a following flurry, landing a disabling kick and finishing him.