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As if the UFC’s opening ESPN-related card Saturday isn’t significant enough, bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw sees his move down in weight to pursue Henry Cejudo’s flyweight belt as a legacy-sealing event.
Cejudo is also piling pressure upon his first defense, contending that he needs to win to preserve the 125-pound division from contraction.
“The flyweight division will remain, and this is why I like the fight with T.J. Dillashaw, because he’s going to be my example – my example to them after they’ve been thinking the flyweight division is boring,” Cejudo said in reference to UFC leadership and fans who yawned at the dominant reign of former champion Demetrious Johnson.
Los Angeles-raised Cejudo (13-2), a former Olympic wrestling champion, ended Johnson’s reign in August at Staples Center and said he’s been given no clear direction of the flyweight division’s fate from UFC executives following the release of several 125-pounders.
“I’m not sure, but the way I see it is that this is why we’re fighting, and if anyone can” save the division, “this Mexi-can,” he cracked, laughing heartily. “I’m the one you throw the Hail Mary.”
Orange County’s Dillashaw (16-3) is indifferent to that issue. His aim is to join Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier and Amanda Nunes as the only simultaneous two-division champions in UFC history.
The difference for Dillashaw, 32, is that he’s the only person among the group moving down in weight for the second belt.
And in an era when elite fighters have scarred the UFC by airing vicious words, testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs and engaging in criminal behavior, Dillashaw would like to represent the gold standard of how a UFC champion should perform and behave.
“That’s how I’ve always tried to handle myself. It’s something to be proud about when I’m done, to look back at my career and know I’ve handled myself the way I wanted to -- that my son can look back at my career and be proud of his dad,” Dillashaw said.
Cejudo claims he agrees “100% with my manager,” Ali Abdelaziz, that Dillashaw will miss weight Friday for the Barclays Center fight in Brooklyn, “because when snakes don’t eat, they suffer.”
But Dillashaw, a former wrestler at Cal State Fullerton, scoffs at that opinion, claiming he’ll make his 10-pound cut from the bantamweight limit easier than Cejudo and is additionally prepared to out-wrestle the man wearing Olympic gold.
“They’re just praying I don’t make weight because I’m going to smash him,” Dillashaw told the Fight Corner on Monday. “My weight cut’s already over and I feel great … I set [personal records] in my strength, my power output, my conditioning. And I’m lighter than I was in my last camp. I feel better than ever.
“I beat him everywhere. Absolutely, I’ll out-wrestle him … I’ll frustrate him and beat him so badly in all the areas of MMA that he’ll want to quit.”
The personable Cejudo said he can’t allow that, not with this opportunity that opens a $750-million relationship with ESPN-Plus. If he can defeat one of the organization’s top-five pound-for-pound fighters, Cejudo reasons, he furthers the UFC’s mission to broaden its Latino fan base.
“Having Henry Cejudo as champ can shake and move the UFC,” said Cejudo, who’d like to headline a UFC event in Mexico one day. “I’m your guy. I speak English, Spanish and Portuguese. I’m trying to take over Latin America. I’m trying to take over the world. Their savior is here. [Former Mexican heavyweight champion] Cain Velasquez did a great job, but I’m the one to push it forward even more because of my status and who I am.”
He urges Mexican boxing fans to turn toward UFC action.
“Part of what’s wrong with that sport [boxing] is the leaders. The best aren’t fighting the best. There’s too many belts out there. Too many people to work with,” he said. “That doesn’t allow people to get better, like with me and T.J. in this fight.”
Crawford-Khan set for April 20
Unbeaten welterweight boxing champion Terence Crawford has ached for a name opponent and a greater platform worthy of his pound-for-pound skills.
He receives both with the selection of former 140-pound world champion Amir Khan for an April 20 ESPN pay-per-view bout for Crawford’s World Boxing Organization belt.
Nebraska’s Crawford (34-0, 25 KOs) formerly wore all four junior-welterweight belts before moving up to capture the welterweight belt against Australia’s Jeff Horn and successfully defend it with a 12th-round technical knockout of Jose Benavidez Jr. in October.
In England’s Khan (33-4, 20 KOs), Crawford meets an internationally known headliner who won the 2010 fight of the year over Marcos Maidana, was knocked out by the bigger Canelo Alvarez in a 2016 pay-per-view, and got off the canvas to win his most recent bout over Samuel Vargas.
“It’s always been my goal to fight the best fighters out there, and I look at Amir Khan as one of the top fighters in my division,” Crawford said in a prepared statement. "I know some people are writing him off, but I am by no means overlooking him. He’s a former unified world champion, and come April 20, I’ll be looking to go out there to seek and destroy. I’m excited about this fight because I believe it can push my career to another level.”
Khan balked at fighting former welterweight champion countryman Kell Brook to face Crawford.
“Clearly, the U.K. fans want to see Khan versus Brook, but I could not turn down the opportunity to fight for the WBO title,” Khan said. “That is not to say that the Brook fight won't happen, as I want that fight to happen as soon as possible.
“Fighting a world champion won't be easy, but this is exactly the challenge I need at this stage of my career. I am fully motivated and ready for the best training camp of my life. Crawford is beatable … it's going to be one hell of a fight.”
The bout was formally announced Tuesday in London and promoter Top Rank will select a venue in either Las Vegas or New York.
Another unsettled venue is for the planned Premier Boxing Champions meeting between two-belt junior-middleweight champion Jarrett Hurd and former title challenger Julian Williams on May 11 near Hurd’s Maryland home.
The Washington Capitals’ arena, Capital One Arena, is filled that night, while the MGM National Harbor venue is deemed too small and fight officials are uncomfortable returning to Eagle Bank Arena in Fairfax, Va., where Prichard Colon suffered brain damage in a 2015 bout.
Hurd (23-0, 16 KOs) won the 2018 fight of the year in April over Erislandy Lara, then knocked out Jason Welborn on Dec. 1 at Staples Center on the Deontay Wilder-Tyson Fury undercard.
Porter fight coming to L.A.?
The scheduled March 9 World Boxing Council welterweight title defense by Shawn Porter against Cuba’s Yordenis Ugas (23-3, 11 KOs) is under consideration by Premier Boxing Champions to be moved from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas to the newly named Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, two industry officials told The Times.
Porter (29-2–1, 17 KOs), of Las Vegas, claimed the vacant WBC belt in September with a unanimous-decision victory over former champion Danny Garcia in Brooklyn.
If shifted from the massive Las Vegas arena to the more intimate venue known as the “war grounds,” Porter-Ugas would be the sixth world title bout to be staged in the Southland between Sunday and April 12.
The Assn. of Boxing Commissions reported this week that California hosted 118 boxing cards last year, more than Nevada, Texas, New York and New Jersey combined.
Until next time