On the heels of weeks of speculation as to whether sincere intentions were involved, we witnessed former two-division champion Henry Cejudo's retirement become a reality as the UFC dropped him from its bantamweight rankings. Cejudo (16-2) shocked the MMA world back on May 9, shortly after finishing former 135-pound champion Dominick Cruz in his first title defense, when the 33-year-old announced he had accomplished everything he set out to as a professional.
So what does Cejudo's departure mean not only for his own future but that of the bantamweight division as a whole? Let's take a closer look at the biggest questions requiring answers.
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Should we believe Cejudo is really done?
Yes and no. Cejudo is certainly done facing the next in line of an already bottlenecked and deep 135-pound division. And because of that, there's reason to believe the decision was a strategic one considering the incredible run Cejudo has been on having won his last six fights. Should Cejudo fancy only big paydays from here on out, the move allows him to avoid marching through the bantamweight gauntlet without affecting his legacy while waiting patiently for the right big-money opportunity to appear.
Either way, it's clear the former U.S. Olympic gold medalist is no dummy. While engineering an impressive evolution as a fighter over the last four years, he has built a crossover name through his flamboyant social media presence. If he returns shortly -- or never again -- he has more control over his legacy and any future opportunities by walking away on top than most fighters will ever see. Considering UFC fighters are rarely at a point of leverage when it comes to negotiating, this allows Cejudo to call his own shots and be in control of the amount of physical damage he's willing to accrue.
How will Cejudo's legacy be viewed if he never returns?
His final victories against Demetrious Johnson, TJ Dillashaw, Marlon Moraes and Cruz compare favorably with any successive four-fight stretch in UFC championship history. Because of that, it would be unfair to limit Cejudo's legacy by calling him simply an opportunist. Cejudo walks away legitimately ranked among the best pound-for-pound fighters of his age and proved time and again he could rise to the occasion in his biggest fights, even when the odds were against him.
A cerebral fighter with a tireless work ethic, Cejudo grew at such an incredibly rapid rate in recent years. When he boasts about wanting a chance to become the first three-division UFC champion by challenging featherweight king Alex Volkanovski, it's hard to count him out. Even if Cejudo didn't seem to deserve a chance at becoming just the seventh fighter in UFC history to win titles in two weight divisions (and just the fourth to do so simultaneously), the fact that he defended both can't be overlooked. Even if Cejudo falls just short of the upper room of UFC greats because of his smaller sample size, it isn't by much.
What's next for the vacant bantamweight title?
All signs are pointing toward a matchup between Petr Yan and former title challenger Marlon Moraes. Not only did UFC president Dana White recently announce Yan would get the first shot, but Moraes was curiously left out of a trio of strong bantamweight matches booked for the June 6 UFC 250 card in Las Vegas.
Moraes, who controlled Cejudo early before being stopped in Round 3 of their 2019 title bout, rebounded nicely by edging longtime featherweight king Jose Aldo. Considering Moraes was initially passed up twice for Cejudo's next title defense when Aldo was named challenger -- despite two consecutive defeats -- before the coronavirus pandemic opened up the door for Cruz, it seems like the right move. Moraes is also ranked No. 1 in the division by the UFC, with Yan coming in at No. 3. Although White has yet to confirm Yan-Moraes or announce a date, the two were originally booked to fight on June 13 headlining a UFC Fight Night card in Kazakhstan and should be able to return soon.
Who would most likely to be next for the winner?
This is where the trio of 135-pound bouts at UFC 250 come in -- with the best of the group pairing No. 2 Aljamain Sterling against No. 4 Cory Sandhagen. Not only do the rankings tell you the winners should face off next, it would be difficult to see the Sterling-Sandhagen winner being forced to wait any longer. Sterling, 30, is recovering from wrist surgery and has won six of his last seven. The 28-year-old Sandhagen, meanwhile, is riding a seven-fight win streak and could prove to be the true dark horse of the division.
Given the UFC's history of rewarding the hot hand, though, pay close attention to the other two fights at UFC 250. Fresh off an electric finish in his first fight following a two-year USADA suspension, unbeaten Sean O'Malley faces veteran Eddie Wineland. Meanwhile, former 135-pound champion Cody Garbrandt looks to shake off a three-fight streak of knockout defeats by facing longtime stalwart Raphael Assuncao.
Who are the wild cards that might crash the party?
If recent history is any indication (from Dan Henderson to Cruz), it's never a bad thing to be an aging fighter with a big name lingering around the top 10 of any division. Although the UFC maintains its own rankings system, the promotion is never above subbing in a recognizable name or former champion as a B-side to help sell pay-per-views. That means everyone from Aldo to Cruz and even Urijah Faber are always one big win away from having their phone ring.
Don't count out former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, either. Following a trio of failed attempts at a featherweight title, Edgar is expected to begin a bantamweight run at age 38 against Pedro Munhoz in July. The UFC's interest in China, where it recently built a state-of-the-art Performance Institute, also means that Song Yadong needs to be watched closely, as well. Trained by Faber, the 22-year-old from China hasn't lost in nine fights and is unbeaten since making his UFC debut in 2017.