TJ Dillashaw vs. Henry Cejudo could decide the fate of the UFC flyweight division
The champion vs. champion showdown might finally bring some clarity to some murky circumstances
While the future of the UFC's flyweight division remains confusingly uncertain, one of the best 125-pound title bouts ever will take place on Saturday with the result likely to play a key role in how long the division will last.
In the first card of the UFC's new five-year, $1.5 billion deal with ESPN, reigning bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw will move down in weight to challenge newly crowned flyweight king Henry Cejudo in a 125-pound superfight. The UFC Fight Night main event emanates from the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York (ESPN+, 10 p.m. ET).
For as quickly as the demise of the flyweight division has appeared to escalate, UFC president Dana White has been equally cryptic regarding which elements are true. What is clear is that the turning point came inDemetrious Johnson in their August rematch at UFC 227.
Two months later,in which his UFC contract was voided to allow him to sign with the Asia-based ONE Championship promotion. Shortly after, a handful of UFC flyweight fighters were cut as rumors continued to swirl that the division would be folded.
Those whispers only became louder when Dillashaw, upon signing to fight Cejudo, claimed he had been sent by UFC to kill off the division. Yet the more White has been quiet regarding what happens next, new developments -- like longtime contender Joseph Benavidez signing a new four-fight deal with UFC -- have only added to the confusion.
Benavidez, who twice came up empty against Johnson yet owns an all-action victory over Cejudo, will face Dustin Ortiz in a flyweight bout on Saturday that can either be viewed as insurance should Dillashaw fail to make weight or a way to create a new 125-pound title contender should Cejudo win (setting up a rematch with Benavidez).
But what happens if Dillashaw (16-3) wins and becomes the seventh two-division champion (and fourth to do so simultaneously) in UFC history? Will the victory mark the death blow to flyweights along with it?
At this point, only time will tell.
"The biggest mistake of Henry's life is when he called me out after [defeating Johnson,]" Dillashaw said. "I'm never going to run away from a challenge and I accepted it with open arms. He won't be known as a champion when I'm done with him. He will have never defended his belt, just like [Cody] Garbrandt. I'm going to run through him. I'll be the last flyweight champion ever."
Cejudo (13-2), a 2008 Olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling for the United States, has been critical of Dillashaw's bold decision to cut an additional 10 pounds considering it was "The Messenger" who said he would move up to face Dillashaw immediately after his title win at UFC 227.
"Champions never go down [in weight], champions go up," Cejudo said. "I'm going to make [Dillashaw] pay for every little extra pound that he dropped. Henry Cejudo is going to put it on you.
"I'm out here to finish TJ Dillashaw. It's about me stopping him and making a statement and making the flyweight division great."
Dillashaw is fresh off a pair of spectacular knockout wins of the former champion Garbrandt to regain the 135-pound title he originally won from Renan Barao in 2014. The 32-year-old champion enters the fight already among the top P4P fighters in the world and could make an interesting case at being No. 1 by winning his second world title in as many divisions.
"He's not going to be able to last with my cardio," Dillashaw said. "He's going to give up and I'm going to win in spectacular fashion. I'm going to go out there and I'm going to out-wrestle him. I'm going to take that gold medal right off his neck.
"Henry, I commend you for taking that gold but the real gold is around your waist and I'm going to take it from you."
Yet because Dillahsaw has never fought at flyweight in his nine-year pro career, the jury is still out as to whether he can make the weight and look strong in doing so.
"I could break TJ. He has broken before and I know that I could break TJ, especially at 125 pounds," Cejudo said. "I'm a far superior wrestler. I'm going to dictate where the fight goes and that's all there is to it.
"I believe there is a lot at stake for me and I'm looking to make TJ Dillashaw my next victim."
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