The flyweight division was turned on its head on Saturday at UFC 227, as Henry Cejudo did the unthinkable and dethroned Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson.
There’s time where mixed martial arts lives up to its name, both as an art form, and as a true mixture of martial arts disciplines. If you can bank on any one fighter to provide the platform for such a display, it’s flyweight champion and all-time, pound-for-pound great Demetrious Johnson. ‘Mighty Mouse’ has become a true MMA master, as the ‘Mighty Arm-Bar’ against Ray Borg proved. So if it was hard to get excited for a rematch between Demetrious Johnson and Henry Cejudo because of the “been there, done that” feel to it, it was not hard to get excited to watch another master class by Johnson. Nor was it hard to argue again a title shot for a former Olympic champion.
The UFC champion opened on the outside, with Cejudo in a sideways stance, Karate style. Johnson landed a low kick, and moments later Cejudo appeared hurt, his ankle rolling badly. Whether it was a reaction to the kick, or he just rolled over on it, wasn’t clear. Johnson may or may not have been aware, but he continued to fire kicks as Cejudo tried to change stances. Mighty Mouse then went to the body. Cejudo, to his credit, displayed no sign of the setback, continuing to press forward if only a little slowly. He then fired off a kick with the injured leg, perhaps showing it wasn’t as bad as it originally seemed. Johnson closed the distance, allowed Cejudo to land a counter. A heavy body kick landed from Johnson. He went low next, back to that wounded paw. The champ went upstairs with a leg kick, caught, and Cejudo attacked! He landed a left but Johnson escaped. Another leg kick by Mighty Mouse closed out the frame.
The champ won the round. The challenger, perhaps, won a moral battle after that early ankle injury.
The second round saw Henry Cejudo back in his usual, wide, wrestling-based stance. He’d eat a big kick to the knee early, then another to the lower leg. He’d change levels as look to grapple with the champ about ninety seconds into the round, only to be fought off. Johnson was chopping away with kicks as the round progressed, to the body and to the legs. Cejudo would try to answer with his hands, but more often than not couldn’t land clean, if at all. As for takedowns, the first finally came with just over a minute in the round. Cejudo landed on top, in half guard. Cejudo couldn’t make anything happen there, however, but as Demetrious worked to scramble free, Cejudo attacked his shoulder with knees.
Arguably, that round belonged to the champion as well. The momentum shift towards the end, however, would be something to keep an eye on. In round three, Cejudo landed a right hand early. Johnson was bring the fight, practically chasing after the challenger. However, he’d nearly give up his neck, open to knees which Cejudo incredibly failed to throw. Johnson would escape, and the pair would end up grappling along the cage. Back in the open, Mighty Mouse would return to the leg kicks. In the final minute, Cejudo could manage to take the back and throw Johnson to the ground, but the champion was too wiley, scrambling free. Cejudo was now bloodied by one eye, and no closer to figuring out the puzzle Johnson posed. A knee to the body by the champ allowed Cejudo to take him down, but again, he was out and away to safety in the blink of an eye.
The championship rounds saw Cejudo walking forward, but with a noticeably more cautious gait given his injured leg. In an exchange, Johnson ate a couple of blows, but answered back as he escaped. At the halfway mark of round four, the champ again landed a heavy body kick on Cejudo. Moments later, the Olympic gold medalist would again land a takedown, this time managing to get into half guard. With just over ninety seconds remaining, he had an opportunity to steal the round. Cejudo would finish the frame on top, landing some ground and pound as the champ stayed active off his back.
The fifth and final round brought with it a key question: were the pair 2-2, or 3-1 in favor of Johnson, heading into the round? There was a good chance Cejudo had won the fourth, but had he done enough to win any of the others?
Johnson looked calm and collected to start round five. Cejudo had a look of determination. It was the champ opening with a leg kick. Cejudo would be looking for a takedown, and walked Johnson down. Mighty Mouse again went with a leg kick. Cejudo would land a punch here and there, but it was with two minutes left that he finally got his hands around the champ’s waist. Takedown? Eventually. Demetrious Johnson turned the challenger around, but Cejudo camp back and took it down. Johnson popped up right away, and Cejudo landed a left. A minute remaining, and the round was still up in the air. Johnson fired off a head kick. They’d turn it up in the final moments, exchanging, and giving the judges something to think about.
What they came back with was something of a shock. A split decision, in a closely contested fight, is no big surprise. But so many times, you hear the adage that you have to take the belt from the champ. Leave no question. Henry Cejudo, when the scorecards were read, won a split decision, 48-47 on two cards. But there was a clear question in such a close fight, and a rematch is no a certainty.
#AndNew!!!! @HenryCejudo wins a spectacular SD over Johnson at #UFC227! pic.twitter.com/asxYkVjKQg
— UFC Canada (@UFC_CA) August 5, 2018
Afterwards, Cejudo called for a fight with the winner of Dillashaw vs. Garbrandt, and said he was going up. Having done the impossible, he certainly is.
Henry Cejudo def. Demetrious Johnson by split decision (48-47, 47-48, 48-47)