Remember that time a former UFC champion returned from retirement, straight into an immediate title shot in a different weight class?
Henry Cejudo’s campaign for a shot at Alexander Volkanovski turned into something more this past week. He’s been going back-and-forth with Dana White in the media, claiming White is “scared” to give him the shot. He then broke out the big guns — fighter pay — while speaking to MMA Junkie Radio.
“Dana would love to see the fight, but he wants to pay me peanuts in comparison to what I really deserve. I respect the man because it’s his business, what he’s able to do to take this company to a two-billion-dollar company to what it’s worth now seven (to) nine billion and I can’t get a raise. That just seems a little off to me, man.”
Cejudo (16-2), a former UFC double champ and Olympic gold medallist, retired in May of 2020 after defending his bantamweight title against Dominick Cruz. It seemed like an odd move for a fighter still in his prime — and ever since, Cejudo has dropped hints about a return, for a price — and for a third title at featherweight.
He’s also claimed he’ll defend the title should he win it.
No crown. No cringe. No gimmick. Just facts…
I told @AliAbdelaziz00 "make this fight happen". This isn't a GSP situation, I'd defend the belt. The UFC & Dana White don't want to give me a chance to make history. Dana is scared. It's a monopoly.
— Henry Cejudo (@HenryCejudo) January 14, 2022
Following UFC Vegas 46 on Saturday, Dana White addressed the issue, after the obvious comparison to Georges St-Pierre was made. The UFC chief tried to keep it about, on the surface, fairness.
“So I should have jumped over everybody and gave it to him, because last week he decided he’s not retired? Come on, man, this is a f*cking silly conversation. Silly,” he told media outlets, including this one, during the post-fight press conference. “If he wants to come back and try to win the title again in his weight class and talk about moving up and doing something else— but you don’t just f*cking pop up and start calling somebody names and think that you’re going to get a title shot in a different weight class when you’ve been retired for two, two and a half years.”
No, you don’t. You get the title shot, up a weight class, after being retired for basically four years, like Georges St-Pierre, which was the example given to White. You get the title shot if you’re Conor McGregor, who fought Khabib Nurmagomedov for the UFC’s lightweight title after a two year absence.
Heck, you get it if you’re Randy Couture, who retired following a knockout loss at the hands of Chuck Liddell in 2006 at 205lbs — only to return a year later, up a weight class, where he won the heavyweight title from Tim Sylvia.
The difference here is, Cejudo, for all his cringe-worthy efforts, is not the draw GSP was. Or Couture, and certainly not McGregor. Cejudo doesn’t have an entire country behind him, like GSP did — one that was happy to buy his Pay-Per-Views en mass. He doesn’t draw casuals like Conor, and as for Couture, well, that was a different era, and he was already a bonafide legend.
And in that, Dana White isn’t entirely wrong. There’s no sporting merit to Cejudo getting an immediate shot, given he’s never fought at featherweight. There’s no financial upside, as Cejudo hasn’t produced the sort of numbers that would convince the UFC’s matchmakers to let things like rankings slide. And there’s the USADA issue — it’s questionable as to whether Cejudo would even be able to make the date with Alexander Volkanovski, since as a retired fighter, he’d need to re-enter the USADA testing pool for six months, barring them waiving the requirement.
Yet despite White, for a change, being on the right side of the argument, the “silly” conversation about Cejudo still isn’t going away. Because when Henry Cejudo brought up the “peanuts” he was being offered to fight, he underscored exactly why he walked away from the sport on the first place. Sure, ostensibly it was to settle down and start a family.
In reality, the UFC simply wasn’t paying enough to make it worthwhile for him to stay. Couple that with Francis Ngannou threatening to sit out the rest of the year past UFC 270 and the Gane fight. Add it to Jorge Masvidal campaigning for better fighter pay, and openly talking about Bellator and other promotions sharing more revenue with athletes, percentage-wise, than the UFC. Add it to fighters begging for bonuses and crying about being broke.
Jake Paul bangs his drum about fighter pay in the UFC every other day now. With all that in mind, the “silly” conversation about Cejudo doesn’t seem so silly in the end. And it’s probably not going away any time soon.