Posts Tagged ‘Bellator Fighting Championships’
The champ has returned.
United States Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo has not stepped onto a mat in competitive fashion since becoming the youngest American wrestler to capture Olympic gold during the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. At one time it looked as if Cejudo had grappled for the final time at just 21 years of age, but in late 2010 he announced he would be making a run at a second freestyle gold medal in 2012.
Fans won’t have to wait until the London games to kick off to catch a glimpse of one of the greatest wrestlers in U.S. history, however, because Cejudo will make his return today in New York City during the 2011 Beat the Streets Gala in Duffy Square.
As part of a USA vs. Russia freestyle dual meet, Cejudo will square off against Rasul Mashezov at 121 pounds as one of seven matches for the event.
Beat the Streets is a non-profit organization that reaches out to students in New York City and creates opportunities for them to participate in after-school wrestling programs, providing them a safe haven and a way out of some of the poorest and toughest neighborhoods in the The Big Apple.
“It’s a great cause and it’s something I help out with during the year because I was an inner-city kid too,” Cejudo said. “I’m excited to be here to show kids that they have a way out and to use it as a platform to elevate kids to be better people and accomplish their dreams.”
It feels right that Cejudo, who became a national darling in both the United States and Mexico after winning the 2008 55kg Olympic gold medal, has decided to continue his competitive wrestling career. He’s just 24-years old, and was once considered the future of USA wrestling.
But his career nearly took a turn in a couple of different directions following his triumphant rise to glory.
Growing up in a Mexican community as the son of Mexican immigrants, boxing was one of the most popular sports around and one of Cejudo’s earliest passions.
“Being brought up in a Mexican community all people talked about and watched was boxing,” Cejudo said. “And to me it was always something I wanted to do but never had a real chance to attempt.”
So after his Olympic championship and the whirlwind media tour that followed, Cejudo began to dabble in the sweet science. Eventually he became just as immersed as he had been in wrestling. He slept at the boxing gym, training at least twice a day. He competed and won tournaments in his home state of Arizona and even trained with iconic trainer Freddie Roach. Cejudo was set on going back to the Olympics, but the catch was he was going to do it with gloves on.
“That was my initial goal, to go back to the Olympics for boxing,” Cejudo said. “I wanted to blow Michael Phelps out of the water.”
This wasn’t just a wacky dream being chased, either. Cejudo was getting very good, very quickly, and still feels he could have turned professional and found early success.
“I was sparring against a pro boxer and within a month I was getting the best of him,” Cejudo stated. “I was going up against some of the best guys in the country and they were surprised I was right there with these people in just a month and a half. My defense, my jab, how to move; it was all there.”
Boxing wasn’t the only sport that threatened to pull Cejudo away from the wrestling mat. Not surprisingly, mixed martial arts came calling early in 2010 when Bellator Fighting Championship showed interest in signing Cejudo for its Season Three Bantamweight Tournament. The list of wrestlers who have made a successful transition to MMA is a long and distinguished one, and it seemed a logical path for Cejudo if he wasn’t going to wrestle anymore.
But in the end, neither boxing nor MMA could pull Cejudo away from the sport that has reciprocated so much good in his life.
“I was close enough to signing with Bellator that they faxed the papers over and I was ready to sign them,” Cejudo said. “I thought about it for a day and during that time I got a call from USA wrestling about me coming back. I had a decision to make, and I think I just see myself with another gold medal and maybe doing MMA afterward.
“MMA will always be there, but wrestling is such a high-caliber sport that once you leave it you can’t come back. I think I can have a bigger impact right now by winning another Olympic gold and going down in the history books.”
Long considered the best base to have when entering mixed martial arts training, Cejudo certainly has the wrestling aspect down pat. Even though he balked at an MMA offer, that doesn’t mean he’s closed the book on a career in the cage. In fact, Cejudo will be 25 after the 2012 Olympics and has already trained in jiu-jitsu and thai boxing in addition to his standard boxing training. An MMA career is certainly a possibility for Cejudo after the next Olympics.
“My goal never was to become an MMA fighter while I was training, I just wanted to become a student of all the (disciplines),” Cejudo said. “I can always come back to MMA. It’s a new sport. It’s a baby. Nobody in the UFC or in MMA is at their full potential right now because everybody is still learning.”
For now it will be like it was for Cejudo in the not-so-old days: all wrestling, all the time. His 18-month training camp began in February and will take him all the way to the summer of 2012. He will eventually move out to Iowa City, Iowa to train with his former Olympic coach Terry Brands, who was USA Wrestling’s national freestyle coach in Colorado Springs, Colo., when Cejudo trained there. Brands is also an associate head coach for the University of Iowa wrestling team under his twin brother and head coach Tom. Cejudo will also make a trip overseas to train with the Russians, seeking out the best to eventually be the best just as he did four years ago.
When Cejudo takes on Mashezov this evening he will be squaring off against one of the best 121-pounders in the world in his first high-profile match in nearly three years. Cejudo has never faced him before.
“He’s a competitor and any top-three guy at a weight is among the best in the world,” Cejudo said. “It’s going to be extremely hard to beat him, but it’s about competing against the best and he’s one of the best. I’m not scared, I just have to be ready and I’m ready now.”
Adversity and sacrifice are nothing new to Cejudo, not to a man who battled his way out of poverty and left home as a sophomore in high school to pursue a dream most couldn’t begin to fathom at that age.
“The thing about success,” Cejudo said. “Is that sometimes you have to sacrifice family and friends.”
Those are the words of a champion that has climbed to the very top from the very bottom. For the time being, he’s back where he belongs.
Welcome back, Henry Cejudo.
He has been training in martial arts since he was just five years old, competition becoming a way of life. But in his MMA career, finding a willing opponent has been tough for Chad Robichaux.
On occasions it’s been because of his undefeated record, other times because of his submission prowess. Then there was his time in the military that took him overseas. Upon his return, fighters just didn’t want to square off with him. Robichaux has always been willing to take a step up in competition, he just couldn’t find an adversary.
That all changes Saturday night.
The undefeated 35-year old jiu-jitsu ace will make his Bellator debut in grand fashion when he takes on bantamweight champ Zack Makovsky in a non-title super fight at Bellator 41. An August 2010 victory over touted prospect Humberto DeLeon at “Strikeforce: Houston” pushed Robichaux’s record to an unblemished 11-0 and endeared him to the Bellator brass, who thought enough to sign him to face the promotion’s first bantamweight champ in Makovsky.
“(Bellator) was interested in signing me and I wanted a tough opponent,” Robichaux said. “They offered Zack in a super fight and it was the perfect matchup. Because of my record I’ve had a hard time getting tough matchups. I get mostly guys looking to make a name for themselves by cutting into my record and trying to knock me off.”
After fighting in regional circuits in the southern United States since 1999, Robichaux got his biggest chance when Strikeforce came to his home town of Houston. He defeated DeLeon by split decision at a catchweight of 130 pounds, and six months later got the call from Bellator. Now he gets the step up in competition he has been seeking in Makovsky. A former EliteXC competitor, Makovsky became Bellator’s inaugural bantamweight champion by winning the season three bantamweight tournament via a trio of unanimous decision victories. The former NCAA Division I wrestler for Drexel University is 12-2 in his MMA career with seven wins by decision and five by submission.
Styles make fights, as the saying goes, and Saturday night’s showdown between Robichaux and Makovsky is ripe with possibilities of how the fight will go based on who can impose their will. Makovsky has been able to use his wrestling skills to bully opponents around the cage and then take them down and work them over. Nine of his fights have made it to the final round with three others ending in the second round. Makovsky has proven he can finish with a submission, but is more than comfortable using his wrestling and cardio for the full 15 minutes.
Robichaux’s career line has been a polar opposite. His split-decision win over DeLeon was the first time he had seen the third round in his career. His prior 10 bouts each ended by submission with just two reaching the second round.
Something has to give.
“The short version of my game plan is just to keep it active,” Robichaux said. “(Makovsky) is a really smart guy and a very talented fighter, and he tries to drag fights out and win by decision. I want to try to put constant pressure on him.
“To me, when I look at the matchup, it’s certainly a contrast of styles. It’s about who can get their game plan going. Can he drag it out, or can I force him?”
Makovsky’s wrestling has been a factor in almost all of his fights as he has been able to take his opponents down at will and then control them on the ground. Robichaux doesn’t fear Makovsky’s biggest strength, however. In fact, if the fight goes to the ground, it falls right into the hands of Robichaux, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under the legendary Carlos Gracie Jr.
“I don’t think he’s had anyone come at him like I will,” Robichaux said. “People have been afraid of his wrestling to the point where they are scared to go after him and they just stall out.
“If he thinks he can take me down, great. If he does, even better. I definitely think I’m the superior grappler. His wrestling is great, but I don’t think it’s stages above mine, and I’m certainly comfortable on my feet.”
Don’t be surprised if the fighters remain standing for a good portion, though. There’s a good chance their grappling will cancel out and they’ll have to trade strikes. If that’s the case, Robichaux is eager to show the striking aspect of his game that is often overlooked because of his great jiu-jitsu.
“That’s what I’m really excited about, people finally getting to see my entire skill set,” Robichaux said. “It’s actually a bit frustrating because in the past organizations classify me as a jiu-jitsu guy and they don’t want to give me an opportunity because of that label. But if you look past my record and watch the fights you would see I knock people down before I submit them. I’ve been striking as long as I’ve been grappling and that’s 30 years.”
In preparation for facing Robichaux it is obviously a good idea to work on jiu-jitsu, but if that is the only area a fighter focuses on against him they are going to be vulnerable to his “secondary” arsenal.
“The way Zack trained for me, I think he may have not had the clear picture of who I am and might not have been training accurately for me,” Robichaux said. “I’m going to throw some things out there that he doesn’t expect. He’s a pretty composed dude, but I’m going to shock him in some areas.”
Robichaux is also eager to take his game to the next level after what he deemed to be a bit of a disappointing victory against DeLeon. Robichaux normally wouldn’t have fought at 130 pounds because it is a difficult weight cut for him, but saying no to a bout in Strikeforce just wasn’t an option.
“It was a good performance but it wasn’t my best, and mentally I almost took it as a loss.”
It was the first time Robichaux had not finished his opponent, and he was frustrated to see his streak broken. But on the positive side (besides it being a victory) was that Robichaux picked up the experience of fighting for a full 15 minutes.
“I do it in the gym all the time, but if you don’t have that experience in a fight you’re always going to wonder in the back of your mind if you can do it,” Robichaux said. “At the end of the last fight I was just getting started and I felt great, so it helps to know I can go out there and still perform if it goes the distance.”
Another advantage Robichaux has is the perspective he has in a fight. He has served as a member of the United States Marine Corps, Special Operations Force Reconnaissance Marine and as a Federal Agent. There isn’t anything in a fight that is going to scare him and there isn’t much that can throw him off his game mentally.
“MMA is a sport and the consequences aren’t as high as some of the things I’ve done in my life in the military,” Robichaux said. “I’ve had a lot of life experience and that has poised me and made me really downplay the seriousness of something like a fight. I think I’ve always had that composure because I’ve been competing so long, but the military training definitely helped.”
It’s safe to say Saturday’s fight with Makovsky is the biggest of Robichaux’s career. A win over the bantamweight champ would obviously throw him right into the title picture. For the longtime martial arts competitor who is finally getting his big chance, this is his time to announce himself to the MMA world.
“For me (a win) would just validate me and everything I claim, that I’m at the top level and that I belong there,” Robichaux said. “I know I’m not getting the belt if I win but I don’t care. I just want to show I can compete and win, and not only win but clearly show that my skills are on that level.”
Fresh off his victory at Bellator 39, Ben Saunders talks with MMADieHards.com’s Maggie Krol about his victory and what lies ahead in the future.