PC: Louis Grasse

The Henry Cejudo Experiment – Review and Takeaways


The Wrestling Changed My Life Podcast put out a great series on Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo, who is just days away from his return to the UFC in a bantamweight title shot against Aljamain Sterling.

Here’s a review of everything learned from the amazing story of Henry Cejudo and how he changed the dynamics of wrestling and MMA:

All Henry Cejudo has done is win, no matter the sport.

There are tons of wrestlers who have been dominant at a young age, which usually stems from experience in high school and early years at a collegiate program.

However, Cejudo’s story is different. Cejudo never had any ambitions of chasing state and national titles, all he wanted was to represent the United States of America and win an Olympic gold medal.

“He wasn’t chasing state championships, ever. He had one goal and that was to be an Olympic gold medalist,” said Daniel Cormier.

Cejudo started popping up on the wrestling scene around 2004 when the United States struggled to produce consistent dominant wrestlers.

At the time, every other high-level wrestler from the United States would chase multiple state championships in order to get to the next level.

Not for Cejudo, he wanted to be in the mix of the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs since he was 15 years old, and it took multiple people to persuade the Olympic committee for him to be a resident at the training center. 

A prime example of the struggle to get Cejudo to the Olympic Training Center was his older brother, Angel Cejudo, who had to travel with Henry for over 14 hours and permanently move to Colorado Springs.

“I don’t even think he knows this, the reason I went was because of him. I knew he was special, I knew he had to be at the Olympic Training Center,” said Angel Cejudo.

Both Henry and Angel put behind their entire lives to chase the gold medal, and it included leaving his mother and other siblings behind in Arizona.

With legends in his corner, Terry Brands and Kevin Jackson would overlook Cejudo and the early work he would put in upon arrival to Colorado Springs.

“Terry was on the side of getting him tougher,” said Kevin Jackson.

“Being on time was late, you were there 20 minutes early with shoes on. Even if you were sick, you better be there. He [Brands] had everybody wear a blue USA wrestling shirt and black shirts,” said Angel Cejudo.

Terry Brands was a big part of Cejudo’s success and was like a mentor to him at the Olympic Training Center.

“Terry became an instant mentor to Henry. He could tell him to run through a wall and Henry would run through a wall,” said Kevin Jackson.

In 2005, Cejudo would make his first step towards the Olympics at the Junior World Championships. Cejudo fell short and didn’t come home with a medal.

Despite that, Cejudo wanted to go to the senior level right away. He was hungry and wanted to avenge his losses at the Junior Worlds.

His diet got better, and his training and his wrestling got better. He implemented routines that nobody else was doing, he wanted it more than everyone else at the age of 21.

All of the mental focus came from Brands, and they had a bond that could not be broken. With the combination of the love for the sport, and unimaginable hard work, Cejudo was capable of anything.

“The best thing about Terry Brands was the chip on his shoulder,” said Cejudo.

All of this carried into Henry’s first match in Beijing at the 2008 Olympics. Cejudo fell behind in his opening match, which he had to win to continue into the tournament.

Having to win two consecutive periods, Cejudo pushed his opponent and broke him. Moving him into the quarters, Cejudo fell behind once again and won. In the semis, he had the Ukranian who previously beat Cejudo in 2007.

“I remember it was a scrap man, we fought tooth and nail,” said Cejudo.

With 45 seconds left in the third period, Cejudo scored on a clutch takedown to advance him into the Olympic finals. Cejudo lost the first period in every match leading up to the finals and had doubts going into the final.

“I remember being scared for the first time in my life honestly. Everything is going to come down to this match right here, my dream, all the time thinking about the gold medal, it’s right here. I couldn’t sleep, Terry was trying to do everything,” said Cejudo. 

With hours before his Olympic final, Cejudo collected himself and imagined himself on top.

“I didn’t want to see an Olympic silver medal around my neck, the dream wouldn’t be right. For everything that I’ve gone through as a kid, the pain I’ve gone through during my career. Once I got to the arena, I said I’m winning this thing,” said Cejudo.

Cejudo’s opponent was Tomohiro Matsunaga of Japan, who won the Asian Games that summer. Matsunaga struck first, with a pushout.

“Matsunaga was so strong in that match, I could just feel the strength,” said Cejudo.

Cejudo answered and won the period off a takedown for two points. Cejudo just needed to win one more period for the gold.

An ankle pick scored him his next takedown, where Cejudo learned the move from one of the greats.

“It was something that Cael Sanderson taught me. It was moving the shoulders and moving the head to find ankles,” said Cejudo.

Cejudo would shut out Matsunuga in the second period and became the youngest American to win an Olympic gold medal.

“It felt good, it felt good to just scream and let it all out. This is what I worked for my whole life,” said Cejudo.

The glory of winning Olympic gold didn’t stop Cejudo from continuing to be a dominant athlete. His winning mindset was formed at the Olympic Training Center and followed him his entire life.

Now known as one of the best UFC fighters ever, being a former champion in both the flyweight and bantamweight divisions, Cejudo will return in search of the bantamweight title against Aljamain Sterling.

If anything is to be known about Henry Cejudo, it’s that he wants it more than you do.

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Cael Turnbull
Cael Turnbull
Journalism Major at Temple University Graduating in May of 2023

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