Ali Abdelaziz said the quiet part out loud again this week. On the topic of Henry Cejudo’s possible return to MMA after a 17-month retirement, Abdelaziz told TSN’s Aaron Bronsteter he wouldn’t even try to broker his client a deal for a bout against featherweight champ Alexander Volkanovski if he thought Cejudo was only interested in a one-and-done money grab.
Why the hell not?
Abdelaziz said he just couldn’t bring himself to do the UFC like that.
“If I thought Henry would beat Alexander and move on, I would never be involved,” Abdelaziz said. “I value the relationship with the UFC and Dana (White) and all these guys in the UFC … Listen, it’s a conversation. Henry has to come to Las Vegas, he has to sit with the UFC people and look them in the face and tell them he will fight for the title and he will defend it. But I would never be involved if I didn’t think Henry would defend it, because I think winning the title and just walking out on them? It makes the title not good for them. It’s not good for business. ”
Now, it feels weird to even have to make this point, but: Abdelaziz is HENRY CEJUDO’S MANAGER. It’s literally his job – his one job! – to look out for Cejudo’s best interests. And yet as so often happens with this dude, here he is not only kiiiiinda sounding like he’s on the UFC’s side of the negotiation but pretty much explicitly stating that he “values the relationship” he has with the promoters and what’s “good for business” (whose business, exactly?!?!) more than getting the best deal for his own guy.
In some ways, you gotta admire the man’s naked pragmatism. Adbelaziz’s business is a numbers game, after all. He deals in bulk, making his nut not by getting tons of money for each individual client, but by having a ton of clients who all get deals that are “good for business” for the UFC, Bellator, PFL and others. Perhaps the most crucial part of that equation is maintaining a chummy relationship with the UFC. However, if you were Cejudo – or any of Abdelaziz’s one hundred bazillion clients – how could you read this (and other) quotes from him and not ask, “Who’s side are you really on, man?”
In any other sport, such an omission would be shocking, but in this situation, it’s just a bummer.
Cejudo vs. Volkanovski would be a dope fight. In fact, it might well be the most interesting thing the men’s 145-pound division could muster at this exact moment. Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez are set to fight over potential No. 1 contender status next month, but Holloway is already 0-2 against Volko since December 2019. Those two will definitely end up doin’ it again, brother, at some point, but right now? Eh, I dunno. I guess.
Rodriguez, meanwhile, hasn’t fought at all since his ugly saga with Jeremy Stephens in 2019 and still sorta exists under the cloud of that one weird time the UFC claimed to have cut him back in 2018 for turning down too many fights. He’s a fun guy but opened as a 3-to-1 underdog to Holloway and has all of one career win over anybody currently in the featherweight Top 10 (Chan Sung Jung).
Under these circumstances, honestly, give me Cejudo. Give me Cejudo trying to jump up in weight and make history as Olympic gold medalist and three-division UFC champ. That’s actually good. That’s actually interesting. I’d take that walking away – and I don’t even care if Cejudo returned for one night or one hundred nights.
Yet, here’s your boy Triple C— who, like it or not, can at least make the argument that he’s the greatest combat sports athlete of all time — telling anybody who will listen that he wants to re-start his martial times and it feels like nobody’s all that interested. Even his own manager says he’ll only do the deal IF IT MAKES SENSE FOR THE UFC.
And the UFC? Well — how shall we put this — the organization doesn’t exactly sound like it’s willing to smash open the Endeavor piggy bank to get Cejudo back, nor does it seem all that stoked to pony-up the sort of opponents (cue extremely Jon Anik voice) befitting a champion.
“He’s retired…,” White said at a recent postfight press conference, when asked about the possibility of Cejudo vs. Volkanovski. “There are so many kids right now that are here, that want to fight. Those are the people that I’m focused on.”
Ouch. That’s cold, Big D. But then, it’s always kind of been this way for Cejudo, hasn’t it?
Remember back in May 2020, when he “retired” in the cage following a successful bantamweight title defense against Dominick Cruz in what seemed like an obvious ploy to try to squeeze a slightly more lucrative deal out of the UFC? But then White showed up to the press event later that same night already being like, “Well, I guess we need to find a new champion!”
I mean, sheesh. When Khabib Nurmagomedov retired at age 32 White essentially spent the next six months buying him dinner at every four-star restaurant on the Vegas strip, assuring us that under the right circumstances he’d be able coax him back in the cage. Cejudo tried the same move and fifteen minutes later White was ready to slap a “50 Cents or Best Offer” sign on the 135-pound belt and leave it out on the street corner.
Granted, Cejudo isn’t Nurmagomedov. He doesn’t have a pre-loaded grudge match with Conor McGregor waiting for him if and when he ever decides to pull the trigger on it. But the speed and ruthlessness with which the UFC called Cejudo’s bluff on his attempt to get even a little more money was astonishing, even for a company long known for its astonishing ruthlessness.
And the fans? It goes without saying the fans don’t care about Cejudo. Never have. That’s sort of how we got into this mess in the first place.
Look, I get it. I fully understand how unlikable Cejudo is. Eventually, in his madcap quest to hashtag brand himself, he became like the fight game’s little brother — a kid standing on a chair at a wedding shouting for everybody to watch him dance.
But isn’t the uncomfortable truth that Cejudo at least tried to do exactly what fans, the media and the UFC are always asking fighters to do?
Didn’t he at least attempt to make himself interesting and marketable by leaning all the way into his innate corniness? It wasn’t great. No, it was not. In fact it was extremely cringe but, shit, this man could only play the hand he was dealt, you know what I’m saying? Plus, the fact that Cejudo always seemed to be halfway in on the joke himself made it all a little bit less terrible than it otherwise might have been.
And, fact is, the guy was an incredible fighter. He successfully supplemented his Olympic-level wrestling with a dangerous striking game and finished his career on a six-fight win-streak which included winning titles in two different weight classes. Titles that he never lost, by the way.
At least Cejudo wanted us to care about him and about the lighter weight classes. That’s more than you could say for some of his predecessors. It’s more than you could say, at times, for his promoters. Yeah, he was annoying AF about it, but at least he had some passion to go along with his incredible skills. Now, the prospect of seeing him try for a third title in a third weight class should be tantalizing to people who claim to support actual, good, high-level MMA fighting.
So, why not Cejudo? Why can’t anybody — not fans, not White, not even Cejudo’s own manager — drum up any enthusiasm to see this guy come back to MMA? Did we really dislike his gimmick so much that we can’t admit that giving him a shot to become a three-weight champ might actually be compelling? That it might actually be the best move here? That injecting Cejudo into the mix could only spice up a featherweight division that kinda seems like it needs new faces anyway?
Was he that annoying? Does he really want that much money? Is his manager really so worried that he might pull a Georges St-Pierre and come back for one fight, move up in weight and actually win, before peacing-out the game forever?
Right. Because that worked out so terribly for GSP, a guy who … seems to be out there living his best life … having a bunch of money … looking happier and younger every time we see him.
Yeah, definitely don’t let Henry Cejudo do that. That would be bad for business.
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