Prior to each UFC fight card, Jay Primetown takes a look at some of the key contests at each event. In the latest installment, we look ahead to the first ever UFC main event on ESPN+ as bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw drops down to flyweight to take on champion Henry Cejudo in an attempt to become a two division champion.
Henry Cejudo (Record: 13-2, +170 Underdog, Fighter Grade: A+)
The second youngest American Olympic Gold Medalist in wrestling, Henry Cejudo is a gifted wrestler that turned to MMA at the end of his wrestling career. Cejudo avenged a 2016 loss to Demetrious Johnson by outworking him in their 2018 rematch to dethrone the flyweight champion and win his first UFC title. This is his flrst flyweight title defense.
The extremely gifted wrestler entered the UFC with high regard as the youngest American wrestler (at the time) to win a gold medal in the Summer Olympics. As one would believe, his game begins with his wrestling. In his time in the UFC, he’s averaged 2.31 takedowns per 15 minutes in the Octagon. His ability to explode into takedown attempts is certainly a unique skill set. On the feet, he is no slouch either. He has a solid amateur boxing background and is able to strike in combination landing 3.42 significant strikes per minute. He has good hands, but his kicking game is rather limited. Physically he’s a really gifted fighter, but there are question marks surrounding him outside the cage. His dedication to MMA has come into question as he’s missed weight on multiple occasions, but he seems to have turned a corner. Cejudo showed a lot of determination in his bout with Johnson securing takedowns in the final two rounds to edge the fight. He will need to show that wasn’t a one off case and make that a normal occurrence if he’s going to have a long reign a top the UFC.
TJ Dillashaw (Record: 16-3, -215 Favorite, Power Ranking: A++)
The former collegiate wrestler turned MMA fighter had trained at Team Alpha Male before heading to Colorado to join striking coach Duane Ludwig full time. Dillashaw made significant strides in his striking while training under Ludwig which elevated him to an elite level. Dillashaw is on great form coming off clear decision wins over fellow top ten bantamweights Raphael Assuncao and John Lineker before knocking out Cody Garbrandt to reclaim the bantamweight title. In his last outing, he finished Garbrandt for the second time to truly cement himself atop the bantamweight division.
Under the tutelage of Duane Ludwig, there aren’t many fighters who have improved as much in the past five years as TJ Dillashaw. He averages a heavy 5.38 significant strikes per minute while absorbing just 2.94 strikes per minute. That difference of 2.44 strikes per minute is one of the highest in the UFC and translates to a 61 strike difference over the course of a 25 minute title fight. Dillashaw’s game has evolved into a great blend of aggressive, volume combination striking. Ludwig has done a terrific job at turning Dillashaw into a great MMA striker and into an elite fighter in this sport. Dillashaw matches that striking prowess with a collegiate wrestling pedigree. He averages 1.69 takedowns per 15 minutes in the Octagon.
In what is a tremendous matchup on paper, TJ Dillashaw drops down a weight class to challenge Henry Cejudo for the flyweight title. The stakes are high for both fighters as Dillashaw looks to become a champion in two weight classes, while Cejudo is possibly fighting for the flyweight division to continue. A loss by Cejudo could see the UFC close the division down and focus interests elsewhere. This is a battle of two fighters at the top of their game and should be fought at an extremely high level. While Cejudo can compete on the feet, he’s not in Dillashaw’s class. While accuracy is roughly even, Dillashaw lands two significant strikes more per minute than Cejudo which will generate a big gap over a five round fight. Dillashaw is also longer than Cejudo and has bigger punching power than the fighters that Cejudo is used to fighting at flyweight. This is a major challenge for the flyweight champion and one I’m struggling to see him winning. While Cejudo can attempt to work in takedowns, Dillashaw’s takedown defense is well over 80% and it will be difficult to keep him grounded. Look for Dillashaw’s volume striking and combination work to wear out Cejudo and for him to really take over this fight and finish Cejudo to become a two division champion. Dillashaw by TKO is +215 and is worth some level of consideration.