Cejudo was undefeated before facing off with “Mighty Mouse,” but the long-time champion showed him there are levels to this sport. The Olympian showed massively improved stand up in his next two bouts, and though he only won one of them, his improvement has been so impressive that he’s already back in the title hunt. The start of Pettis’ UFC career was not perfect, but the 24-year-old has since more than proven his worth. The younger Pettis brother has won four straight and advanced into the Top 5, but this is still the toughest test of his career.
Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for both athletes:
Key Wins: Jussier Formiga (UFC Fight Night 78), Wilson Reis (Chico Camus (UFC 185), Chris Cariaso (UFC 185)
Key Losses: Demetrious Johnson (UFC 197), Joseph Benavidez (UFC TUF 24 Finale)
Keys to Victory: Despite his Olympic wrestling gold medal, most of Cejudo’s bouts have taken place on the feet. Previously, Cejudo looked to overwhelm his foe with punches and volume, whereas Cejudo is now more selective. Instead of forcing a boxing match, Cejudo has adopted more of a Karate stance, landing hard kicks and letting his foe walk into counter punches.
Last time out, it worked perfectly. Reis was befuddled by Cejudo’s range and ran into power shots all night long. That said, Reis was the perfect victim for that approach, as he’s an iffy striker who’s never been very good at closing the distance. Pettis is not Wilson Reis. He’s a surgical striker who chooses his weapons well, and he’s been actually doing Taekwondo for literal decades.
Cejudo doesn’t need to revert to his old ways, but he should recognize that things won’t come quite so easily opposite “The Phenom.” Instead, Cejudo should strike technically with Pettis, but the end goal should be catching a kick or timing a shot perfectly, as grounding Pettis out is Cejudo’s easiest path to victory.
Key Wins: Brandon Moreno (UFC Fight Night 114), John Moraga (UFC Fight Night 103), Chris Cariaso (UFC 192), Chris Kelades (UFC 197)
Key Losses: Ryan Benoit (UFC 185), Alex Caceres (UFC on FOX 10)
Keys to Victory: A Taekwondo and Roufusport kickboxing black belt, Pettis is an excellent range striker. He likes to pressure his opponents, picking at them with kicks and long strikes, before countering their attempts to answer his shots.
The biggest key to victory for Pettis is to avoid being taken down. For whatever reason, Cejudo has been unable to dominate foes with his wrestling like most people expected, so there’s a strong chance Pettis’ takedown defense will hold up against a standard shot. However, he needs to avoid high kicking from his back foot, which gave up a couple takedowns opposite Moreno.
In a three-round fight, Pettis cannot afford to give Cejudo an easy round.
To win this bout, it’s important that Pettis is the one advancing. Cejudo is the higher output striker, and that makes it difficult to win the decision if he’s on his back foot. If Pettis is stalking and hammer his foe with kicks, however, it keeps him in control. Plus, his cross will have a heavier impact on the counter, which should help keep Cejudo from attacking.
Bottom Line: It’s a very important bout for the Flyweight division.
This is a very possible title eliminator match up. The only man more deserving of a title shot at 125 pounds than the winner of this match up is Joseph Benavidez, but he’s recovering from an ACL injury and will probably need a softer return bout than Demetrious Johnson. There’s a fair chance that the victor here faces “Mighty Mouse” next, but talk of a super fight between Johnson and T.J. Dillashaw could delay that opportunity. On the other hand, whoever comes up short loses out on a great title opportunity. Luckily, there aren’t a ton of contenders near the title right now, so the loser is not ejected fully from the title mix.
At UFC 218, Henry Cejudo and Sergio Pettis will look to take another step up the Flyweight ladder. Which man will be named the victor?