Thursday, December 9, 2021

T.J. Dillashaw Shouldn’t Get Immediate Rematch Against Henry Cejudo

I don’t think anyone could have expected Henry Cejudo to go out there and finish TJ Dillashaw in the first minute of the first round, but that’s all the time he needed to get the TKO and defend his UFC flyweight title in the main event of this past Saturday’s UFC on ESPN+ 1. Cejudo came out guns-a-blazing and landed a punch behind Dillashaw’s ear almost immediately, rocking him badly and putting Dillashaw in serious trouble. It looked like he was recovering until Cejudo knocked him down again, continuing to throw strikes until referee Kevin MacDonald stepped in and stopped the fight just 32 seconds into the scheduled five rounds.

UFC president Dana White put the belt around Cejudo’s waist, and “The Messenger” used his post-fight interview to talk about how the win saved the flyweight division. Dillashaw was also interviewed, but instead of giving praise to his opponent like Demetrious Johnson did when Cejudo upset him at UFC 227, the UFC bantamweight champion said he thought it was an early stoppage and pleaded for a rematch. In the post-event media press conference, White said he also thought the stoppage was early, and said he wouldn’t rule out a rematch. While most fans and media believe the stoppage was just, the fact White hasn’t ruled out a rematch just yet makes it seem likely that one is coming.

Does Dillashaw deserve an immediate rematch, though? In my opinion, he doesn’t. I understand how frustrated he must be as he spent the last three months following a strict diet trying to get down to 125lbs, and for the fight to end in just over 30 seconds must be an awful feeling. But he lost fair and square. The fight wasn’t competitive, and it wasn’t controversial. As good a fighter as Dillashaw is, and as great a champion as he is at 135lbs, he should not be getting a rematch with Cejudo, especially since there are plenty of other contenders at both 125lbs and 135lbs that are waiting for their own title shots. The UFC gave Dillashaw the chance to make history and win a second belt in a second weight class, but he blew his chance, and the other fighters in the flyweight and bantamweight divisions shouldn’t suffer because Dillashaw wasn’t happy with his performance. It’s time that guys like Joseph Benavidez at flyweight and Raphael Assuncao at bantamweight get their chance to fight for the belt.

Having said that, it sure seems like the UFC is leaning in the direction of a rematch. The fact White has been so adamant the stoppage was early makes me believe the UFC wasn’t happy with the result of the fight, even if the replay shows that the referee made a good stoppage. The rumors were that the UFC was going to shut down the flyweight division if Dillashaw won. With Cejudo winning the fight, it would be a bad time for the UFC to close the flyweight division. If anything, flyweight is at its highest point right now. Although Johnson was criticized for years because he wasn’t outspoken and didn’t bring as much excitement to the division as White wanted, Cejudo seems like the perfect guy to build the division around. So don’t close it just yet.

In the meantime, though, Cejudo should be fighting Benavidez, a fighter who holds a win over him, while Dillashaw should move back to bantamweight and defend his belt against fighters his own size. The Cejudo vs. Dillashaw fight was the perfect start to the UFC on ESPN era, but we know now who the better fighter is. Maybe the fight was quick, but there’s no reason to think it would be a different result the next time around. I am not going to be surprised if the UFC does run this fight back since Dillashaw and Cejudo emerged from the battle mostly healthy, and there are holes on the UFC calendar’s main event slots that need filling, but I don’t think this is the right time to do it. It’s not a situation where Dillashaw was a long-time champ. He was the challenger, and he didn’t live up to the task. Now it’s time for both Dillashaw and Cejudo to move on, and for the UFC to do the same.

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