Henry Cejudo will be the first U.S. Olympic gold medalist to return to top-level competition since the coronavirus pandemic hit. Cejudo, a 2008 Olympic wrestling champion, defends his UFC Bantamweight title against Dominick Cruz, also a former wrestler, at UFC 249 on Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla.
For fights last year, Cejudo wore two different gold medals in front of cameras before or after victories. It’s possible that neither is his original Beijing Olympic gold medal.
Cejudo said he lost it escaping a 2017 California wild fire, when he reportedly said he jumped out of the second floor of a hotel at 4:30 a.m.
He hoped the medal would turn up, but by 10 months later had given up.
“They had scraped the hotel,” he said in an August 2018 podcast. “They said about 2,000 degrees, they say that anything will melt. Gold will melt. Metal will melt. Everything will just disintegrate, so that’s long gone. I just have to go to the United States Olympic Committee and get my replica, and that’s pretty much it. They’ll replace it, but it says replica, unfortunately.”
A U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee spokesperson said Thursday the organization did not receive a request from Cejudo for a replacement medal. An IOC spokesperson said athletes need to contact their National Olympic Committee to request replacement medals.
Replacement medals are common. The most famous was given to Muhammad Ali, who lost his 1960 Olympic boxing gold and was given a new one during halftime of the 1996 Atlanta Games men’s basketball final.
So what medals has Cejudo been wearing? Cejudo and his manager haven’t responded to messages seeking an answer. In a 2018 text, Cejudo said that one of the two medals he wears was given to him by a fan, though he did not specify which one.
One medal looks similar to a Beijing Olympic medal, down to the red ribbon. Another medal is not the 2008 Olympic design. The most obvious difference: It reads “XX Olympiad,” but those were the 1972 Munich Games. The design is much more similar to the Munich medals than the Beijing medals.
In 2012, Cejudo, then 21, became the youngest U.S. Olympic wrestling champion in history, a record since broken by Kyle Snyder. Unlike Snyder, it was truly a surprise title. Cejudo had finished 31st in his lone senior world championships appearance in 2007.
He gained instant fame for his Beijing triumph as the son of undocumented immigrants from Mexico. Cejudo’s story was told in a book, “American Victory.”
Cejudo took three years away from wrestling, came back for the 2012 Olympic Trials, lost and retired. He debuted in MMA the following year. In a 10-month span in 2018 and 2019, Cejudo won the UFC Flyweight and UFC Bantamweight Championships. He became the first Olympic champion to win a UFC belt (Ronda Rousey is an Olympic bronze medalist and former UFC champion).
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