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Henry Cejudo
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Henry Cejudo announces shock retirement at UFC 249, wearing an error Olympic gold medal

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Henry Cejudo announced a surprise retirement after beating Dominick Cruz at UFC 249, extending his reign as the only Olympic gold medalist to wear a UFC Championship belt. He said that he’s the greatest combat fighter of all time.

“Since I was 11 years old, I probably have about 600 competitions of wrestling matches in my life,” Cejudo, 33, said in Jacksonville, Fla., early Sunday morning with a patch of blood on his hairline from a headbutt. “That’s all I’ve ever done. I don’t have kids. I finally got a girl now. But I want to step into that new chapter of my life. I’ve been extremely selfish, rightfully so, to obtain what I’ve obtained. … I want to leave on top. I did it in wrestling. I want to do it now in the sport of mixed martial arts. I just don’t see myself coming back. I want to remain king forever.

“This isn’t a publicity stunt.”

Cejudo finished his mixed martial arts career with a TKO of Cruz in the second round, defending his UFC Bantamweight Championship and moving to 16-2 since 2013. He did go back and forth in a post-fight press conference, teasing that money could lure him back, then saying he was satisfied financially.

“[UFC President Dana White] knows the number,” he said. “I really do want to walk away, but like I said, man, money talks.”

Cejudo said he would like to become a husband and father, venture into real estate and business and maybe even make a WWE appearance.

“I wasn’t the greatest wrestler. Olympic champion, but I wasn’t the greatest wrestler of all time,” he said. “I’m not the greatest [mixed martial arts] fighter of all time, but when you mix my resume and what I’ve done, I do believe I’m on top of that mountain. I do sincerely believe I am the greatest combat athlete of all time, and I do want to leave on top.”

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).

Asked to compare his wrestling and UFC titles, Cejudo, wearing a replica Olympic gold medal with an error on it and sitting in front of a UFC belt, chose to raise the medal from around his neck.

“This is the greatest sport. This is the sport that’s made me,” he said of wrestling after a UFC card where the two premier fights each featured former wrestlers. “As precious as these belts are, there’s no harder sport than the sport of wrestling.”

MORE: Kurt Angle reflects on Olympic wrestling gold medal

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Henry Cejudo lost his Olympic gold medal in a fire; then what happened?

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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.

Henry Cejudo
Clockwise from top left: Henry Cejudo wearing two different medals in 2019, a 1972 Olympic gold medal and a 2008 Olympic medal. (Getty Images)

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).

MORE: Kurt Angle reflects on Olympic wrestling gold medal

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When Ronda Rousey competed at the Olympics

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Even when Ronda Rousey was at the height of her MMA fame, she spoke about the most crushing defeat of her career — that her Olympic judo medal was bronze and not gold.

“That was my childhood dream,” Rousey said in October 2015, two weeks before the first of two UFC defeats that ultimately led to her retirement. “I spent my whole life in pursuit of that. I had to give that up, and I had to really come to terms with the fact that wasn’t for me. I’ve always really been heartbroken from that in a way, and in a way that I’m still really grateful for because I think if I did win the Olympics, I wouldn’t have this never-ending resource of motivation that I have. Every single time I go out there to defend my [UFC] title, it’s like another chance to redeem myself, but it’s never quite an Olympic gold medal.

“In judo, you train your whole life, and you have one day to be an Olympic champion, and that’s it. … Nothing can compare to that pressure.”

Rousey was the face of U.S. judo in the mid-2000s. In 2004, she became the youngest American judoka to compete in an Olympics, losing in the first round at age 17.

Rousey entered the 2008 Beijing Games as a world championships silver medalist. She had a chance to become the second American woman to win a global judo title. The first? Mom AnnMaria De Mars, who bagged the 1984 World title, four years before Olympic judo opened to women (first as a demonstration sport).

“My mom always said she wanted me to know what it feels like to be best in the world because, no matter what happens to you later, you’ll always have that as inspiration to know you can do anything you want,” Rousey said in Beijing.

Rousey didn’t quite get there in judo. She was halted in the quarterfinals by Dutchwoman Edith Bosch, whom the 5-foot-7 Rousey described in her autobiography as “a six-foot Dutch chick with an eight-pack. I looked like a hobbit next to her.”

Bosch had dislocated Rousey’s elbow in two matches in 2007. At the Olympics, they went scoreless in regulation to force a five-minute overtime where the first to score wins. Rousey went for a throw, was countered and turned onto the mat.

“I went back to the warm-up room and sobbed, hot tears running down my face,” Rousey wrote. “I felt like my heart had been ripped out of my chest. Then something clicked and I went from devastated to f—— furious.”

She marched through the repechage, winning all three matches to take the bronze medal. Rousey may not have left a world champion, but she became the first U.S. woman to earn an Olympic judo medal.

“Of all the third-place finishes in my career, the bronze in the Olympics was the only one I took any satisfaction in,” Rousey wrote. “But still, there was a void.”

Rousey took a year off, returned to training in 2009 and competed in 2010. She hoped to continue in judo and start mixed martial arts. But she and coach Jimmy Pedro split, and soon after Rousey canceled a trip to a Brazilian tournament and began focusing on MMA.

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