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Henry Cejudo wants ‘privileged brat’ Sean O’Malley after UFC 288, but ultimate goal is Alexander Volkanovski

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Henry Cejudo isn’t returning from retirement just to reclaim the UFC bantamweight title.

Instead, the 2008 Olympic gold medalist has an ambitious plan to not only defeat Aljamain Sterling in the UFC 288, he then wants to defend that title against Sean O’Malley before making his long-discussed move up to 145 pounds, with hopes to become the first ever three-division champion in UFC history. That’s a busy schedule after three years away, but Cejudo says he just couldn’t sit idly by any longer and watch what he considers substandard talent continue to get touted as the best in the world.

“[I came back] because it’s easy money,” Cejudo said Wednesday at UFC 288 media day. “I watched these guys fight after coaching some of the best guys in the world — [Jon] Jones, Demetrious Johnson, Zhang Weili, Deiveson Figueiredo, Jiri Prochazka — I started to understand my talent a little bit more.

“I know there is a window. I know there is a gap where I really do have to say goodbye. I’m 36 years old or 36 years young, and I feel good. I feel really good. I love the challenge. I love that people are going to doubt me. I think that’s another reason why I’m back too. I love being the underdog like I’ve been my whole life, and I think that’s why. And I personally think Aljamain just sucks.”

Despite his dismissive attitude towards Sterling as an opponent, Cejudo believes he’s facing a tougher challenge than any other past champion coming back from a similarly long layoff.

The best two examples are Jon Jones, who came back from a three-year hiatus and dispatched Ciryl Gane to become UFC heavyweight champion, and Georges St-Pierre, who returned from four years away to beat Michael Bisping and claim the middleweight belt.

“With all due respect, and I love Jon, but that wasn’t Francis Ngannou,” Cejudo said. “I love St-Pierre, I think he’s great, but [Michael Bisping] — that wasn’t the best guy in the world at that time, with all due respect. He picked the right opponent.

“I’m coming in and I’m literally getting the No. 1 ranked guy in the world, which happens to be Aljamain, and I love that challenge.”

If all goes well on Saturday night, Cejudo isn’t looking to take another lengthy break. He has goals he wants to accomplish and time waits for no one in this sport.

As it stands, O’Malley has already been named the next No. 1 contender at bantamweight, which is why Cejudo is anxiously awaiting the chance to face him sooner rather than later. From there, Cejudo is thinking about his ultimate goal, and that’s becoming a three-division champion with a showdown against featherweight king Alexander Volkanovski.

“I wouldn’t mind two tune-ups before I go against Alexander Volkanovski,” Cejudo said. “Sean O’Malley, he’s that dirty Q-tip, he’s a privileged brat. I think we all know that, and I’m going to hurt him. But first things first, Aljamain is first. I know he’s confident, but I know deep down inside that he respects me a little too much. He’s going to see that competitor once the cage locks, he’s going to look into my eyes and he’s going to see what I’m made out of. Sean O’Malley is next and I like that fight. I love the fact that he’s tall, I love the fact that he’s popular, and I’m going to hurt that dude.

“Right away [after UFC 288], I want O’Malley. Make sure he listens to this — I want him right away. I want to take at least about a month off and then boom, UFC, set it up. Let’s set it up and let’s do it in Boston. Let’s do it in his backyard. That wannabe American. Let’s do it in Boston.”

Beyond his ranking in the division, O’Malley is also arguably the highest profile fight for anybody at bantamweight right now thanks to his popularity and drawing power — a fact that Cejudo obviously understands.

Once Cejudo checks that item off his list, he then wants to give Volkanovski his undivided attention, because that’s a fight he’s wanted even before he called it a career back in 2020.

“That’s the biggest challenge and that’s who I want,” Cejudo said. “I have ‘Aljo,’ O’Malley, and then I’m going after Volkanovski — and I want him in Australia. I want him in his own backyard.

“I may talk all this stuff, I may call him ‘Alexander the Average,’ but I know the skill sets, the technical game. He knows that I know the technical game, and that’s the same reason he’s going for me [to beat Sterling]. I know I respect his tools. I enjoy watching a guy like that because it’s like, I know what he’s doing. If there’s anybody I’m really thinking about [fighting] — I know I’m fighting Aljamain — it is Volkanovski.”

First things first, Cejudo wants to run through the top two bantamweights in the UFC, even if he doesn’t really see either one as a serious threat, and then he wants to dispatch Volkanovski to officially etch his name in the all-time record books.

“I see [Sterling] as a tune-up fight,” Cejudo said. “I see him and O’Malley as a tune-up fight. I want that featherweight strap.

“You may not like my personality, you may not like the persona, you may not like the cringe, but you will definitely respect me and put me on GOAT mountain. After a three-year retirement, what Jones has done, what [Georges] St-Pierre has done, that’s Mount Olympus. Not only am I looking to beat Aljamain Sterling, but I’m looking to dominate him. He ain’t going past three rounds.”



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