The main event of the inaugural UFC on ESPN card is a superfight between flyweight champion Henry Cejudo and bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw. Cejudo––an olympic gold medalist in freestyle wrestling, who dethroned flyweight king Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson––makes his first title defense against Dillashaw. Many consider Dillashaw to be one of the best strikers in all of MMA and one of the pound-for-pound best in the UFC. Dillashaw, who is coming off a knockout win over Cody Garbrandt in his last fight, has successfully dropped down from bantamweight: weighing in under the 125lb weight limit.
On paper, this could be looked at as a classic striker versus grappler matchup, but in practice this matchup is much more complex. Both fighters are very well-rounded, though there is no question that each has their definite strengths and potential advantages. Cejudo has top of the food-chain wrestling skills and solid kickboxing, while Dillashaw has arguably the most dynamic striking in the game and impressive MMA wrestling to go along with that. In pure wrestling, there can be no doubt who has the more impressive pedigree: While T.J. has a legitimate wrestling background––being ranked 10th in the NCAA at 133lbs his senior year in college––it doesn’t compare to Cejudo’s olympic gold medal. However, this is not a pure wrestling match, it is MMA, and Dillashaw has shown impressive grappling in this arena, building a reputation as a lightning fast takedown artist.
When considering this matchup and each fighters respective skills, it becomes apparent that the psychological component is where this fight will be won. Both fighters have the skills and mental fortitude to challenge the other and push the fight into the championship rounds, but I believe that ultimately whoever has the psychological edge will win this fight. Cejudo showcased his skills and mental toughness when he came back to defeat Demetrious Johnson in the rematch, after losing via a first round TKO in their first fight. Dillashaw showed his physical and mental abilities when he put away the very dangerous Cody Garbrandt in their two contests. So, the question is, who gets it done?
I see this fight being won or lost in the scrambles. I can see a scenario where Cejudo takes down Dillashaw––and perhaps is even able to hold him there a bit––but I don’t see Cejudo scoring big on the ground. However, I do see T.J. having a slight speed advantage over Henry in this fight, and I think his striking speed and footwork will create openings and chances to score off of scrambles. I see the path to victory for Cejudo being one where he matches T.J.’s intensity and continues to push the pace, scoring repeated takedowns on T.J., thereby effectively disrupting T.J.’s flow and putting him on the defensive. Dillashaw thrives when he is on the offensive and this game plan could effectively shut him down. For T.J., I see his movement and aggression being the component that sets up scoring and forces scrambles, which is where I believe he capitalizes.
I see a very fast and technical fight playing out. In short, I see T.J. Dillashaw outclassing Henry Cejudo in the striking department and scoring a TKO in the second round (possibly the 3rd), either off of a scramble or a fast striking exchange.