PHOENIX -- For three rounds in the UFC octagon Saturday afternoon at the US Airways Center, one of this city's favorite sons battered and bloodied his opponent.
Henry Cejudo, a 2008 gold medalist in wrestling at the Olympics, made his UFC debut look easy in winning a decision over Dustin Kimura in a three-round bantamweight bout. Cejudo didn't get much of a chance to use his wrestling skills, but his strikes and punches and knees to the body did all the damage.
It was sweet victory for the 27-year-old, who got to fight in front of his hometown fans. Even though the arena was only partially full for his fight -- the second one of 12 on the UFC Fight Night card featuring Junior Dos Santos and Stipe Miocic as the main event -- Cejudo put on a show.
"I trained hard," Cejudo said. "If you think I'm just a wrestler, you're in for a big surprise.
"I wish I would have thrown a little more elbows," Cejudo added. "But I just wanted to keep on my feet. Normally I'm a very dirty fighter. I'll throw some knees, elbows. I'll make you suffer. But this time there was a little more dance."
Cejudo fought at 135 pounds. He walked out to the octagon to Marc Anthony's "Vivir Mi Vida," and the cheers of an adoring home crowd, then after about 40 seconds of feeling each other out, proceeded to connect with punches and make the crowd erupt.
"We used to sell lemonade here in the stands," Cejudo said of his younger days. "The Suns games, different events that they would have here at the US Airways Center. Now I get a chance to compete in front of thousands of people. It's truly a dream come true."
As the first round came to an end, Cejudo made Kimura pay for a missed hook. When the bell sounded for Round 2, the crowd chanted "Henry! Henry!"
Several shots to the head had Kimura up against the fence, and after a cut under his left eye had opened, the right side of Kimura's face was bloodied.
Three big lefts and a hard right hand came from Cejudo, who was only hit a few times and never seriously. At one point in the third round, someone yelled "Henry, you're going down!" from the stands. But Cejudo never did.
“I wanted to make sure the fans here in Phoenix, Arizona got what they paid for," Cejudo said in the in-ring post-fight interview.
Cejudo (7-0) hopes for another shot at 125 pounds. He struggled to cut down to that weight in a previous fight and wants to prove to the UFC that he can make it.
Cejudo's nickname is "The Messenger." He explained it.
"It's not so much based on fighting. To me it's a platform, a tool to inspire others. Kids that grew up in a neighborhood like myself, came from single parent homes, drugs, gangs, violence. I just want to make sure I inspire the youth. It's a message of God. God has given me so much love and I just want to share it."
Nervous? Not Cejudo. He's been on the big stage before, from the Olympics to soccer stadiums in Brazil and in other countries to the middle of Times Square in Manhattan.
"These cameras, I'm used to you guys," he said with a laugh.
Cejudo saw mixed martial arts as a way to, put simply, make a living after amateur wrestling glory.
"Wrestling, I hope nobody takes offense to it, is a lot tougher than MMA," he said. "When you become the best in the world in wrestling, you're the best in the world. I see what these guys are making, and ever since I was a kid it was about the fighting. Now it's like there's an incentive to it."
Cejudo mentioned that it's possible to make tens of thousands of dollars per fight in MMA.
"I feel like it's a way where we can make a living. Buy a nice car. Have a nice home," he said.