UFC bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo made a highly successful transition from wrestling to mixed martial arts.

Cejudo’s accolades in both sports are well documented. Eight years before he became a UFC champ, Cejudo (15-2 MMA, 9-2 UFC) won a gold medal in freestyle wrestling at the 2008 summer Olympics.

Knowing a thing or two about making the jump from wrestling to MMA, Cejudo was asked at Thursday’s UFC 249 virtual media day whom he thinks will be the next star to cross over into the cage. After some deep thought, Cejudo came up with a name: Zahid Valencia of Arizona State University.

“I believe any wrestler that decides to make that transition and decides to take their time with the sport is a threat not to be messing with,” Cejudo said. “If I was to pick one guy, besides the great Kyle Snyder, I’d say Zahid Valencia from Arizona State. He expressed interest in the sport, and I believe he mentioned it.

“I believe if he gets into the sport of mixed martial arts … he’s a two-time NCAA champ who was going for his third before this whole coronavirus. I think at the welterweight division, with time, he’d be a really hard dude to beat.”

Valencia, 22, is currently serving an indefinite suspension for a drug test failure stemming from a Jan. 18 sample collection. Prior to suspension, Valencia had won two NCAA championships at 174 pounds. He also was ranked the No. 1 wrestler in the country at 184 pounds. No specifics regarding the drug test were released to the public, nor is it known if or when Valencia will be reinstated to the Arizona State team.

On Saturday, Cejudo will take on Dominick Cruz (22-2 MMA, 5-1 UFC) in the co-main event of UFC 249. The event takes place at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla. The main card airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and ESPN+.



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