LOS ANGELES • Sometimes a crushing defeat can be just the perfect catalyst for a fighter to pick himself up and come back even stronger.
That was what happened to Henry Cejudo, who claimed he "hates second place with a passion" after ending Demetrious Johnson's near-six year reign in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) with a stunning split decision win at Staples Center on Saturday.
"Losing to Demetrious Johnson the first time, in a devastating fashion, not only motivated me but put a chip on a shoulder," the 31-year-old said, after clinching the flyweight belt at UFC 227 in a rematch of a bout Johnson (27-3-1) won in a first-round knockout in 2016.
In the co-feature bout, T.J. Dillashaw (16-3) kept the UFC bantamweight title via a first-round knockout of former champion Cody Garbrandt (11-2).
"To defeat the man, the myth, the legend, Demetrious Johnson, it feels good," Cejudo (12-2) added.
"This is a dream come true. From Olympic gold medallist to UFC champion. I was born right here in Los Angeles, in a two-bedroom apartment so, from the bottom of my heart, thank you to these fans in California for their support.
"I felt very disrespected all week, with all of the talk of a super fight so I am standing here now to say that I want (to fight) the winner of the main event."
Johnson's speed, footwork and precise striking won him Rounds 1 and 3 on Saturday. Cejudo, a 2008 Olympic gold medallist in freestyle wrestling who started training in mixed martial arts only in January 2013, took Rounds 4 and 5.
It came down to a close Round 2, which Cejudo got on two out of three cards, and thus got the better end of two out of three 48-47 scores for the win.
Johnson's reign ended at five years, 10 months. His 11 successful title defences are a UFC record, and he had a win streak of 13 bouts and an unbeaten streak of 14 snapped.
The Dillashaw-Garbrandt bout was a rematch of a November fight in which Dillashaw won the title via second-round knockout.
Like their first fight, the bout was a whirlwind of activity. Garbrandt dropped Dillashaw with a right, but Dillashaw bounced up and returned the favour, then dropped his opponent twice more before the bout was waved off following a big knee to the head. The stoppage time was 4min 10sec for a TKO.
"This cements my legacy as the greatest bantamweight of all time," Dillashaw said. "I got a little excited when I should've slowed down and finished him, but I got the job done. I thank you all for your support. Henry Cejudo, let's go baby!"
Meanwhile, UFC has confirmed its first event in Beijing at the Cadillac Area on Nov 24, following last year's successful debut in China.
"China is the next frontier for the growth of UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts, and this market is paramount to our success internationally," UFC vice-president of Asia-Pacific Kevin Chang said. "We are excited to bring our next live event to China's capital and show just how far we have come."
Further details will be announced in the coming weeks.