USA Wrestling

Aug 13 Olympic gold medalist Henry Cejudo makes plans to return to mat

By Bryan Van | Aug. 13, 2010, 12:56 p.m. (ET)
Henry Cejudo celebrates after winning the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China. John Sachs photo.

(Note: The following Q&A with 2008 gold medalist Henry Cejudo was published in the Aug. 13, 2010 issue of Wrestling Insider Newsmagazine.)

With the World Championships just around the corner, I caught up with 2008 Olympic champion Henry Cejudo to see if we were going to see him back on the mat soon. According to Cejudo, he's going to make a formal statement this month, but it's likely he's going to wrestle again soon and "definitely" will defend his Olympic gold at the 2012 London Olympics.

WIN: Update the wrestling community as to what you've been up to?

CEJUDO: I've had a chance to travel all across the world and share my story. Doing wrestling clinics all across the country and a book tour ("American Victory"). For the most part, just traveling and speaking in front of 1,000s of people. Oprah, Jay Leno, multiple shows and magazines, it seems like it just never ends. I've also sang the national anthem at a Friday night MMA fight, I need to work on that some more.

I've also had Big Macs, wine, and soda for the first time. I've had a chance to be a kid. When you're stuck in a wrestling room, all you do is just beat up your wrestling partner.

I'm going to Grand Canyon University, taking on-line classes. I'm getting into real estate and do community service in the Phoenix area. Currently I have six properties that I own. I'm fixing them up and then flipping them.

WIN: Considering how far you've come, do you ever step back and think how much one tournament has changed your life?

CEJUDO: I didn't think about that stuff, I had no idea about the aftermath. I think all of this is even crazier than the training for me. I'm a son of Mexican immigrants. I grew up in extreme poverty; we didn't know where our next meal was going to come from. Single mother, son of alcoholic father. Born in the ghetto of South Central LA, then living in the ghettos of Phoenix. One of seven kids. Now I have a book and a shoe (named after me).

WIN: How many camps and speaking engagements do you do a year?

CEJUDO: Probably 50. In the summer alone I can rack up about 15. Most of them are one-day clinics. But I've actually been getting hired more for my speaking engagements. They get a chance to hear me speak, and they book me for that. I actually enjoy that more than showing technique. When you inspire somebody, you can change their life forever.

I love what I do. My mom always told us when we were kids that you can do anything, but nobody ever really got to the details. I go to the ghettos and tell kids that you're not the victim, you're the victor. I always tell them it can always be worse. No matter what, there's always somebody that's had it worse. In every victory, there's a struggle.

WIN: Talk about the American Heritage Award you were able to give your mom recently?

CEJUDO: It's normally given to celebrities. Carlos Santana won it last year. They gave it to my mother for raising a great family, kids that could easily have been criminals. She's a 4-foot-11-inch lady who basically was a dictator who told us you can take the wrong path. She said, "You can do that, you'll be like your father."

The whole night was about my mother. It brings me to tears even talking to you about it. She crossed the border at the age of 16, and almost died crossing the Rio Grande River. She wanted to live the American dream; she heard how precious it was.

WIN: You recently won the "Favorite Athlete" award for Latino TV. Talk about winning the award.

CEJUDO: People don't know that I'm a very patriotic American; some people want to deport me because of my last name. People don't understand that I'm American.

I always make sure to tell people that I'm an American. First and foremost, I am an American and am very proud to be an American. But at the same time, I'm very proud of my heritage and my roots and what my mother did for me. There's 42 million Latino Americans who are living here in America who don't consider themselves Americans. I want to change that.

WIN: I hear there's another book in the works and possibly a movie?

CEJUDO: The second book is called "Wrestling for Dummies". It's a technique book and there's another book in the works with my mother. Both are looking to be released next year.

On the movie, we have a screenplay and we're meeting with Kenny Ortega, who produced "High School Musical". We'll do a trailer, a short film, and then hopefully from there a motion picture.

WIN: When are we going to see Henry Cejudo back on the mat?

CEJUDO: If everything goes right, I'm going to be back on the mat. Put it this way, I'll definitely be in London (2012 Olympics). Maybe the NYAC (tournament in November 2010). When I'm in, I'm all in. I'm going to go to every tournament I can think of.

WIN: What will you do differently this time?

CEJUDO: Mentally, I feel like I'm the underdog. There's been another World champion crowned at my weight. I've got to do the catching up. My mentality when I approach wrestling is either kill or be killed. (In preparing Cejudo for the Beijing 2008 Olympics) Terry Brands did an incredible job, he really knows his wrestling. He's one of the most technically sound guys you'll ever come across. I've said before, when I won the Olympics, I was only at a six on a scale of one to ten. There's so much I need to improve on in my wrestling.

My plan is to go up (a weight class), but I need to see where my brother (Angel) is. I'm not going to go to 60 kilos and compete with my brother. To me, he's the best guy in the world at 60 kilos. There's definitely a sit down that needs to happen with him soon and we'll decide what we're going to do. But come August (2010), I'll have a written statement with my plans.

WIN: What does the U.S. need to do to become a superpower in international wrestling again?

CEJUDO: In Russia, wrestling's a culture. It's a religion. People say the Russians don't train, they do, and they just don't do what we do. These guys are just mat rats. They don't even have to mop the mats because they're on the mat so much.

Here in America, it's just another sport. To us, everything is about repetition. We'll do 3,000 single legs. Out there, it's not about repetition, it's about feel and they get into more situations. With us, it's mechanical.

Culture, technique and money. Those guys in Russia are millionaires. When they win the Olympics, they get a million. I'm close to being a millionaire, but I've had to bust my butt since the Olympics. Out there, if you win the nationals, you get $10-15,000, a car and a condo.

MMA is easier than wrestling and that's what people are leaving wrestling to do. Financially people need to step up, donors and sponsors. I think USA Wrestling is doing an incredible job; they just need more people and need to restructure some things. You don't want the toughest sport in the world to fade away.
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