Henry Cejudo, pictured here during his victory over Wilson Reis at UFC 215 in September, escaped from a burning hotel with only his slacks on and his cellphone in hand by jumping from a second floor window.
Henry Cejudo hopes he’ll eventually reclaim the Olympic gold medal he was forced to leave behind in the Northern California wildfires this week.
First and foremost, however, he feels grateful to be alive.
The UFC flyweight was in Santa Rosa, California, for a charity event on Monday when the entire area went up in flames. Cejudo escaped after jumping from the second floor of his hotel.
Earlier this week, MMAFighting.com reported Cejudo lost the Olympic gold medal he won as a 21-year-old U.S. wrestler in 2008. Cejudo told ESPN he has been in contact with the local fire department and is optimistic it will be recovered.
“I think they’ll eventually find it in the rubbish,” Cejudo said. “Everybody is pretty sentimental about it. They’re not letting anyone into the area right now, but I think they’ll dig for it when they can.
“My family is like, ‘This is about you. We’re happy you’re alive.'”
Cejudo is one of many affected by the California blazes, which have killed 35 people and devastated thousands of homes and businesses.
He says he feels like a “completely different person” following his near-death experience. Cejudo was initially woken by a hotel fire alarm at 2 a.m., but went back to sleep after he investigated the hallway and found nothing.
He woke up again hours later to a room filled with smoke. He could see the hotel lobby was on fire from his room, and decided his only path to escape was through the window.
“I pulled the curtain on the window and it felt like daylight it was so bright,” Cejudo said. “There were houses on fire. The hotel was on fire. I could feel the heat.
“I saw the lobby was on fire and knew there was a stairwell to get down there. I thought, ‘If I go out into the hallway and lock myself out, then I really am dead.’ There was only one way out.”
Wearing nothing but slacks, with his phone in hand, Cejudo leaped to a grassy area below his room. He suffered burns to his right foot when he landed on a branch that had caught fire. He was the only living being in sight, as others had evacuated hours before.
“I was deserted,” Cejudo said. “I didn’t see one human being. I didn’t see one cat, dog — nothing. The only noise I heard was the fire.
“As I’m walking up this hill to get a bird’s-eye view of everything, I see two-story mansions on fire. I saw buildings and cars on fire. It was surreal, like a dream. I had no shoes, no time to grab anything but my slacks. I’m walking, barefoot, thinking, ‘Damn, I’m literally in a ring of fire.'”
After making his way up the hill, Cejudo says he saw a police car in the distance and started to head toward it. He was eventually picked up by a fire truck, which shuttled him to safety.
Cejudo is now in Natal, Brazil, training for his next fight against Sergio Pettis at UFC 218 on Dec. 2 in Detroit. He says he’s still a little shook up by what happened, but is focused on the fight, which could earn him a UFC title shot.
He’s hopeful of reclaiming the medal, but says it’s not the most pressing thing on his mind.
“People ask me if I’m sad about it — nah, I’m happy, bro,” Cejudo said. “It’s weird because that type of adrenaline, you’re scared but you’re challenged, too. You become courageous in something like that. It’s a crazy feeling knowing you may die.”