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Bring On the World (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday June 5, 2007 2:13PM; Updated: Tuesday June 5, 2007 2:13PM
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By Mark Beech

When the Cejudo boys began their residency at the OTC at the start of the school year, they were assigned to separate dorm rooms and slept in their own beds for the first time in their lives. But wrestling remained at the center of their worlds. Henry ­couldn't get enough of the program, rising before 6 a.m. for individual workouts with resident freestyle coach Terry Brands, then running or biking to classes five miles away at Coronado High. After school he would return for freestyle practice. He also found time to wrestle for Coronado, winning two Colorado state championships to go along with his pair from Arizona. Angel, despite some initial success, has not fared as well. He is still in the residency program but has struggled with his weight (he wrestles in the 132-pound class), as well as with the demands of raising a two-year-old daughter with his girlfriend, Angela. "He's trying to balance where he's at in life," says Bennett.

Like his brother, Henry decided to forgo college in favor of training with the OTC freestyle program. "It was never my goal to be an NCAA champion," he says. His talent is perfectly suited to freestyle, which rewards aggressiveness. Cejudo's ability to create scoring opportunities from almost any ­position -- he'll often drop to his knees before ­attacking -- is unmatched on the U.S. team. "His hip [flexibility] is unbelievable," says Brands, a two-time world champion and the bronze medalist at 128 pounds at the 2000 Olympics. "He can do things that most guys can't or won't because they're so difficult."

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It is no coincidence that Cejudo began trying to reunite with his father at precisely the time he'd started making his family name one of the most prominent in American wrestling. How do you like me now, Dad? Nelly had always refused to say anything negative about Jorge, telling his four children that their father loved them very much. But her kids had spent nearly 20 years blaming him for all of the miseries they had endured. Last year, when Henry expressed an interest in going to Mexico City to see his father -- with whom he had spoken on the phone only once in 15 years -- his siblings talked him out of it. "We had called my father's family, and his sister said he was still messed up on drugs," says Gloria. "I wasn't going to let Henry go and see him like that."

He will never have another oppor­tunity. Jorge Cejudo died of heart failure at his mother's home on May 9 at age 44, the result, his family says, of years of drug and alcohol abuse. Any hope Henry held out for closure, for meeting the man who never saw him wrestle, is lost. "I should have done more," he says of his plans to visit his dad. "I just obeyed."

Cejudo is still drawing motivation from his father, insisting his death will not be a distraction this weekend in Las Vegas. "It's bad timing," he admits, "but I'm sure if he was at the tournament, he'd want me to win."

There is enough anguish behind that statement to choke up the toughest man in any wrestling room. But Henry Cejudo -- the toughest man on the U.S. team -- does not cry. He simply says, "I've just got to win."

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