Henry Cejudo celebrates his wrestling gold medal in the 55kg weight class after beating Tomohiro Matsunaga of Japan in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.


Henry Cejudo may have been one of the smallest wrestlers in the Pueblo gymnasium Saturday, but he was looked at like the biggest star.

The Olympic gold medalist and current mixed martial arts fighter was the main attraction of the fourth annual Sam Portillo Wrestling Camp, which drew more than 150 wrestlers from around the state and as far away as California, Colorado and Texas.

Portillo held the camp - free of charge - at Pueblo with the help of the Warriors because of construction at Amphitheater, where he is entering his eighth year as coach.

"I've always wanted to have it on the south side and things just happen for a reason," Portillo said. "That's what made it more special, that it was here on the south side."

Cejudo, 26, won his gold medal at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing at 21 to become the youngest wrestling champion. He also was a four-time state champion in high school, with two titles coming at Phoenix Maryvale and the other two coming in Colorado.

Although Cejudo was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Las Cruces, N.M., he considers himself an Arizona native and now lives in the Phoenix area, where he is attending classes at Grand Canyon University and operating his own realty firm in addition to kick starting his MMA career.

The Star sat down with Cejudo on Saturday at Pueblo, and here's what he had to say:

Having wrestled at the high school level in the state, what do you think about the wrestling culture in Southern Arizona?

A: "It's different than Phoenix, you get a better turnout, you get better support here in Tucson. I think kids love wrestling more out here than they do in Phoenix. Maybe there aren't as many distractions, so all these kids do is eat, breathe and wrestle, which is the way I grew up. It's just a culture out here in Tucson."

What kind of advice do you give to up-and-coming wrestlers?

A: "It starts off with a dream. I had a dream when I was a little kid, watching the Olympics, and I told myself that I would become an Olympic champion. I lived in south Phoenix at that time, in a run-down trailer inside of a junkyard. The only house on the block, probably the worst neighborhood you can think of. But I had a dream of becoming the best in the world and I believed in it; I was faithful to my dream, I sacrificed and victory came."

Why do you believe wrestling should remain an Olympic sport beyond 2016?

A: "Wrestling gives an opportunity to everybody; big, short, fat, tall, skinny. It gives an opportunity to all. The only thing you need is wrestling shoes and a singlet. You don't need a pool, you don't need anything else but wrestling shoes, even then. It give opportunity to a guy that is 6 feet tall and a guy that is 5-foot-4 like myself."

How would you sum up your experience at the Olympics in 2008?

A: "It's everything you've ever imagined on TV, but it's different and more real. You walk into the opening ceremonies and see 100,000 people in the stands and different nationalities, as the best of the best come together at one event. It's actually almost scary."

What did winning a gold medal in wrestling mean to you?

A: "There's nothing like it. Winning a gold medal, in the toughest sport in the world, was the best moment I've ever had and the best feeling. The feeling is so intense it's almost indescribable."