Cejudo welcomes MMA stage

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ESPN.com - Henry Cejudo, the youngest American wrestler to win gold at the Olympics, has officially embarked on the next stage of his athletic career.

Five years removed from a triumphant run at the Beijing Games, Cejudo, 26, will compete in mixed martial arts for the first time Friday March second at Casino Del Sol in Tucson, AZ.

Following his pro debut March 2 in Tucson, Ariz., Cejudo has agreed to a multifight agreement with California-based Gladiator Challenge. The first fight on that deal, announced Thursday, is scheduled for March 24 at Soboba Casino in San Jacinto, Calif.

"Gladiator Challenge will provide me with a consistent platform to grow as a fighter and has made a substantial commitment to me so that I may gain the necessary experience to become a world champion," Cejudo said in a statement.

Since debuting as a regional event in 1999, Gladiator Challenge helped kick off the careers of several known fighters, including Quinton Jackson, Rashad Evans, Urijah Faber and Michael McDonald.

"Cejudo had many options open to him, as multiple promoters were clamoring to sign him, but he chose to fight for us," Gladiator Challenge CEO and UFC veteran Tedd Williams said. "Cejudo recognized the many positive changes under way as a result of the recent change in ownership of Gladiator Challenge and felt confident that this was a good home to begin his fight career."

No opponent has been named for Cejudo's bout on March 24. Financial terms of the deal were not released.

Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, the former Strikeforce light heavyweight titleholder, became friends with Cejudo while training together at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Lawal, who is currently campaigning for Bellator MMA, predicted Cejudo "will be a champion."

Cejudo is the fifth American gold-medal wrestler to try MMA, joining Kenny Monday, Mark Schultz, Kevin Jackson and Rulon Gardner. The Mexican-American, born in Los Angeles to undocumented immigrants, dabbled in amateur boxing, winning a Copper Gloves tournament in Phoenix in 2010.

He failed in a bid to return to the Olympics in 2012, losing during the U.S. trials at 55 kilograms.