Cody Garbrandt is only nine fights into his UFC career but he’s already experienced the highest highs and the lowest lows.
The 28-year-old Ohio native burst on the scene when he joined the roster back in 2015 as one of the hottest bantamweight prospects in the sport. He won his first five fights in blistering fashion with four knockouts along the way before he was matched up with bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz at UFC 207.
On that night, Garbrandt put on a performance of a lifetime as he dismantled arguably the greatest 135-pound fighter of all time over five rounds. He was crowned champion and it appeared Garbrandt was on his way to becoming one of the UFC’s next superstars.
Then the bottom fell out.
Garbrandt lost his title in his first defense after engaging in a firefight with former teammate T.J. Dillashaw. Ten months later, he suffered the same fate when he fell to Dillashaw for a second consecutive time by TKO.
A third straight loss in a “Fight of the Night” against Pedro Munhoz not only put Garbrandt out of the title picture but it left many wondering if the former bantamweight champion had already reached his expiration date.
Now 15 months after his most recent fight, Garbrandt is finally scheduled to make his return at UFC 250 where he faces Raphael Assuncao in the co-main event. It’s been a long road traveled in a relatively short amount of time but despite those setbacks, Garbrandt never doubted for a second that he’d be back.
“I don’t think I was ever in a mindset where I don’t want to fight cause I feel like every time that I tried to draw away from fighting, I was always pulled back in,” Garbrandt explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “Without fighting, I don’t think I would be as happy in this life.
“It’s not an option for me [to stop fighting]. I want to fight. I love to fight. It’s about finding that passion, that drive. Keeping that drive alive. Keeping that hunger alive.”
Garbrandt understood that it’s normal to be reactionary and see out change after suffering three losses in a row. That’s why he sought out a new training camp, traveling to New Jersey to work with head coach Mark Henry and his team.
That said, Garbrandt was still working side-by-side with his training partners and coaches at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, Calif., which has been his home since before he arrived in the UFC.
“I just needed for me, first and foremost, to get out of my comfort zone and go rekindle that love for fighting,” Garbrandt said. “I don’t know if I was going through the motions or if it was just the same thing but I needed a switch up.
“The only way that I could truly test myself was get out of my comfort zone, in a way that I’m away from my family, that comfort that you build inside of your life.”
Changes were in order but Garbrandt also understands that his last three losses were largely predicated on mistakes made rather than an inability to deal with opponents like Dillashaw or Munhoz.
“I don’t need to reinvent the wheel,” Garbrandt said. “It was little things that I necessarily wasn’t doing or wasn’t knowing that I was doing in terms of technical errors or things I was doing off rhythm or not off rhythm. They just broke me down to my strengths, my weaknesses and it’s been clicking.
“I’m obsessed with this sport. I’m obsessed with getting better. I’m obsessed with winning. Losing’s part of it. It challenges you to grow.”
Garbrandt won’t lie and say it was easy to get past the losses but his confidence wasn’t rattled, which was probably the most important component in his comeback.
“When I’m on, no one in the world can beat me,” Garbrandt said. “I truly believe I’ve corrected a lot of my errors that I needed to correct. When I’m at peace with myself, I can cause a lot of chaos inside that octagon because I know that my life is good, it’s in order and I can let that savagery out in the octagon and that’s what I’m prepared to do.”
In some ways, Garbrandt might be starting on the ground floor again as he prepares to face Assuncao this weekend. He’s no longer ranked in the top five of the bantamweight division and another shot at the title isn’t in his immediate future.
Of course, Garbrandt still has aspirations about reaching the top of his weight class again. It might just take a little time to get there but he’s got plenty of that.
“For me, I’m in the sport to be the best,” Garbrandt said. “It was never chasing money. I never even thought of money until I got money. It was like ‘oh sh*t I won some fights and here’s some money.’ That’s cool, that’s a plus side to it but money was never the motivating factor. It was always being the best. That’s my quest to get back to the title. I wanted to be the best in the world. I worked towards that. Dreamed of that. That was what was pushing me. This sport is a marathon, not a sprint. Just like life.
“I’ve battled my demons. I’m here to take the throne again. Whoever that is when my time comes for another title shot, I’ll be ready. I’m going to capitalize on it. I’m going to hold onto this title until it’s time to walk away from this sport.”