In this crazy game, it’s enough to get a win and move on to the next fight. Sometimes, though, an ultra-competitive prizefighter needs a reminder.
Today, Cody Brundage is that prizefighter, and after a disqualification win over Jacob Malkoun in September, he wasn’t too happy about the way he doubled his paycheck.
“I'm happy to still be in the UFC after the last one, so if they wanted me to fight on Christmas, I would've done it.”
Brundage had to train through Thanksgiving after jumping in on short notice to face unbeaten newcomer Zachary Reese this Saturday in Austin, and that alone shows his dedication to the game. But after the Malkoun fight, which ended late in the first round when he couldn’t continue after taking an illegal elbow to the back of the head, he made the mistake of reading the comments section. That’s his only fault in the matter.
“You see enough people giving you s**t and you start to maybe believe it is (my fault) a little bit,” said Brundage, who was quickly informed that most making negative comments had never been elbowed in the back of the head or punched in the face for a living.
“Yeah, I was telling somebody the other day that it's crazy because a lot of people who played ball sports in their life, like football or basketball, they’ve at least been in there and done it at some level. Obviously, they're not at the NFL level, but they've done it. So, in their mind they're like, ‘Well, here's my advice.’ But very few people are fighters, so it's like, you have no idea what you're telling me.”
It’s true, and I’m sure everyone has run into that buddy who watches a UFC fight or a boxing match on television and says, “I can do that.” But getting to this level doesn’t just take the ability to throw your hands and hope for the best. It takes years and years of training – in that discipline. So even when Brundage moved over to MMA after his college wrestling days were over, he had to take his lumps in the gym before he could test himself on fight night.
“I'd done wrestling my whole life and I could wrestle, but if it was like, ‘Hey, we're going to do kickboxing today,’ I was getting my ass whooped, and not even by UFC level guys, just guys that had been training for a while,” he said. “It wasn't even like I was fighting high-caliber people. Then you talk about the best people in the world, and people forget that the UFC is the NFL of our sport. They think, ‘Oh, it's a fight promotion.’ But, no, it's not like boxing, where there's a bunch of fight promotions and there's good fighters in all the promotions. And I'm not saying there's not good fighters in other promotions, but the majority of the best fighters in the world are in the UFC.”
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And now he’s swimming with the sharks…and holding his own. No, his 3-4 UFC record isn’t what he wants it to be, but he’s here, he’s battling, and considering that he’s only been a pro since 2019, he’s not even in his fighting prime yet. Now if he can just stay off the comments section…
Brundage laughs again, and he admits that a lot of this comes down to him wanting people to know that he’s not the MMA Superhero who flies into the Octagon every few months, knocks someone out and flies back to his planet, but a real, living, breathing husband and father who is living his life in public, which is not an easy thing.
“I think it's not even the criticism that bothers me,” he said. “It's more just like I feel like there are characters in our sport and it’s become a thing where you play this character and that'll be your brand. And I don't do that. I'm a very genuine guy. From the interviews we've had, I've told you, ‘Man, this guy could kick my ass.’ (Laughs) Or I've been very open about the things with my daughter. And so, when I feel like people don't like me, I know we're supposed to be like, who cares? But I do care. I'm like, s**t, man, I don't want people to not like me. I'm a good dude. There's no reason for people not to like me because I didn't do great in a fight or some s**t happened in a fight. Who cares about that? It's so temporary. So it bothers me because I feel like I give a very honest representation of myself.”
He does, and yes, he has told me his true thoughts on different matchups and has been very open about the struggles he and his wife, UFC vet Amanda Cooper, have experienced while raising their daughter Kingsley, who was born with a rare genetic disorder. And yes, he’s a good guy. And a good fighter, something he plans on showing the critics, and more importantly, Reese, in Austin.
“Experience goes a long way,” said Brundage, who has more UFC fights than Reese has pro bouts. “If you look at his strength of schedule, I'm the hardest guy he's ever fought. I don't know if you could say he’s the toughest dude I've ever fought or even the toughest dude I've ever beat. I beat some really talented guys with a lot of hype in the UFC in Tresean Gore and Dalcha Lungiambula; those guys are scary dudes and I was able to put 'em away and find a way to get it done.
"So I've been through the fire a little bit, I've been through the tough times, I've been through the adversity and he's never felt that. His strength of schedule isn't great, but I can't knock what he's done to those guys. He's finished them all, just like he should. He's done exactly what he should do to the people he's fought. So I can't knock him too much. But it's different when you come up against a guy who expects to win just as much as you do. I've watched some of his film, and when I see him fight these guys, they know what their job is; they know they're being brought in to kind of build this kid up and they fight that way. And I'm not someone you build a name off of, and I firmly believe that. So getting in a fight with me is different.”
Especially when Brundage knows exactly what it feels like to be the unbeaten young gun who feels like he can walk through walls.
“I remember running through everybody and feeling like the man, and it's kind of a double-edged sword because you do feel invincible,” said Brundage, who started his pro career with five wins before losing to William Knight on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2020. “You do feel like you can beat anyone. But I'll never forget the first guy I came up against that it wasn't like that and how I responded. And not necessarily that I responded super poorly, but it was different. It was a whole different experience. I was trying to figure it out as I was going. And so he hasn't had to deal with that yet.”
The 29-year-old Brundage has no problem being the one to welcome Reese to this new world, going back home to enjoy Christmas with his family, then start stacking wins in 2024.
“I would never be like, ‘Man, I wish I got signed later,’” he said. “I love that I got signed when I got signed and there's been some lumps along the way, but my journey's been great, and through the wins and the losses, I'm still here, I'm still standing, and I'm still taking fights. This be my fourth fight in seven months. And I feel like that speaks to not necessarily my results, but that the UFC does see potential in what I can do. I've shown glimpses of my potential and that's kept me around, and that's encouraging, as well. So there's definitely small victories and now we just want to go get some big ones.”
UFC Fight Night: Dariush vs Tsarukyan took place live from Moody Center in Austin, Texas on December 2, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!