Considering the gladiator-like nature of mixed martial arts, it’s a little too easy for those on the outside to dehumanize the athletes as robots trained and fitted for combat. Peel back one layer from the bright lights of fight night, however, and you’ll often find people highly attuned to their physical and mental well-being. There’s a reason why “mindset” is as critical a component on fight night as any tangible aspect of a fighter’s performance.
Cody Garbrandt knew he couldn’t just keep at it the way he had been going, so the 31-year-old began working with a therapist regularly, and “No Love” feels like he is in the best mental place of his career ahead of his bout with Trevin Jones at UFC 285: Jones vs Gane.
“I think I've always had an identity crisis,” Garbrandt told UFC.com. “I think that's why we have those alter egos that go in there, and sometimes we believe we’re this and believe we’re that, but, it’s a learning (process). You only learn. You get experience in life. I truly believe that you're always trying to find yourself. I think that's the best thing about this journey of life is there's always room to improve, whether it’s in career, physically or mentally or emotionally. There's so much to work on in the human spirit.”
The former bantamweight champion had a lot of time and space to investigate himself internally, as of late. His last fight came 16 months ago – a first-round knockout loss to Kai Kara-France at UFC 269.
The fight, which was Garbrandt’s flyweight debut, marked his fifth loss in his last six fights. With the gift of time, Garbrandt took to self-reflection. Through regular sessions with his therapist, he honed in on where he needed to focus and not waste his energy on anything that wasn’t beneficial to his best self during this training camp.
“I was so numb walking down to the Octagon that I wasn't there,” Garbrandt said. “I felt like I just was in and out. (I learned) how to be engaged and bring yourself back from your mind floating to somewhere else instead of focusing on the now. That has been a huge factor in this camp. Fighting to be engaged in everything that I do, and I only focus on things that are going to help me out instead of holding on to things that really are going to deter you from your goals or your training.”
Although Garbrandt maintains a positive feeling around his short-lived move down to flyweight, he relished the return to 135. Instead of a slew of running, he got to lift more weights, and instead of a steady diet of greens and fish, Garbrandt enjoyed incorporating more steak and other meats into his meals again, as well. Essentially, the quality of life was just a little bit better.
That steeled mentality certainly helped deal with a handful of cancelled fights throughout the last year-and-a-half. Eventually, Trevin Jones stepped up to fight, and Garbrandt understands how Jones views the opportunity at hand.
“You’ve got to respect everybody in the sport,” Garbrandt said. “He's here for a reason. He's looking to use my name. This fight is an opportunity to keep him in the UFC and have a win over a world champion. It's my job to let him know and make him understand that there's levels to this and how I perform or how I prepared for this fight was a different level than I've ever performed for any of my fights.”
It's no secret that the last few years haven’t treated Garbrandt kindly since he won the bantamweight title in 2016.
That’s the fight game, though, and the ability to tread the choppy waters separates the good ones from the great ones in the sport. After putting in what seems like good work to reground himself mentally, Garbrandt is perhaps on the precipice of turning the page to another chapter of his career – one that could put him on a path toward redemption. First, though, comes taking care of business against Jones, and he intends on controlling each aspect of the fight wherever it goes.
Love Or No Love With Cody Garbrandt
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Love Or No Love With Cody Garbrandt
“I want to dictate (the fight),” he said. “(Putting on) a striking display, a wrestling display or whatever I need to do. I feel like I have the upper hand, and that's not disregarding his skills. I just prepared mentally and physically to go in there and just drown this dude in deep waters. This is what I do. This is my career. This is what I love. This is my passion, and the passion and the hunger is back. I just want to stay busy. Stay busy and just keep honing the skills and get back to the top.
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“It wasn't too long ago that I was the world champion. I think of that every day.”