Cody Garbrandt knows that look. He’s seen it dozens of times. Whether he was getting ready to compete on a wrestling mat or in a boxing ring or UFC Octagon, the face of his mother, Jessica Enos, never changed.
“You can tell that she’s worried, but I give her a hug and a kiss and say ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen to me in there?’”
Garbrandt laughs, appreciative for his mother’s love and concern, but also well aware – as she is – that he’s never going to change. In his mind, he’s been a fighter from birth, and 24 years later, he’s still fighting.
On Sunday, he’ll step into the Octagon at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas with another 24-year-old born fighter by the name of Thomas Almeida. The bantamweights are the same age, both have unbeaten records, and a similar approach to fighting, making their main event one of the most anticipated bouts of the year. In another universe, they’re so alike they might have been best friends. In this one, they’re going to be trying to knock each other out for 25 minutes or less, and that’s fine with Garbrandt.
“There are too many athletes and not enough fighters,” he said, clearly putting himself and his opponent in the “fighter” category. So what is the worst that can happen to the native of Uhrichsville, Ohio this weekend?
“I lose or get beat up?” he asks. “I’m out here chasing a dream. If I happen to get my ass whupped, then I’m ready for that ass whuppin’. I’m not gonna dwell on it. I’ll get better. And if the worst thing that happens in my life is that I lose a fight in the UFC, then I live a pretty good life.”
It’s the same thing Garbrandt tells his mom, though it’s of little consolation until the bout is over and her son is okay. And at this point, she’s been through this enough times that she is well aware of what the perils are in the world of combat sports. Ultimately, she’s proud of what the 8-0 bantamweight has done.
“She’s happy, she’s proud that I had a dream and I stuck with my dream,” Garbrandt said. “She’ll text me or call me randomly and tell me how much she loves me and is proud of me, and she’s never missed a fight. She’s not a fan of her child going in there and fighting (Laughs), but she’s very supportive.”
She has been since her son was a wrestler, when weekends consisted of packing the family into a minivan and hitting the road for tournaments. Garbrandt’s goal then – and his goal now – was always to compete against the best opposition possible.
“If I thought they were better than me, that’s why I wanted to fight them or wrestle them,” he said. “I used to travel all over the country, driving around to the toughest nationals and the toughest tournaments. Some weekends we couldn’t go to the tournaments because we didn’t have the money and I’d be so upset. Even at that younger age, I had that fire inside me that I wanted to fight against the best of the best. To be the champion, you have to fight everybody. To be the best, you have to beat the best. The tougher the opponent and the brighter the lights are, the more that I shine.”
The lights won’t be any brighter than a UFC main event in the fight capital of the world, and Garbrandt shares the general consensus that this one is going to be special for as long as it lasts.
“It seems like a lot of people are excited for this fight and I’m super excited,” he said, pointing out that he requested this fight from UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby. “This is the fight that I wanted. Sean can attest to this. I asked for John Lineker, but unfortunately he got sick before our fight and he had to pull out the week of the fight (in February). I stuck on the card and got a replacement, but I asked for Lineker, then Almeida. So when he (Shelby) called me with the Almeida fight, main event in Vegas, it was a no brainer to take it. He’s a guy I’ve been wanting to fight for a while. Stylistically, it’s a great matchup for me. He comes to fight, I come to fight, and I’m excited to get in there and test myself.”
If he passes that test, he will be hoping for a crack at the bantamweight title, but if that doesn’t pan out, he’ll take whoever is the best opponent available for him. That’s the kind of fighter Jessica Enos raised.
“I’m a company man, and I love to fight,” Garbrandt said. “This is all I’ve known since I was a kid. So if I’ve got to keep grinding and putting these guys away until my opportunity presents itself, I’ll keep doing that. I’m a lion that enjoys the hunt.”