Week one of the first fight camp for Cody Garbrandt in nearly a year started with 15 stitches getting sewn into his face. Normally, you’d think “You’ve got to be kidding me,” but for Garbrandt, who’s faced his share of adversity over the past year, it was just something to shrug off.
“There’s always sh*t that happens inside of fight camp.”
Spoken like a true veteran of the game who is simply trying to get back to his resurgence in the bantamweight division after facing a three-fight skid. But the stitches were the least of the former UFC bantamweight champion’s concerns after facing a number of setbacks that have kept him out of the Octagon since last June.
“The time off wasn’t really much of time off. I was right back in the gym on Monday,” the 29-year-old said of his return to work after a Performance of the Night knockout over Raphael Assunção. “I was very hungry and motivated to ride this momentum off a big knockout win. I was pegged to fight for the flyweight title, but I ended up getting COVID and having residual effects for six months. Blood clots, pneumonia, vertigo — I was training through most of it the whole time, keeping busy, keeping the body moving. I knew that my body would heal eventually, so it wasn’t really much downtime.”
Navigating the emotions and mental anguish of forced time away from the sport has proved difficult for many athletes who have faced injury, illness and other uncontrollable circumstances. But for Garbrandt, it’s almost as if his life up to this point had prepared him to handle this season of his career.
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“I think that mentally, the challenges that presented themselves were very far and vast from what I experienced before,” Garbrandt said, taking his time with his answer. “With losses and stuff, you can kind of dig yourself out of that. You control what happens in your next fight with the training, the dedication, the preparation. With health, that’s a different matter.
“I feel like I look back at my life and the things that I’ve had: triumph, some losses, for me, it was almost like a rollercoaster. I’ve been here before, I know I can pull myself out of it. I’ve been in this situation with a lot less, and I’ve been in this situation with a lot more. So for me, I’m really just trying to find that balance between never being too high off a win, never being too low off a loss. That goes with life as well; things come into your life, and things leave your life — you have to find that balance.”
It’s a balance the Team Alpha Male athlete carries with him both inside and out of the Octagon.
“I know I’m on the right path; I keep reminding myself that I’m on the right path. I’m enjoying the journey and enjoying the process because this window closes daily,” Garbrandt said. “You only have so many fights in your life, and this is a small chapter of my life that’s gonna set the rest of my life for my son. It [the setbacks] made me more mentally tough. I know other people in the world have dealt with far greater — loss, death, and things like that — so I just count my blessings.”
Choosing to see the bright side of his health as he was forced to temporarily step away from the cage, “No Love” also added that the time away allowed him to reset, while he also got to spend invaluable time with his son, where he was able to be truly present.
Granted, the sting of spending time away was likely eased a little bit after a vintage Garbrandt knockout and an extra $50,000 in the bank to get himself back on track, but for the boxer and wrestler bred out of southwest Ohio, it was more about proving himself wrong.
Fighter Timeline: Cody Garbrandt
Fighter Timeline: Cody Garbrandt
“Assunção has always been very tough to go against. He’s been at the top for quite some time,” the fourth-ranked bantamweight said. “So to do it that way — the Cody “No Love” way — you just have to remind people who you are sometimes. I needed to remind myself who I am. I’m constantly reminding myself that I overcame so much in my life.”
Describing the “nerves, anxiousness, the fear of walking to the Octagon to fight” as something that relit his passion for the sport and “something I needed for my soul,” Garbrandt said the win reminded him that he’s the real deal — something he’s carried with him through his most recent camp while preparing for third-ranked bantamweight contender Rob Font.
“This last training camp has been amazing. It gives me glimpses of the Dominick Cruz camp,” Garbrandt said with excitement in his eyes. “That camp was just nonstop hard work, grinding, fighting five full rounds, for 25 minutes possibly. So in preparation for that, you have to prepare intensely to withstand that kind of pace and whatever happens in those 25 minutes. And that’s what we’ve been doing this time, too.”
On top of the peak physical preparation Garbrandt has mastered during this camp, he also believes his experience in main event and title fights leaves him slightly more prepared for this matchup.
“He’s never been in a high-profile fight. I have,” Garbrandt said, as he gears up for his fifth UFC fight slated to go five rounds. “He’s never been in a five-round fight, never been in a main event, never had all of this attention brought to him, and it’s a lot. You have to be physically and emotionally disciplined to be able to go through a fight camp knowing that you’re going to be in a high-profile fight, especially in a fight against myself.
"I just feel like he has a lot of boxes that need to be checked that are unchecked inside himself. I’ve been there before in my life, and I knew I had to rise to the occasion. So, we’ll see how good Rob Font is when the cage locks on Saturday.”
And as for predictions for the outcome of the fight, anyone who has followed any part of Cody Garbrandt’s career shouldn’t be surprised by his.
“I’m gonna finish him. I’m probably going to wake up Saturday morning and flip a coin to decide whether it’s a right hand or a left hand that’s gonna knock him out — that’s not cocky, I’m just being confident,” Garbrandt said.
“I feel like my preparation for this fight has been second to none. No one else has had to do what I’ve forced myself to do. There were days where I was like, man, I don’t want to do this. My coaches and teammates and I put ourselves in very uncomfortable situations in training. Whatever he’s willing to bring, the pace he’s going to try to keep up with, I feel like it’s going to be a lot for him to try to match, and I feel like I’m going to break him in there.”