Cody Garbrandt is on top of the world. He’s the UFC bantamweight champion, about to defend his title for the first time against TJ Dillashaw in Madison Square Garden, and he and his wife are about to welcome a baby boy into the world.
Rewind a few years. If someone told him that this would be his life in November 2017, would he believe them?
“Yeah, I would have,” said Garbrandt. “Because I believed in myself. I had the supreme confidence, and I could see it. It might have been far-fetched at the time, but I would have believed it, for sure. I was laying down the foundation to rise to the occasion and build that platform and reach those goals.”
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Family will be forever, so he doesn’t have to worry there, but professionally, heavy lies the crown, especially since he hasn’t been in the Octagon since taking the title from Dominick Cruz last December. That’s 11 months of waiting, healing, and waiting some more, with the opponent at the end of this wait being the one person in the universe he could never picture losing to.
But as the fight draws closer, Garbrandt is doing everything in his power to make this as business as usual as possible. And even if it isn’t, he insists that when it’s time to fight, he will keep any emotions under wraps.
“I’m always composed, no matter what state of mind I’m in,” he said. “I feel like TJ’s carrying more of the drama on his shoulders than I am. I don’t care about it, it doesn’t bother me, and it is what it is. TJ’s the guy that’s placed in front of me, and it doesn’t matter if he was a former teammate or a friend. It just adds fuel to the fire for me to beat his ass even worse. But I just stay composed in there no matter what happens in the lead-up to the fight. It’s like fighting a complete stranger.”
Dillashaw is no stranger, though, and with each passing day, it seems like the former teammates would agree to fight for free as long as they get to punch each other in the face. But when the animosity is taken out of the mix, Garbrandt believes Dillashaw is in a desperate position while he’s just looking to defend his title and move on.
“He (Dillashaw) is a do or die type of person, and it’s that kind of fight for him for many reasons,” the 26-year-old said. “He’s never been a world champion. He’s been an interim champion and carried around a fake belt while Dominick Cruz sat on the couch and was injured, waiting to come back. When Dominick came back, he beat him and solidified his reign as 135-pound champion, and then TJ’s been on the road ever since. It’s a do or die win for him. For me, it’s another fight.”
The looks on Garbrandt’s face during fight week have mixed between anger and annoyance toward the challenger (who did hold the full 135-pound crown during his reign), and a desire to just put on the gloves and get after it after being out for nearly a year. A couple weeks out from the fight, I asked Garbrandt if at this point he was getting antsy to fight.
“I’ve been antsy since I stepped out of the Octagon with Dominick Cruz,” he said. “I wanted to get back right away. I love fighting. It’s my passion, it’s my drive, it’s my full purpose in life. I feel at home there.”
Immediately, he pointed out that he was 16 days out from the fight, a fact he got a reminder about from a countdown clock on his phone. Yet while no one wants to sit out that long, Garbrandt was able to find a silver lining or two, and at long last, he can get back to work.
“These last nine, ten months I’ve matured as a man, as a fighter, all around,” he said. “I think this injury kind of grounded me a lot. I’m very thankful, blessed and fortunate that I get this opportunity to not only keep catapulting in my career, but in my life and in building a family that I’ve always wanted to have. I feel like I’ve gotten better, I let my body heal, and I’m just excited to showcase all my hard work and the adversity I overcame to get to this point.”