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Cody Garbrandt Still Has Masterpieces To Paint In The Octagon

Former UFC Bantamweight Champion Cody Garbrandt Feels Locked In And Prepared To Prove He's Far From Finished By Delivering A Trademark Performance At UFC 296.

The 85-mile trip from Uhrichsville to Pittsburgh might as well be eight million miles for those living in the small Ohio town with a population of just over 5,200. In Uhrichsville, the path was clear for most young men reaching adulthood – it was off to the coal mines.

“My family was a bunch of coal miners,” recalled Cody Garbrandt. “My grandfather, my uncles, my brother, and I got called up. I did my coal mine certification and I got called up to Consol Energy to go get an interview.”

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Garbrandt was in his early 20s, working odd jobs to make ends meet, but his dream was to fight. And whether it was boxing or mixed martial arts, he was determined to make it a career. It wasn’t what was accepted or expected, but Garbrandt believed, and he sat his mother Jessica down to try to make her a believer, too.

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“Mom, give me until I’m 25, trust me.” Garbrandt explained. “I don't want to go work in the coal mines. Trust me, I'll make it. I'll be a world champion by then.”

On July 7, 2016, when Garbrandt turned 25, he wasn’t a world champion. But he did hit his mark a little over five months later when he delivered a master class in defeating Dominick Cruz for the UFC bantamweight title.

“We were at the MGM,” recalled Garbrandt and I said, ‘Remember, mom, I told you that by 25, I'd be a world champion?’ She's like, ‘You did.’ We had a big hug, cried a little bit and it was great.”

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Garbrandt kept his promise, but by that point, there was no stopping him. He made it to the UFC in 2015 after just five pro fights, and after a pair of wins over Marcus Brimage and Henry Briones, he began the biggest year of his career in 2016 by fighting Augusto Mendes.

In Pittsburgh.

At the Consul Energy Center.

“It was crazy,” he said. “I'm about to go get employed to this coal mine, and I'm playing at the Consul Energy Center in Pittsburgh for the UFC. It was just wild. And that was the start of the championship run in 2016. That was the first fight. I fought ‘Tanquinho’ Mendes and knocked him out and then knocked everybody out until I fought Cruz and, yeah, that was the run.”

Love Or No Love With Cody Garbrandt
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Love Or No Love With Cody Garbrandt
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What a run it was. Garbrandt followed up his win over Mendes with two more first-round knockouts of Thomas Almeida and Takeya Mizugaki, and then he took that belt in a way where it looked like he would reign as long as he wanted to.

It didn’t happen that way.

A heated rivalry with former teammate TJ Dillashaw resulted in two losses and cost him his belt. Then he lost three of his next four, made an ill-fated drop to the flyweight division, and his future was up to debate everywhere but in his mind. Garbrandt knew he would rise again, that he wasn’t finished as a top-flight fighter, and before his March bout with Trevin Jones, he made it a point to change his introduction.

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“No Love” was born in Ohio, lived and trained out of Sacramento for several years, and now makes his home in Las Vegas. But when Bruce Buffer announced him at T-Mobile Arena on March 4, it was out of Uhrichsville, Ohio. That wasn’t an accident.

“Yeah, I think I had to get back to my roots,” said Garbrandt. “I went back to my ‘Thunderstruck’ song, I'm back to fighting out of Ohio, and I finally went back to my identity of who I was and what made me. Uhrichsville, Ohio. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, don't look back.’ But sometimes, you're in a position in life where you need to remember and remind yourself of who you are and where you came from, and how far you’ve come with literally nothing. So it was nice to get back to that.”

Top Finishes: Cody Garbrandt
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Unlock MORE of your inner combat sports fan with UFC Fight Pass! Fighting is what we live for. And no one brings you MORE live fights, new shows, and events across multiple combat sports from around the world. With a never-ending supply of fighting in every discipline, there’s always something new to watch. Leave it to the world’s authority in MMA to bring you the Ultimate 24/7 platform for MORE combat sports, UFC Fight Pass!

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Top Finishes: Cody Garbrandt
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Garbrandt beat Jones via unanimous decision at T-Mobile Arena. He was back in the win column for the first time in nearly three years, and it felt good. Not just because he doubled his paycheck, but because after a tumultuous few years, he was settled personally and professionally, and that peace made him ready for war once again.

“I was at a point where I was like, man, what's the next move here,” said Garbrandt. “So it was tough (moving to Las Vegas). I had a lot of soul searching to do, finding new coaches, new teammates, a new schedule. I'm very regimented. I eat the same thing at the same time, I sleep at the same time, nothing's too much out of whack on my schedule. So when I came out here, it was, all right, I have no real true friends that I know about. Obviously, I gained friends through time, everything was such a difference for me in Vegas. I had to schedule training, I was trying to find a house, my son started school and I was also trying to get back in the win column. I had so many things going on, but I realized I had to show up, put the work in and have a purpose and a direction each day.”

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It paid off, and he expects everything to continue moving in the right direction when he returns to the Octagon on Saturday to face Brian Kelleher. It’s another tough fight, but that’s the case for every matchup in the 135-pound weight class. And it gets tougher for Garbrandt because ever since those early days in the UFC, he’s had a target on his back. Beat Cody Garbrandt the hot prospect and you could skyrocket up the rankings. You beat Cody Garbrandt the world champion and you’ve got a belt. You beat Cody Garbrandt the ex-champion and you’ve changed the trajectory of your career. So every night, the 32-year-old is getting every opponent’s best.

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“It's great because it made me come to the realization that I built my name and there are adversaries that are willing and wanting to come and take that from me,” he said. “So it keeps me driven. I've always been kind of in the spotlight. I was a freshman State champion in wrestling from a real small town in Ohio. They said it couldn't be done. So I've always had that X on my back. And that fuels me. It gives people even more reasons to doubt you and say, ‘You can't.’ And that's more drive for me to prove people wrong. I've had that my whole entire life. So it's nothing new for me in the position that I'm in now and with this career. I'm thankful. I'm thankful that I am where I'm at and where I'm going to go.”

Yeah, Cody Garbrandt isn’t done yet. He’s just getting started.

“I think the best performances are ahead of me,” he said. “Obviously, God willing, I stay healthy, but I feel like I'm one of the most skilled fighters in the world just showing up on fight day and painting that masterpiece. So yeah, I feel like as long as I have the passion and love and hunger for the sport, it'll be on me when I want to be done.”

UFC 296: Edwards vs Covington took place live from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 16, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass