Cody Garbrandt. Photo: FelipeOCouto. Used under Creative Commons.

Cody Garbrandt is gearing up to face former teammate and training partner TJ Dillashaw at UFC 213, set for International Fight Week, following the conclusion of the current season of The Ultimate Fighter.

TUF 25: Redemption is a second chance for 14 former contestants to get a second crack at the UFC, but it has also given Dillashaw the chance to regain the belt he lost to Dominick Cruz in 2015 and Garbrandt the chance to beat a man he hates. But before any of that can come to fruition, Garbrandt had a long slog to become UFC bantamweight champion.

Garbrandt is a man who enjoys the simple things in life. He has his faith, his family, his friends and teammates and his fighting. His entire life has been building towards a life in combat sport.

The 25-year-old started boxing at 15 and wrestled in high school, but in 2009 he started down a road that would change and shape his life forever. A rear-naked choke submission loss to Nick Hyatt in his first amateur bout wasn’t the result you would have expected from the man to eventually dethrone a pound-for-pound talent such as Dominick Cruz.

But to find out how he was able to do something that the majority of people didn’t think he could we have to go right back to the start and the day Cody Garbrandt’s uncle took him to the boxing gym and slapped a pair of gloves on the future bantamweight champion.

An 11-1 amateur boxing record isn’t too bad for a guy looking to go somewhere in combat sport, but the effect that having someone in his corner who had been boxing all their life was the big advantage Garbrandt had.

Garbrandt transitions from Boxing to MMA

The transition to MMA in 2009 was a solid and smart move for the young Ohio native. He had a platform in which to show off the wrestling he had built up in high school and the boxing he had been working on for the last three years.

Going 4-2 in the amateur ranks, Gardbrant was less than perfect, but something stood out to Team Alpha Male founder and bantamweight legend Urijah Faber. The California native took Garbrandt under his wing and promised that if he got to 5-0, Faber would take him to the UFC. Garbrandt duly delivered and Faber followed up on his promise.

He then made his debut against Marcus Brimage. At 7-3 with six UFC fights under his belt, Brimage was in no way an easy test. Garbrandt didn’t see it that way. He TKO’d the ATT fighter in the third and announced himself to the greater MMA audience.


A decision against Henry Briones followed (his first of his professional career) before the starching of late replacement Augusto Mendes. But the fight that changed it all for Garbrandt was the first round finish over Thomas Almeida.

Development as a fighter against Almeida

The Almeida fight was a huge step up for the man that was quickly becoming Faber’s next big prospect. Almeida was ranked seventh in the world at the time and seemed to be on a crash course with Cruz. He was coming off the back of three knockout wins in the UFC and was unbeaten in 21 fights.


Not that it mattered to “No Love.” He took out Almeida in a manner which he should never have been allowed to, marching one step closer to Cruz and the belt. The trash talk had begun at this point and with the existing hostilities between Cruz and Team Alpha Male it wasn’t hard for Faber to push Garbrandt up as the next challenger to the crown after he lost a wide decision to Cruz at UFC 199.

Title shot and elevation to Champion 

Garbrandt wanted the shot and Cruz seemed willing to grant it. A fight with former WEC bantamweight challenger Takeya Mizugaki was set up for UFC 202. Garbrandt knocked out the Japanese fighter in 48 seconds – 13 seconds quicker than Cruz managed – a  feat Garbrandt was quick to mention after the fight.

The stage was set and after various promises to break jaws and talk of being able to buy houses with the money made from beating teammates the fight was made official as the co-main event of UFC 207.

On paper it seemed relatively straightforward. Cruz would go into the fight the way he always had and use his movement and footwork to outwork, outstrike and generally make his opponent look silly. Garbrandt would come in looking to take Cruz’s head off. He would be too one dimensional to pose the champion any problems. Or so we thought.

Garbrandt prepared for the fight perfectly. He went back to his bases. His boxing and his wrestling. He worked on his movement and his footwork and from the very first round it was obvious that everyone had underestimated the Ohio man. While Cruz did outstrike Garbrandt 88-68, Garbrandt knocked Cruz down twice in the fourth and landed the only takedown of the fight. He landed a higher percentage of significant strikes and never once looked in danger. No one had ever put Cruz in the position Garbandt had him in the fourth round. He was hurt and almost finished. A 10-8 round was just the icing on the cake

Robin Black made an excellent point about Garbrandt when analyzing the fight on an episode of the OldFirm MMA podcast: “We can’t judge fighters on what we haven’t seen and we can’t make assumptions that they have skills we haven’t seen.”

Not once in any of his previous fights had Garbrandt showed he had the capabilities to do what he did against Dominick Cruz. But now that he has proven that he has performances like that tucked away in his back pocket the possibilities are endless for the 25-year-old. The grudge match with Dillashaw after TUF 25 is a huge fight for Garbrandt. Win that and he’s beaten the two best the bantamweight division has to offer. And the trash talk has already begun.  

Watch this space Cody Garbrandt has the potential to become one of the true greats of MMA.