In the olden days of combat sports, popular belief dictated that fighters in the heavier weight classes were box-office attractions. From Muhammad Ali to Mike Tyson to Brock Lesnar, combat sports had relied on larger-than-life and intimidating superstars to sell out arenas as historically, physical stature sells better than skills and technique inside the combat ring.
However, in modern times, megastars such as Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor have emerged to shatter the myths associated with box-office attractions, and currently, the aforementioned fighters are regarded as two of the biggest draws in the realm of combat sports. That being said, bravado and brazen talk trash was a focal point for both McGregor and Mayweather, supplemented by their skills in the art of fighting. Talking the talk and walking the walk are integral to the success of a fighter and both of these athletes have done their fair share.
However, the world of combat sports will always have a deficiency of megastars, and these days, box-office attractions are hard to come by, especially in the lighter-weight classes. Khabib is one exception as his popularity exploded after UFC 229 but aside from the undefeated lightweight champion, the smaller weight classes have yet to produce a certified star anywhere close to someone like McGregor. Still, there was one bantamweight that had all the makings of a star and that person was Cody “No Love” Garbrandt.
A History of TAM and Cody’s Rise
Team Alpha Male, a gym operating out of Sacramento, California has produced a number of notable fighters in the lighter weight division, with fighters such as Uriah Faber, TJ Dillashaw and Joseph Benavidez becoming marquee names in the old WEC and UFC. TAM, ever since the WEC days, had been locked in a rivalry with a fighter by the name of Dominick Cruz.
Cruz is considered by many as the greatest bantamweight fighter of all time and over the past decade; Cruz had beaten the aforementioned TAM standouts and often did so twice. After his domination of Faber at UFC 199, Cruz had embarrassed the entire gym several times over and at the end of the fight, Faber, the mentor retired and his protégé, Cody Garbrandt stepped up as the next contender to the bantamweight title.
Many assumed a victory for the Dominator was a foregone conclusion as Garbrandt was relatively inexperienced and throughout the build-up to UFC 207, Cruz verbally emasculated his opponent and had him fuming every five words or so. Experts predicted an emotional challenger winging haymakers and Cruz styling all over Garbrandt to another successful defense of his championship.
Headlined by Nunes versus Rousey, UFC 207 sold over a million PPV buys, and in the penultimate matchup, Garbrandt walked into the cage whilst carrying the failures and hopes of his team, and opposite to him stood Dominick Cruz, someone who had not lost in close to ten years. A lot of eyes were on UFC 207 and against the odds and naysayers; Garbrandt put up a clinic on Cruz unlike anything fight fans had witnessed before in the career of the bantamweight GOAT. The champion was bloodied in the second round and Garbrandt did not let up on the pressure, constantly swinging hooks and talking trash as Cruz attempted to make sense of what was going on.
After knocking Cruz down multiple times in the fourth round and showboating to the cheers of the crowd, Garbrandt was labeled as the next big star in the lighter-weight division. The storyline heading into the event was intriguing and the dominant victory led to people claiming that Garbrandt was the uncrowned GOAT at bantamweight and that he would continue to reign for as long as he pleased. Given his speed and power, the new champion was hailed as the second coming of Mike Tyson and after beating Cruz in a matchup tainted with bad blood and legitimate animosity, Garbrandt jumped right into a feud with bitter rival TJ Dillashaw and the story revolving around the upcoming contest was far more captivating than his plot with Cruz.
Dillashaw had a bad fall-out with the folks at TAM and Garbrandt was determined to shut up the former champion and uphold the honor of his gym. Before the two could lock horns inside the cage, Garbrandt and Dillashaw were rival coaches in one of the more memorable TUF seasons in recent memory. On the show, Garbrandt displayed that he truly was headed for stardom as his hot-tempered personality drew in viewers each time he popped up on the screen to yell at TJ.
The pairing was slated to co-headline another blockbuster card, UFC 217 headlined by GSP and Michael Bisping. Garbrandt was mere years into his UFC career and had already partaken in two blockbuster feuds and a victory against Dillashaw, a former champion, was sure to be monumental for the young career of Garbrandt. He was truly on the path to greatness and a lot of eyes were on Garbrandt, perhaps the greatest fighter TAM had ever produced.
Unfortunately, despite a good first round and a knockdown in the closing seconds, Dillashaw won the fight by knockout and the lasting image from the fight was Dillashaw screaming in the face of a concussed Garbrandt who had no idea where the hell he was.
The momentum of Garbrandt came crashing down and his aura dissipated, as TJ had knocked down his opponent twice in the second round to seal an emphatic victory. Many considered Cody as exposed as his meager striking defense and vulnerable chin were the main takeaways from the hotly anticipated fight.
UFC, for some reason, pushed a rematch between the duo and the same took place at UFC 227. The main highlight of the rematch was Garbrandt walking into the same punch, a right hook, three times over before collapsing to the mat in a heap. Dillashaw finished his rival in the first round this time and the hope for the resurgence fizzled out entirely. Garbrandt had now suffered two brutal knockout losses back to back and his potential as the next big star in the lighter weight division was buried six feet under.
Garbrandt Had All The Qualities Of A Star
Ever since capturing the title from the greatest bantamweight fighter in Dominick Cruz, Garbrandt has gone 1-5 in the past six outings in the octagon, and just recently, a move down to flyweight ended with another knock loss at UFC 269, at the hands of Kai Kara-France. Meanwhile, on the preliminary bout of the very same card, Dominick Cruz won a decision over Pedro Munhoz, the very same Munhoz who had finished Cody back in 2019. The fight community had unanimously declared Cruz as washed up and Garbrandt as GOAT in the making but currently, Garbrandt might very well be cut in the coming year. Worse of all, his stellar victory over Cruz is now seen as a fluke and forever tainted moving forward.
Garbrandt was almost destined at one point in time. The guy went from unranked to world champion in one calendar year and he did so in style, beating Cruz at his own game and hoisting the title to the cheers of a crowd who had witnessed the birth of a dominant champion. His star was on the rise as he constantly feuded with TJ Dillashaw throughout his stint as a coach on TUF but as McGregor has often said, fighting is a ruthless and cruel business with some of the most bizarre twists of fate.
With his hopes dashed at the flyweight division, Garbrandt is out of options in the cruel game and possibly looking at the end of the road for his career, at least in the UFC. His rise in the sport was meteoric but his fall was just as swift and twice as brutal as his wake of destruction towards the championship. Suffice to say, Garbrandt will never capture UFC gold as he had promised after his initial loss
Mixed Martial Arts is a mad, mad, MAD world and Cody Garbrandt is the latest victim in the long list of them. The rise was inspiring and hopeful while the demise was tragic and heartbreaking. Just another day in the realm of combat sports.