'The hunger is back' Cody Garbrandt strides confidently into the last chance saloon

The former bantamweight king takes on Raphael Assuncao in one of three 135lb features on the main card at UFC 250 seeking to rebuild after a torrid trio of losses.

By George Mills Published: 4 September 2020 - 3.11pm

Cody Garbrandt

Raphael Assuncao

The 28-year-old is hoping to reverse a three-fight losing skid when he takes on Raphael Assuncao at UFC 250 this weekend

You’d be hard pressed to find a more brutal fall from grace in the UFC than that of Cody Garbrandt.

Winless since stylishly dismantling Dominick Cruz for the bantamweight crown in December 2016, ‘No Love’ will enter the Octagon on Saturday night seeking to end a run of three losses that has seen him slide to ninth in the UFC rankings.

Profile

  • Born 7 July 1991 in Ohio, US
  • Was a talented gridiron star and wrestler during high school
  • Compiled an impressive 32-0 amateur boxing record
  • Worked as a bouncer and a coal miner before committing to MMA
  • Won by KO nine times in 14 fights
  • Former UFC bantamweight champion 

A pair of stoppage defeats to TJ Dillashaw – with whom Garbrandt’s bitter rivalry became UFC infamy – only served to magnify the sting of surrendering his championship at the first time of asking.

During the build-up to both fights against Dillashaw, Garbrandt frequently alluded to his former Team Alpha Male stablemate’s alleged use of banned substances.

“I think I held onto that for too long,” the 28-year-old admitted during a conversation with ESPN’s Brett Okamoto in April.

“It played too much of a role in my performances against TJ and it cost me. People can say it was that and it was that but ultimately it was my decision making in there and I was not focused out of anger.”

The injustice of those defeats inflicted an emotional wound that the 28-year-old admits he carried even into last year’s Fight of the Night loss against Pedro Munhoz.

“I learned a lot from that fight [Dillahaw]. And still even in the Pedro [Munhoz] fight it was the same s***,” he added.

“I love a good, old-fashioned knuckle fight”
- Cody Garbrandt

“That’s why I took a step back and looked at what I was doing and how I was training.”

Knowing change was needed in order to address his alarming reversal in fortunes, Garbrandt made the difficult decision to change camps, departing Team Alpha Male in California for Mark Henry’s gym in New Jersey.

“I was too comfortable,” the 11-3 fighter explained.

“I needed to get out there and get on my own and seclude myself in New Jersey in the dead of winter. Who wants to leave California for New Jersey in the dead of winter? Nobody. But I knew I had to do this and wanted to do this.”

Cody Garbrandt fighting TJ Dillashaw for the second time
Garbrandt dropped back-to-back defeats against fierce rival TJ Dillashaw

Henry is famed for long-standing relationship with ex-UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar but also counts the likes of Eddie Alvarez, Claudio Gadelha, Cory Anderson, Marlon Moraes and Zabit Magomedsharipov among his past and present pupils.

Prinicipally among Henry’s duties will be the desire to help Garbrandt improve on both his fight IQ and his defence, two attributes that many suggest cost him in both his first fight with Dillashaw and his most recent loss to Munhoz.

At times in both fights, Garbrandt had his opponent hurt before being punished for his recklessness – something the Ohio native has worked hard to remedy in partnership with his new coach.

3
Consecutive KO losses

“I don’t need to loop punches. I don’t need to. I just love that s*** sometimes, a good old-fashioned knuckle fight. But I can dissect people technically and take them out so I’m excited for the future to be able to showcase a lot of my skills and hard work.

“The past is behind me. I honestly wake up every day and feel blessed it’s a new day. I’ve got air in my lungs and love in my heart and that’s all I need to go out there and put the work in. it will pay off.”

Speaking on BT Sport Open Mat this week, MMA analyst and one-time UFC welterweight title challenger Dan Hardy explained how Assuncao might present a less complex puzzle to solve than some of his previous opponents.

“[Assuncao] has not got the erratic movement like some of the opponents he [Garbrandt] has faced in TJ Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz,” the 38-year-old said.

“He’s far more calculated, Asssuncao. He’s also got an excellent ground game. I would say because he’s on the smaller side of the division, he’s probably got the speed advantage as well.

“This is going to be a test of patience for Cody Garbrandt”
- Dan Hardy

“This is going to be a test of patience for Cody Garbrandt. The challenge for him here is because he has been out for so long, you step into the Octagon after that amount of time off and you’ve got to deal with the anxiety, the jitters again potentially, the pressure of having losses behind him.

“There are a lot of factors coming into this one that Garbrandt, psychologically, has got to manage. I think that is the biggest challenge because he has got the skills to beat Assuncao, just like Assuncao has the skills to beat Garbrandt.

“But if Garbrandt shows up like he did against Cruz; calm, collected, lets the fight come to him and picks his shots – he knows he’s got heavy hands when he lands – I think he’ll be good. It’s just a big challenge psychologically.”

Already forced to navigate the challenges of competing as an athlete in the Covid-19 era, Garbrandt’s preparations were further hindered during fight camp after he was hospitalised twice.

A staph infection on his shin laid out Garbrandt’s immune system, paving the way for a nasty kidney infection that forced the postponement of his fight against Assuncao from its original March 12 date.

Despite the rockiest of roads leading to Saturday night’s showdown at the UFC’s Apex Centre in Las Vegas, Garbrandt remains supremely confident of chalking up a well-overdue win, warning his rivals: “The hunger is back, the focus is back, the love is back.”

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