Regaining a Championship Mindset with Cody Garbrandt

Cody “No Love” Garbrandt is the former Bantamweight Champion of the UFC – the most competitive mixed martial arts league in the world. Making his debut in 2015, Cody ran through his division, delivering devastating knockouts each time he stepped into the octagon.

At 25 years old, he found himself in the co-main event of UFC 207, fighting for the championship belt against arguably the greatest Bantamweight of all time, Dominick Cruz. The odds were against him. But during the 25-minute fight, Cody put on a clinic, knocking down Cruz twice and claiming the title.

Undefeated and undisputed.

But a career in the UFC is unforgiving, and almost no one comes out unscathed. Cody’s story is no different.

After winning the title, he suffered a series of losses and injuries and fell in the rankings. Setbacks in and out of the octagon didn’t just take away his Bantamweight title; it also jeopardized his championship mindset. But now, seven years after losing the belt, Cody “No Love” Garbrandt is back. Older. Wiser. Deadlier than ever.

So, we sat down with Cody to learn about his story and find out how he got back on the championship track.

Before the world title fights and sponsorship deals, Cody was a rambunctious kid who was no stranger to getting into trouble. His single mother put him and his brother in wrestling, where Cody had his first taste of combat sports and fell in love with it, becoming a state and national champion by his freshman year of high school.

Despite the success in wrestling, Cody had his eyes on another sport: boxing. Deemed off limits by his mother, he had to sneak off to gyms where he was certain his future lay, “I remember first putting boxing gloves on, and that’s what I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be a lawyer, a doctor, or anything like that…I wanted to be a fighter.”

No parental approval meant no competitive fighting. It wasn’t until a police officer approached his mother and encouraged her to put him in the sport to keep him from going down the wrong path. Cody got the approval….He became a fighter.

“When I got my first boxing match, I knocked the kid out in 49 seconds and just absolutely fell in love with it. I was like, man, this is so surreal, so primal, so [instinctual].”

Around the same time, the UFC was just becoming a mainstream sporting event. Cody saw mixed martial arts as an opportunity to blend his wrestling and boxing backgrounds, but more importantly, he saw making it to the UFC as a career path that those around him didn’t yet understand, “I had a lot of people saying not to do it. Peers. Teachers. Coaches. But I was like, man, I can do this.”

And he did, but not until enduring seven long years of fighting without pay. Cody’s pro-MMA debut came at twenty-one years old, earning a whopping $500 and a broken hand that required surgery.

Nonetheless, Cody was now a professional MMA fighter, “I understood early on that this life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. I’m here for the long run…My goals and aspirations were far greater than the people that were around me to where they thought I was psychotic because of the way I spoke and dreamed but also the way that I worked and trained and sacrificed. I knew what it was going to take to be at the highest level.”

Cody debuted in the UFC in 2015, and his trajectory to the top was a straight line. But he knew that the straight line was more like a tightrope. One wrong could send him back to the bottom of the mountain. So, when he finally won the championship belt, he could take a sigh of relief and reflect on the odds he had overcome, and he gave all the credit to his mother, his number one supporter.

“I think that’s all we need as humans: for someone that we love and we cherish, and we hold so close to our hearts that believes in us and supports us. That’s all I needed.”

Twenty-five years old. UFC World Champion. Cody had cemented his legacy in the sport. But shortly after winning the title, the first crack in his career reared its ugly head.

Before his first title defense against TJ Dillashaw, a former teammate turned bitter rival, Cody suffered a back injury. Instead of pulling out of the fight, he bit down and returned to the octagon five months after winning the belt.

At the end of the first round of the fight, Cody cracked Dillashaw, nearly finishing him seconds before the bell sounded. Dillashaw came back in the next round, knocking Cody out and stealing away the world title.

Cody lost three of his next four fights, including an immediate rematch with Dillashaw.

“I was all over the place besides where I needed to be. And my true love was fighting and training and just grinding the way I should, but obviously, a lot of outside forces to the injuries and other things deterred me away from that thought process, that mindset of the lifestyle of [being a] mixed martial artist.”

Having to navigate a divorce and be a father, all while competing in the UFC, left Cody in a whirlwind. Another massive blow to his comeback was parting ways with his head coach, who had walked away from the team. He had to reconsider and reframe everything that initially brought him success.

Cody knew if he were to climb his way back to the top of the division and regain control over his life, he needed to develop the coping skills he was never taught. So, he teamed up with a sports psychologist to find his centerground in and out of the octagon.

“I’ve been working with him now almost a year and a half, and it’s been phenomenal. He’s helped out a lot…We do little resets to keep me engaged in the octagon, inside training, inside life. So, it’s been a huge blessing to be able to work with him and just level up.”

The work Cody has put in has shown in his last performances. You don’t see that hot-headed, guns-a-blazing fighter who lost a few fights he maybe should have won if he had stayed cool. Now, we have a dialed-in Cody who’s doing the everyday work in his personal and professional life to give him an edge over the competition. “Each week, I write down my schedule, my training, what I’m doing. And each day, I come home after training, I check it…The works being done.”

In his last performance on December 16th, 2023, Cody fought on the UFC 296 card against Brain Kelleher, a veteran of the fight game and bona fide killer. In the lead-up to the fight, the MMA community wondered which Cody Garbrandt would show up and whether or not he still had it in him.

Cody dismantled Kelleher in the first round and reestablished himself once again as a future contender for the bantamweight title.

Getting his hand raised in spectacular fashion also put him in a position to call out his next opponent: the former champion Deiveson Figueiredo. Shortly after, Cody got his wish. The bout is now scheduled for the highly anticipated UFC 300 card.

If anyone is surprised by the resurgence of his career, it’s not Cody. Throughout the low points, he held onto a quote that kept the light burning at the end of the tunnel.

When I was losing, I was still smiling because I knew I would come back stronger.

“You’re never out of the fight as long as you know the comeback’s coming. It might not happen today, tomorrow, a month, six years, but it’s going to happen. If you truly believe in it, you’re never out of the fight.”

So, after years of slandering and questioning, Cody’s career is far from over. In fact, for him, it’s just getting started.

Cody is a testament to human will and resilience. Whether or not you’re a fighter, you can still take a page from his book. Champions aren’t born, they’re made. Where you are now or what you lost in the past doesn’t decide what you can achieve in the future. Cody’s story reminds us that true champions aren’t defined by their titles but by their ability to rise, evolve, and embrace the comeback with a smile.

A championship mindset is waiting for us all.