Despite his 7-0 record as a professional mixed martial artist, UFC bantamweight Cody Garbrandt knows he can reach another level inside the cage.
Ahead of his Feb. 21 UFC Fight Night 82 showdown against John Lineker (26-7) in Pittsburgh, the 24-year-old "No Love" will cross-train at high altitude in Albuquerque alongside noted coaches Brandon "Six Gun" Gibson, Mike Winkeljohn and Greg Jackson.
"I’m going to go out there in January, probably do a few weeks there, come back here [Sacramento] for a few weeks, then go back again for a few weeks, go back and forth," Garbrandt told MMAFighting.com. "I really like Brandon 'Six Gun' [Gibson]. His technique, his motivation, and his training...I believe in him, and he believes in me."
In splitting time between his home base at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento and Albuquerque, Garbrandt aims to create the ultimate environment for success – one defined by discomfort and evolution. By refusing to nail down a set, day-to-day routine that allows him to coast, Garbrandt feels he will ascend to a new level on fight night in Pittsburgh.
"In this sport, I believe it’s about not being comfortable," Garbrandt said. "To get to those next levels, you have to take yourself out of your comfort zone. I believe that going and getting different looks will help me get better and better...With another nine weeks of training under the tutelage of Brandon and those guys, I’m very excited to come home – it's basically a homecoming – and put on a performance of a lifetime.
"That’s what I’m going to do. I’m taking myself out of my comfort zone so I can go in there and just run through John Lineker, make a statement that I am the real deal in the division, that I am the future of the division. That’s my goal. My goal is to be the champion of the world, and that’s what I’ll set myself up to do."
With the recent departure of UFC bantamweight T.J. Dillashaw from Team Alpha Male, Garbrandt recognizes how the situation could look to an outsider. "No Love," however, maintains that this plan has been on the books for months now. Gibson made a brief stop in Sacramento to help "No Love" train for his UFC 189 bout against Henry Briones in July, and the situation has been cleared with team Founder Urijah Faber in advance.
"Me and Urijah, we’ve each spoken about this way before the whole T.J. situation went down," Garbrandt said. "I was actually planning on going to Albuquerque way long ago, and then the T.J. situation happened, so it was just bad timing.
"I was just up front about it. I was like, ‘Hey, here’s what it is. It’s either me going out there and cross-training out there or me going out and moving out there.’ Urijah’s never told us he doesn’t want us to go out and do things like this. He wants us to get out and challenge ourselves. He’s an advocate for growing and learning as a martial artist."
Alongside the benefits earned by cross-training with some of the sport's most respected minds, Garbrandt expects the hometown reception Feb. 21 to weigh significantly in his favor. Raised in Tuscarawas County in Eastern Ohio, Garbrandt fought several times in the Steel City before getting the call to join the UFC's roster. A native to the region, "No Love" says this hometown advantage will provide just another layer to what is primed to be the most memorable performance of his young career.
"One matchmaker I worked with for [regional promotion] Pinnacle [Fighting Championships] told me the UFC was coming to Consol Energy Center, and I lived right over the hill from there in Pittsburgh," Garbrandt said. "I’d go past that place every day, and so I was like, man, I’ll wait until February. I wanted to get out [and fight] in January, but I’ve been training, getting better, going all over the United States to get all this training and these different looks. I was in this offseason, this down-time between fights, but I haven’t been on my couch.
"I’ve been super motivated to get better. I was patiently waiting for a fight and now’s the perfect time to have a fight, especially coming to Pittsburgh. A lot of people from my hometown are making the voyage over there. It’s only like an hour away. It’s going to be great to be able to fight in front of the hometown again. I didn’t think it’d be possible for a while, so I’m very blessed for the opportunity the UFC’s given me here."
Standing in the way of Garbrandt's almost too-good-to-be-true scenario of fighting on the sport's biggest stage in front of those who propelled him throughout him amateur and early professional career is the man they call "Hands of Stone."
Lineker, a former flyweight, finished 12 of his 26 victories with strikes, earning him a reputation as the division's heaviest hitter. After weight-cutting issues forced him 10 pounds north to bantamweight, Lineker proved the power stayed with him, submitting Francisco Rivera after battering him with strikes just two minutes into their UFC 191 affair.
To Garbrandt, the threat Lineker poses is not something to fear. It's a source of motivation.
"I like it, man. I like to see that he does pose a threat," Garbrandt said. "It makes me put in the extra work. It makes me get up, take the bumps and bruises, and put that work in...Look at Jose Aldo, one of the best fighters in the world. Anything can happen, especially with four-ounce gloves on. But I’m going to train myself – mentally and physically – to be ready Feb. 21 for the best John Lineker anybody’s ever seen. I want John Lineker to have the best training camp ever."
When the cage door closes and the lights go down inside the Consol Energy Center, Garbrandt see Lineker's brawl-first tendencies as the beginning of the end for the Brazilian.
"There’s nothing better to challenge yourself against than a heavy-handed striker like John Lineker. But, I mean, he’s a brawler. That’s it. He’s a brawler," Garbrandt said. "He gets sucked into those brawls. Anybody can take you out in a brawl, obviously. It’s a four-ounce glove, so that can happen. I’m going to make this guy miss so many times, he’ll look like a godd--n fool in there.
"When I knock him out – when I finish John Lineker – people are going to know I’m legit. In that fight, I get the opportunity to prove the hype is real, and that’s what I’m going to do on Feb. 21...It’s going to be a bad day to fight me, I know that."