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Maddux Maple -- Cody Garbrandt’s young muse -- to realize a dream at UFC 189

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Christopher Nolan, MetCon Photos, LLC

In January, after bantamweight Cody Garbrandt made good in his UFC debut against Marcus Brimage at UFC 182, he dedicated his performance to a little boy in the audience who had battled leukemia for the last three-and-a-half years. That boy’s name was Maddux Maple. He was at the MGM Grand that night with his father, Mic, to watch his hero realize a dream.

It was a storybook set-up, though, in which the triumph very poignantly extended both ways. While living in the small-town of Uhrichsville, Ohio, there had been a promise between Garbrandt and Maddux Maple that went like this: If Maddux promised to beat cancer, Garbrandt promised he would make it to the UFC. Garbrandt had been a troubled youth who found his inspiration in Maddux. Maddux saw the local fighter Garbrandt as a hero.

They made the pact.

Both incredibly lived up to their ends of the bargain, which you can read about here. Maddux’s leukemia is in remission, and Garbrandt made it to the UFC. In that story, Maddux’s father said that his son’s ultimate dream was to one day walk Garbrandt out to the Octagon.

Well, that dream will be realized on July 11, when Garbrandt will take on Enrique Briones at UFC 189. Mic Maple told MMA Fighting that Maddux, who just turned nine in April, will accompany Garbrandt to the cage at the very same venue where the two "brothers" -- the boy and the fighter, one indistinguishable from the other -- upheld their promises to each other.

On Friday, Garbrandt told MMA Fighting how thrilled Maddux was when he heard the news.

"We were sitting on the couch when I told him, and his face got all beet red," Garbrandt said. "He smiled so big, like the biggest smile I’ve ever seen on a kid, like seeing a kid get his ultimate gift. He just grabbed me and was just so thankful and so excited. He gave me a big ol’ hug."

The person who ended up making it happen was UFC matchmaker, Sean Shelby, who caught wind of the story.

"Sean hit me up after the article came out and said I’m going to see if we can get Maddux to walkout for your next fight whenever that is, as that’s one of his dreams that he wanted to do," Garbrandt said. "Sean took it and made it all come to fruition. So, obviously I got the fight. As soon as the fight was landed with Enrique, he said hey, don’t worry, I’m working on getting Maddux to walk you out. So he took the initiative to make it a priority to make it happen."

Back in January, when the 23-year-old Garbrandt defeated Brimage and made the dedication, little did people know that Maddux was actually struggling. A video showed his reaction to the fight, but the whole week he was in Vegas was a tumultuous. Right at the heightened moment of so much coming together in his young life, the fear breaking over the mood was that he might be sick again.

"It was kept under wraps, but they thought his leukemia came back a week before they left [for the fight]," Garbrandt said. "He was sick the whole time, so we didn’t get to do much because he couldn’t walk. I had to push him around in a wheelchair, and he was a little embarrassed about being in it. But we made it fun. I said, I’ll push you, so we were popping wheelies and going off all over the MGM."

Fortunately for Maddux, whom doctors are monitoring closely and checking every Thursday, it was a false alarm. With everything okay, he’s not about to miss the opportunity to walk Garbrandt to the Octagon.

"It was great of the UFC to do this, especially…man, I remember the days when Maddux couldn’t walk. It’s heart wrenching. To see how far he’s come, it’s just motivation for me. I know that I can accomplish anything in life after seeing him come from not being able to walk to now walking me to the cage. It’s amazing. It’s awesome."

That’s not all. Next time Maddux sees Cody, things will be a little different. When Maddux gets to Las Vegas in July, he’ll be given the added benefit of meeting Garbrandt’s new girlfriend -- UFC strawweight, Paige VanZant – whom he’s only heard about at this point. Garbrandt trains with VanZant at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, and has told each about the other.

"[Paige] hasn’t met him yet but she’s dying to," Garbrandt said. "She just thinks it’s great that we share that special bond. There’s so much to it. I gained a little brother from it, and she thinks it’s great. She’s very excited to meet him.

"Maddux’s dad showed him some pictures of Paige and stuff. And Maddux said, ‘is that Cody’s new girlfriend?’ And he said, ‘yeah, she’s a fighter, too.’ And he said, ‘wow, she’s hot!’ So I told Paige about it, and she thought it was the cutest thing. She’s excited to meet him, and she’ll get to do that in Vegas."