Cody Garbrandt didn’t back down to the bully, and in the process, scored one of mixed martial arts’ most stunning championship performances in recent years.
The undefeated Garbrandt put in a superlative effort on Friday night at UFC 207, as he beat Dominick Cruz at his own game to claim the UFC bantamweight championship.
Garbrandt stuck and moved, landed heavy shots, and out-trash-talked one of the game’s greatest trash talkers in claiming a unanimous decision at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena.
The judges scores were a pair of 48-46s and a 48-47 in favor of Garbrandt.
Garbrandt set the tone for the fight in the opening round, as he mocked Cruz, taunted him, and matched the fighter who set the bar in this sport for superior footwork move for move. When Garbrandt wasn’t slipping Cruz’s punches he was moving forward and landing shots in combos.
Cruz had his best round in the second, as he was best able to impose his will. He avoided the bulk of Garbandt’s strikes and landed his most solid shots. But even then, it was a close round.
An accidental clash of heads early in the third round opened a gnarly cut over Cruz’s right eye. Garbrandt smelled blood and pushed forward, continuing to land punches and mixing it in with kicks. All the while, he continued to trash talk the master trash talker.
In the fourth, Garbandt picked up the pace even further. He landed hard shots, and at one point slipped several Cruz punches and then did a mocking breakdancing move. He pushed forward in the final minute and dropped Cruz three consecutive times, with Cruz likely being saved by the horn.
Cruz seemed to know he needed a finish in the fifth, but the opening never came.
Garbrandt (11-0) put a cap on a 4-0 year in 2016, and brought home the title to Sacramento’s Team Alpha Male, whose recently retired patriarch, Urijah Faber, lost to Cruz in June.
“I thrive in that environment, that’s what I grew up in, fighting,” Garbrandt said. “That’s all I know, hats off to Dominick for making me a better person and a better fighter. He’s a champion for a reason, he’s one of the best.”
Cruz, for his part, lost for the first time since a 2007 loss to Faber; had a 12-fight win streak snapped; and lost for the first time at 135 pounds.