After plenty of bumps in the road, Cody Garbrandt is set to begin his flyweight journey.
The former UFC bantamweight champion fights Kai Kara-France this Saturday on the main card of UFC 269 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. It will be Garbrandt’s first fight at 125 pounds in the UFC, a move that was supposed to take place 13 months ago.
Garbrandt was scheduled to debut at flyweight in a championship fight against Deiveson Figueiredo, but he was forced out of the contest after testing positive for COVID-19. The past few years have seen the ex-bantamweight champ deal with numerous outside-of-the-cage setbacks, including severe symptoms from the virus, issues with his spine and kidney, and missing out on his UFC 255 title fight with Figueiredo last November. That’s not to mention the bantamweight bout he took in May that he lost to Rob Font via a lopsided unanimous decision.
At UFC 269 media day on Wednesday, Garbrandt explained how finally dropping down a division has renewed his passion and that he expects to be back on the championship path shortly.
“It’s been a crazy, wild rollercoaster of ups and downs, but I never lost my faith in myself and the confidence in myself that I would be back to being here, coming to fight week,” Garbrandt said. “I hate using this word ‘motivated’ so I’ll use ‘inspired’. I’m inspired for what’s about to take place Saturday night and that’s the flyweight takeover.”
“I’ve been inspired this whole entire camp to do something that a few people have done,” he later added. “Yes, I’ve been a world champion, a former world champion in a previous weight division, that’s a small percent of human beings being able to have that title to their name. But even a smaller percentage have gone to a different division and being a world champion as well, so I’m inspired by myself, but also a lot of people around me with what’s about to take place Saturday and that’s just the start of it.”
In Garbrandt’s absence, Figueiredo successfully defended his title against replacement Alex Perez and then battled Brandon Moreno to a majority draw in a five-round classic at UFC 256. Moreno would later defeat Figueiredo in their rematch and the two are now scheduled for a trilogy bout at UFC 270 in January.
Garbrandt favors Moreno, but looks forward to facing either fighter for the belt soon.
“I’m excited for whoever wins that fight,” Garbrandt said. “I feel confident whoever it is for my time to get my title shot at flyweight, that it’s destiny for me. Whoever is at the throne, a new king will be there.”
He added that should he get past Kara-France on Saturday, he’s already told UFC President Dana White that he will sign on to be a backup for the UFC 270 flyweight championship bout. He also isn’t closing the door on a return to bantamweight, though his focus is solely on the 125-pound division right now.
Dec. 30 marks the five-year anniversary of Garbrandt’s bantamweight championship win over Dominick Cruz. Now 30, Garbrandt reflected on how much has changed since that memorable performance, and why the time in between has only made him more confident that he can make history again.
“Five years is a long time to go through a career in the UFC,” Garbrandt said. “Life itself, five years, so much can change. There’s a lot of good and a lot of bad and a lot of learning experiences, a lot of growth. A lot of growth in those five years. I was 25 years old, dismantled one of the best bantamweights ever in a masterclass performance. I was sitting here, and there’s the same doubters that have those questions, ‘Can he do it again in a different weight division?’ I’ve done it once before, why can’t I do it again? ... I feel like when I was 25 years old, I focused on being a world champion, and I won the title and it wasn’t my focus after being a world champion. It was amazing, don’t get me wrong, it was great to be a world champion, but I almost felt, ‘What’s next?’
“I didn’t have that next goal, that next plan, that next vision, and at flyweight I know. I’m now 30 years old, five years later, I take the learning experiences of being a world champion and really value it. I didn’t value it. I had the belt in my closet, I lost it a couple of times. Now, I value it because it’s not that I need this to be my identity, but I value the hard work and the ups and downs and the things that you have to go through to be the best.”