Cody Gibson understands history better than most, but that goes far beyond his day job teaching high school students in California.
The veteran bantamweight retired from MMA competition in 2017. He took on a full time job at Arroyo Grande High School, where he teaches AP U.S. history. But his desire to compete was just too great to keep him sidelined for very long.
Less than one year after calling it a career, Gibson returned with a newfound determination that he was going to make one final run while in the prime of his athletic career.
Since then, he’s gone 3-0, including a unanimous decision win over two-time UFC title challenger John Dodson, and he’ll seek another high-profile win against Ray Borg when they clash at Eagle FC 44 on Friday.
All that said, Gibson can look to the past to see a very short list of fighters who have competed at the top of the sport in their late 30s, which is why he’s hoping one more victory will earn him a long-awaited call from the UFC or Bellator MMA
“The reality is I’m 34 years old – I can’t take the slow road, the slow approach,” Gibson explained when speaking to MMA Fighting. “Throw me into the wolves. Throw me in there with the up and coming killer that’s supposed to be the next big thing, and I’ll sink or swim. I’m just looking for the opportunity.”
In his previous run with the UFC, Gibson went 1-3 before bouncing out of the promotion and returning to compete on the regional fight circuit. Gibson barely recognizes himself in those fights from 2014 and 2015, because he can immediately see the biggest flaw that prevented him from finding success.
“I had four fights in the UFC over the course of two years essentially, and I just didn’t have a lot of confidence,” Gibson said. “I didn’t come from a big gym. I didn’t have a lot of people around me who had been there, who had done it. I questioned myself a lot about whether I belonged there and whether I was good enough to be there.”
Since returning from retirement, Gibson hasn’t faced those same kind of internal inadequacies, because he’s started to surround himself with the coaches and teammates capable of getting him ready for fights at the UFC level. Perhaps more importantly, he has matured as a combatant.
“You always look at the field of competitors, and I remember this from high school, you always think the guys above you are so good,” Gibson explained. “They’re so good. I just want to be as good as they are. Having realization and looking back I’m like ‘that kid [above me] wasn’t that good. I know he was a state champion or whatever, but let’s go back and look at that kid’s matches, and he wasn’t as good as I thought he was.’
“For me, it was that realization that I can compete at the highest level against all these guys.”
Like many UFC veterans who left the organization with an immediate determination to return, Gibson struggled at times to find opponents willing to face him. He’s a hard-nosed wrestler with a tough style that many young prospects will try to avoid. Thankfully, he was able to face Dodson this past October, and now he draws Borg on Friday night.
He believes a win should be the last hurdle he has to clear.
“I look at my weight class, typically guys have trouble sticking around into their 30s as opposed to the heavier guys, usually because how much of it is speed and athleticism and obviously a ton of technique is involved as well,” Gibson said. “But I really look at it that way.
“I have a good two to three years left to theoretically have it in me to make any sort of run towards real ranking or real money, and so let’s do it. I’ve pretty much have given up on any kind of social life, and outside of teaching and fighting and being a dad and husband, that’s my life. I’m going to ride it as far as I can.”