Cody Garbrandt had always dreamed of being a world champion, and at UFC 207 in December, he achieved his goal, beating Dominick Cruz in a unanimous decision.
“I really had fun,” the 25-year-old Garbrandt said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “It was something I had dreamed of for over a decade, to be in there and fight for the title, fight against Dominick Cruz. And then to have Dana White strap the belt around my waist, it was amazing. But the people I met on the journey, that came into my life and are positive influences, it was much more rewarding than I ever thought it was going to be in my wildest dreams. I always pictured myself being world champion, but the journey is what I really fell in love with. Meeting the people that I did along the journey and then seeing how happy and exciting they were for me made it so much more rewarding. I couldn’t even put it into words.”
Garbrandt (11-0), at times, toyed with Cruz, focusing more on inflicting punishment than going for the knockout.
“I could have finished him a few times, but I was enjoying just beating up on him,” he said. “He made this fight very personal. That’s what he tries to do. He tries to antagonize his opponents to get them emotional, but the way I was brought up in fighting and in life, words and that stuff’s not going to deter me from my ultimate goal (of) being a world champion. It just added fuel to the fire and made me enjoy whopping his ass like that.”
That was just the second decision victory of Garbrandt’s career. The other nine came via knockout.
“I don’t have to prove anything to anybody,” he said. “I really don’t. Just to myself. I’m my toughest critic and my toughest opponent. I went out there and pushed the pace and had fun. I took the whole fifth round off and just evaded and did moves. I knew I was up on the scorecard. I was just living in the moment, having fun in there, enjoying it. Twenty-five minutes of fun. It was the funnest fight I’ve ever been in.”
With Conor McGregor taking some time off, Garbrandt could become the next UFC superstar. But the Ohio native isn’t focused on that.
“I’m not going to put myself in Conor’s shoes,” Garbrandt said. “I set out to be the best fighter that I can be with my skills. I’m willing to do what I have to do to become that so-called superstar, but for me, it’s about a legacy. Building a legacy and going in there and challenging myself every day in camp, training, and challenging myself in some of the toughest fights. That’s why I called out Jose Aldo. He’s a legend. He’s a great fighter. It’s another challenge. But I’ve never seen that side of it. I always pictured being the best fighter I can. All the other stuff is just a plus. I’m focused on being the best. I want to go down in the Hall of Fame and break a lot of records and set a lot of records to be broken so the next generation has something to aim for like I did with Dominick. Dominick was a dominant champion and he was the champion for a while and he’s what I had my eyes set on, to beat him. I want to set records and have people coming after me and hopefully be a better fighter and a better person that I am.”
Garbrandt can’t match McGregor on the mic – no one can – but it’s something he’s working on.
“I feel like I’m getting better on the mic,” he said, “but I’m always going to be who I am. I wear my heart on my sleeve. People think it’s emotional. It’s passion. I speak with passion and I speak with realness. I think a lot of people in this world are fake. They don’t know how to act towards realness because the world we live in is really fake. There’s a lot of fake people. So when you come around that, I think people are turned off – not turned off, but they don’t know. They’re questionable about it until they get to know me. That’s fine. I’m ready to share my story across the world and hope I can inspire some people on the way.”