It’s one thing to lose, it’s another thing to lose in essentially identical fashion three consecutive times.
Cody Garbrandt was on top of the men’s bantamweight world at UFC 207, after he unseated Dominick Cruz as champion and became the first man to defeat the ‘Dominator’ at 135 lbs. His knockout power and exciting style seemed to resonate well with fight fans, and it certainly resonated with Dana White — who declared a month prior to his UFC 217 showdown with T.J. Dillashaw that Garbrandt “could be the next big star.”
Garbrandt hasn’t won a fight since, all while showcasing himself as Exhibit A in the famous adage, that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
Admittedly, he came close to winning against Dillashaw in their first matchup; nearly knocking the current champ out at the end of round one. But, from round two of Dillashaw I to round one of Pedro Munhoz at UFC 235, the tables have turned and he’s been the one who’s constantly getting dropped and stopped.
Watch this GIF and tell me if you see a pattern to Cody’s losses. I’m no striking expert, but swinging power shots and leaving your chin wide open to be smacked by oncoming right hands over and over again is ill-advised — especially for someone with a supposedly good amateur boxing background. This is the guy who wanted to fight Mikey Garcia? After Munhoz finished Garbrandt, Joe Rogan didn’t even hide his complete amazement and shock that Cody jumped right back into Lake Non-Success.
Perhaps most concerning, fans can even go all the way back to 2012 to find Garbrandt getting smoked by Jerrell Hodge in amateur MMA. The decisive punch? Take a guess.
At least in this instance, Garbrandt didn’t get clocked due to his seemingly irrepressible urge to stand in the pocket and go to war. But that particular punch gave him a problem before he ever turned professional, and it’s followed him to the elite level of one of the most stacked divisions in the UFC.
I don’t think it’s a secret that the UFC brass have pushed for Cody to be a superstar. At least to recent knowledge, he’s one of the few fighters repped by WME. A fact that may have helped him get that immediate rematch with TJ. Even during this most recent fight week, ESPN had a commercial voiced over by Dana White, who talked up Garbrandt as ready to make his way back to the title. There was no mention of his opponent; as if to suggest an otherwise outstanding fighter in Munhoz was a total afterthought, brought in to get dunked on.
Now Garbrandt finds his career on unsteady ground, and at this point it’s more than fair to question his overall run of success in the UFC. He definitely didn’t “fight dumb” against Dominick Cruz — and indeed that is not some minor accomplishment to scoff at. But, Cruz admitted to fighting injured then and has accrued even more injuries over the years, all while competing zero times. Cruz’s lack of power and Garbrandt’s speed and sturdy takedown defense likely also suggest that ‘No Love’ is just not a good stylistic matchup for Dominick.
As for Garbrandt’s other wins? Thomas Almeida was a legitimately good prospect vs. prospect victory at the time, but it’s aged poorly — Almeida has similarly been found out as a guy who delivers great action and practically no defense. The Brazilian striker, at this point, has zero wins against anyone who’s currently in the UFC. Takeya Mizugaki was wiped out in under a minute, but he’s 2-6 in his last eight, out of the UFC, and has historically been a poor starter even dating back to his WEC career. Augusto Mendes was a short notice replacement and is no longer in the UFC after a 1-2 record and a USADA violation. Henry Briones, who lasted the distance with Garbrandt, is 1-4 in the UFC and presumably will be cut/has already been cut. Marcus Brimage is also no longer in the UFC, hasn’t fought since 2016, and lost both of his post-UFC bouts to extend his losing streak to four.
Essentially, the Cruz performance is effectively the entirety of his resume as a top-tier bantamweight. And the division has only gotten stronger over the years. Would anyone be confident in picking Garbrandt against Marlon Moraes? Petr Yan? John Lineker? I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t even rule out Jimmie Rivera in that list (who’s not much of a finisher and hasn’t mounted a whole lot of offense in his last three fights) to potentially trouble the 27-year-old.
Can Garbrandt correct his consistently and damn near comical fatal flaw and get his career back on track? I suppose so. That could involve a camp switch, a sports psychologist, anything it takes to get him to stop gleefully pressing the self-destruct button. I’m not buying the “headbutt put me on autopilot” reasoning vs. Munhoz given he did the same thing against Dillashaw twice. However, there is also the distinct possibility that Garbrandt’s tendency to be an emotional flail-er is simply not fixable, and this is who he is and will always be. We just didn’t have enough data points to prove this was the case until this string of deja vu defeats.
Unless the UFC feels extra reckless with its matchmaking – just for the sheer want of a guy they’ve marketed considerably to be in the title picture ASAP – Garbrandt’s immediate future ought to involve a significant step down in competition. From there, we’ll inevitably find out if Cody can indeed adjust and learn from past mistakes, or if he really is just the MMA equivalent of a one-hit wonder.