MMA is just about as crazy a sport as is realistically possible in this day and age. It’s completely unique in the sense that no matter what you may think going into a fight, there is virtually no way that you can ever be certain about what to expect when the octagon doors close, and for me last Friday’s UFC 207 closed out the year with a co-main event that – for lack of a better word – left me completely and utterly gobsmacked.
I’ll admit it straight out. I didn’t see Cody Garbrandt as a threat to Dominick Cruz.
And I certainly don’t mean that with any disrespect intended towards Garbrandt, but Cruz was simply just a level above all other contenders in the bantamweight division. His movement, his footwork and his fantastic in-octagon intelligence all combined to produce not only one of the best fighters in the division but also one of the best to ever partake in the sport, full stop.
Simply put, Cruz is one of my favourite fighters. If right this moment I were to produce a list of my top five MMA athletes on the planet, you can be damn sure his name would be included regardless of the outcome of last Friday’s fight.
Dominick is an innovator inside the octagon and a great mind for the sport outside of it. If I’m being honest, when the prospect Garbrandt was pegged to take on Cruz over five rounds, I thought it was too early.
Don’t get me wrong, ‘No Love’ is an animal. He messed up Takeya Mizugaki and Thomas Almeida in under a round in his last two fights, but still Cruz makes for a big step up in quality when compared to a declining veteran and a fellow up-and-comer.
What Garbrandt managed to do, and more importantly the manner in which he did it, was nothing short of spectacular, and ranks within the greatest individual performances ever seen in a title fight.
Cody went in there and put on a show. He made the leap up to the highest standard possible in MMA competition at an early point in his career and went out there and painted a picture. It was a tour-de-force.
He stood toe-to-toe with the champ and literally played into the strengths of his opponent simply to make a point. Common sense would tell you that if you’re facing someone as mobile as Cruz that a focus on pressure and octagon control would do wonders to cut off some of the movement of your adversary but Garbrandt, with a touch of attitude, motioned Cruz to stand in the middle of octagon with him, going as far as to make a point of giving Cruz all the space he needed to implement his patented style.
Cody went in there and demanded the best Cruz possible, simply to prove that he could beat him, and beat him comprehensively.
At 25, you can be sure that Garbrandt grew up watching the former WEC champion and of course, given his links to Team Alpha Male, matured into adulthood with Cruz’s dominance over his training partners as a constant.
Going into this fight, there was a lot of pressure on this young man to succeed. The Sacramento native walked into that octagon with the weight of a generation of Alpha Male fighters on his back, and I think that pressure lit a fire in him that he converted into pure brilliance on Friday night.
He taunted Cruz, he outmanoeuvred him and despite knocking him down on several occasions, never really made a full attempt to finish the contest, instead he used every opportunity he could to take Cruz out of his comfort zone. If you told me that 10-0 Garbrandt was going to come out at UFC 207 and make Cruz miss on countless occasions, take him down, showboat and just perform in the way he did over those five rounds, I’d tell you that you were crazy.
From the moment he first loosened up it just seemed as though something special was in the air. And though I will admit I was on my feet shouting for Cruz for most of the fight, from the early stages it was plain to see that it was the 25-year-old’s night.
Despite the fact that I gave him some stick in the buildup to the fight for what I perceived to be immaturity and hot-headedness, I tip my cap to him right now and admit that he surprised me and proved me wrong.
Apologies Cody Garbrandt, our new UFC bantamweight champion.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena