Six UFC fights and just over two years is all it took for Cody Garbrandt to capture a UFC title.
Impressive, considering that’s how long the tornado that is Conor McGregor took to grab his first UFC belt.
Even more impressive is the fact that Garbrandt took the title from the great Dominick Cruz in a dominant decision win. Now, just two fights and two defeats later he stares into the abyss, seemingly slipping into irrelevance in a division he so recently rode roughshod over.
If the first loss to former Team Alpha Male colleague and now bitter rival, TJ Dillashaw, derailed Garbrandt, then the second loss is even more devastating. Not only has it slammed the door shut on the rivalry, it has also robbed him of any chance at a bantamweight title shot for the foreseeable future.
Garbrandt’s unique predicament is that of too good to be a gatekeeper, but not quite good enough to be a champion. He is, in effect, stuck in MMA purgatory until the man who sent him there is dethroned.
Unfortunately for “No Love”, it doesn’t look like anyone will be able to usurp Dillashaw for a long, long time.
Dominick Cruz stands the best chance, but two years on from his win over Dillashaw and a couple more injuries added to the list, even he may struggle to deal with the new King of the bantamweight division. Coupled with Dillashaw’s newfound punching power and it’s difficult to see an avenue to victory for “The Dominator”.
That being said, all is not completely lost for a man of Garbrandt’s undoubted talent. A venture outside of TJ Dillashaw and the bantamweight division might be the best way for the former champ to come back to relevance. The beauty of a divisional change is that he has not one, but potentially two divisions to choose from.
Ability aside, sometimes the main barrier to a fighter moving up or down in weight is their physical limitations. Think of Anthony Pettis’ move to featherweight, where he suffered a bad weight cut before his fight with Max Holloway, going on to miss weight, lose the fight and hightail it back to lightweight.
In other cases, the fighter may simply be too small to move up in weight, such as Demetrious Johnson when he took on Dominick Cruz at bantamweight in 2011. The skills were there, but the physical ability wasn’t.
We sometimes even see that with fighters in their own division, with the likes of Darren Till struggling to hit the mark at welterweight.
At 5ft 8ins tall, “No Love” has the height to make a move up to the featherweight division and remain a physical threat.
Consider that four of the top six ranked featherweights (Jose Aldo, Frankie Edgar, Cub Swanson and Chad Mendes) are under 5’8, while the other two (Brian Ortega and Jeremy Stephens) are the same height as Garbrandt, and it’s clear that he would not be undersized.
It also makes sense from a career perspective, where he could plough a new furrow in a division chock full of stellar names and have a chance at becoming a two-weight world champion.
Already a quick bantamweight, he’d have a distinct speed advantage, but would his explosive power translate up a weight class? While we don’t know until he steps in and throws his first shot in anger, the same question was asked of McGregor, Daniel Cormier and Anthony “Rumble” Johnson in recent years, and the answer was always the same: absolutely!
Not quite as straightforward as featherweight since it’s not yet been proven that Garbrandt could make the 125lb limit, but he has previously indicated an interest in dropping down to fight then-champ Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson for the strap. Assuming Garbrandt could make the weight, a fight with Johnson may still be on the cards, albeit under less prestigious circumstances.
However, ‘Mighty Mouse’ is reportedly nursing knee and ankle injuries following his loss to Henry Cejudo and will likely demand a rematch for the title off the back of a record-breaking run as champion.
Johnson aside, there are still some fascinating fights available at flyweight with Sergio Pettis, Joseph Benavidez and Ray Borg all willing and able contenders. He may lose some of his speed advantage, but there can be no doubt he would possess more than anyone in the entire flyweight division if he decided to drop down.
As bleak a situation as this is for Cody Garbrandt, he is far from finished and has both the ability and star power to get his UFC career back on track. With all roads in the bantamweight division leading back to a highly improbable trilogy fight with TJ Dillashaw, changing divisions may be the best way to climb the mountain again.
Anthony Hayde, Pundit Arena