LAS VEGAS — At first glance, it might seem that 2020 was a great year for Cody Garbrandt. The former UFC bantamweight champion not only ended a three-bout losing streak, but he scored a Knockout of the Year candidate.
He also did enough in that victory over Raphael Assuncao to earn a shot at the flyweight title.
The year was a struggle for Garbrandt, though, in ways that are remarkable. He contracted COVID-19 that forced the cancellation of his title bout with Deiveson Figueiredo but also presented him with several significant health issues.
But even before he had COVID, Garbrandt’s health was a problem. Even leading into the Assuncao fight, he was having issues.
“What a year,” said Garbrandt, who on Saturday at Apex will face No. 3 Rob Font in an important bantamweight showdown in the main event of UFC Vegas 27.
To truly tell the story of Cody Garbrandt in 2020, though, it’s not as much about fighting in the cage as it is about fighting to stay healthy and, yes, fighting to stay alive.
Garbrandt developed pneumonia, and had a bad case of vertigo, mental fog and blood clots as side effects from COVID.
“It’s a bummer,” he said. “Worst time I probably could have had, but I look at it like if that’s the worst thing that happened to me, well, there are people losing their lives and their loved ones. It was tough, but I’ll heal from it. It was just one thing after another.”
Many months before he contracted COVID, Garbrandt developed a kidney infection. That forced him to postpone the fight with Assuncao, which was scheduled in March.
“I’ll never, ever take my health for granted again,” Garbrandt said. “I was in the hospital for seven days, hooked up to an IV, dripping in me every four hours. There were so many labs being drawn. [I learned] never to take health and being able to do the little things daily we do for granted.”
After the seven days in the hospital for the kidney infection, he went to the Cleveland Clinic for treatment. Then, right before the rescheduled Assuncao fight in June, the infection reappeared.
It affected his feet and he couldn’t walk. His doctor, who coordinated care for him all year, got him in to see an infectious disease expert in Sacramento, California.
She put him on antibiotics, but he was training for a fight. So for 10 consecutive days, he’d train, then head to a fusion center where he’d be connected to an IV and get antibiotics pumped into his body. Then, he’d go train again.
That happened the last two weeks before he stepped in to face Assuncao. He was going to do everything he could to avoid pulling out again. He had worked tirelessly to make himself a better fighter and wanted to get the opportunity to show what he’d learned.
There was, though, the small matter of his health. He said the infectious disease expert was phenomenal and helped him immensely.
“Leading up to the Assuncao fight, I knew that the love, the passion and the preparation were there and the hard work was being put in,” he said. “I just needed to get inside the Octagon. I needed to have those feelings of fear, anxiety, being anxious, nerves. I hadn’t felt that in so long. I was like, ‘Holy s***, I feel like I’m 14 again and getting in my first fight, my first boxing match.’ It was awesome.”
And he performed awesomely. He controlled the first round and then ducked under an Assuncao right and blasted him. It was a walk-off KO and gave him his first victory since he defeated Dominick Cruz on Dec. 30, 2016, to win the bantamweight title.
The win was wonderful, but he’d learned to appreciate the game more, the journey. Along the way, all the hardships he’d endured helped him to rediscover his passion for his job.
He has a big test in front of him on Saturday, but because he’s changed his focus and improved his preparation, he’s as confident as he’s ever been.
“Honestly man, I feel like what I’ve done in this camp to prepare — when opportunity meets preparation, it’s going to be a success — however I want this fight to end, finish, I know I’m going to be able to do it,” Garbrandt said. “I know I’ll be the most complete martial artist I’ve ever been when I step inside of an Octagon.”
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