There was a sense of calm around Cody Garbrandt as he landed the hook that shut off Raphael Assuncao on Saturday at UFC 250. It was as if he was so in the moment, seeing everything with such clarity as he laid out his Brazilian foe with a wicked counter on the buzzer at the end of round two.
The serenity which “No Love” showed could be put down to his work with Mark Henry and Ricardo Almeida in New Jersey, as the 25-year-old also stuck with Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California.
When Garbrandt slipped to three knockout defeats in his prior fights between 2017 and 2019, that level of Zen was a long way away as he stomped into the Octagon, trading hellacious blows as he was knocked out by TJ Dillashaw (twice) and Pedro Munhoz.
Still, as the Ohio native put it in UFC 250 Countdown, this is “Cody Garbrandt V2.0.” The latest version features none of the mean-mugging and bravado which sullied his slump in form. On Saturday he was as cool and calculated as it gets, befuddling Assuncao with low kicks and a rapid one-two.
“All week my coaches were saying all of my knockouts come from inside shots,” said Garbrandt at the post-fight press conference, discussing his clinical walk-off KO. “I stayed calm and waited for Assuncao to open up. We worked on getting back to myself, not being in front of someone. It felt so good to be in sync with the coaches. I got the speed, I got the power, I got the vision… I don’t need to stand in front of these guys and brawl and put on a show.”
Henry was the conductor and Garbrandt was the performer, hitting every note and nailing every beat with aplomb. Many commend Henry for his attention to detail in terms of fakes, feints, and the guard, and although we’ve always known Garbrandt is an excellent boxer, it was heartening to see him iron out the flaws in his defense and mindset.
In that sense, it provides a shock to remember that the American is still only 28, with plenty of time left to improve after holding the bantamweight crown in 2016 before running into Dillashaw. He won the 135-pound strap against Dominick Cruz when he picked off the Californian and showboated en route to a unanimous decision.
In all honesty, that should have been the start of a magnificent reign for Garbrandt, but now that the rejuvenated version has his seventh win in the UFC, he has set his sights on Petr Yan, the tricky Russian who is primed to face Jose Aldo for the vacant title. “There’s only one name I want to fight on Fight Island and that’s Petr Yan, so Dana, I’m healthy, I’m ready, I want that world championship back. I’ll go through whoever they want me to go through but it’s inevitable it’s mine.”
However, Aljamain Sterling should be the number one contender after clamping on a rear-naked choke against Cody Sandhagen on Saturday. An alternative opponent could be Marlon Moraes who is ranked number one and unbooked. Indeed, given Garbrandt’s single-mindedness and execution when it mattered on Saturday, he could cause anyone in the top ten problems.
He started round one totting up points with calf kicks on the inside and outside, opening up a little more with a few lovely high kicks to the delight of Henry. Between rounds, the New Jersey coach called for an emotionless mind-state and more kicks and eventually his charge was as focused, professional and devastatingly effective as we’ve ever seen him.
Peppering his man with two-piece combinations and a stunning overhand right, Garbrandt retreated in the final seconds of round two. Expertly, he telegraphed with a long, looping hook which detonated into Assuncao’s face. As the American Top Team man fell stiff to the canvas, Garbrandt walked away as casually as you like.
Although it was a one-punch conclusion that Mark Hunt, Francis Ngannou or Johny Hendricks would have been proud of, maybe the original edition of Garbrandt would have celebrated with more chest-thumping bravado, so high on rage as he was back then. Instead, he strolled across the cage and high-fived his corner, smiling softly after his tenth career victory by knockout. After all, this is modern-day Garbrandt – an altogether more grounded and level-headed fighter.