Cody Garbrandt returns to his corner after losing the UFC Bantamweight Title Bout to TJ Dillashaw in one round during UFC 227

Cody Garbrandt is in the spot that former champions like Jose Aldo and Joanna Jedrzejczyk have also found themselves in, with two losses to the champion and no way to move upwards, but he’s also significantly less proven in the division than those two. Garbrandt’s title win over Dominick Cruz was a brilliant performance, but his path to the champion was somewhat questionable; knockouts over Almeida and Mizugaki allowed him to cut in front of the elite contenders to face Cruz. With Cruz’s constant injury issues, Garbrandt essentially has no relevant wins in the current landscape of the division; Cody has a point to prove going into his fight at UFC 235, and he’ll look to use his bout against Pedro Munhoz as an example of why he rocketed up the division in 2016.

Meanwhile, Pedro Munhoz has been quietly rising the ranks for a while now, with excellent wins over Rob Font and Bryan Caraway. “The Young Punisher” has looked sensational as a grappler and has shown off a vicious kicking game in his last two, losing only once in his last seven fights. Scheduled to be on a PPV main card for the first time in the UFC, Munhoz looks to bring his brand of violence to the former champion, and join the current bantamweight champion as the only fighters to professionally defeat Cody No Love.

No Love

Cody Garbrandt’s game is far deeper than it is broad; Garbrandt really only excels as a pocket boxer, but his ancillary skills do a good job funneling his opponents into the area of the fight where they can’t compete. Undefeated as an amateur boxer and undefeated on his road to the championship, Cody “No Love” became the last hope of Team Alpha Male to defeat a resurgent Dominick Cruz; Garbrandt delivered in sensational fashion, but two losses later, he needs a statement win to keep himself in the mix.

Garbrandt’s game is largely “wait for the other guy to swing, and then punch him until he stops functioning.” For an amateur boxer, Garbrandt’s arsenal is oddly narrow; his shot selection is largely limited to the 2-3 and the 3-2, but it worked until UFC 217 due to tight mechanics and insane speed. Garbrandt’s best-case scenario for a fight looks something like his sub-minute KO of Takeya Mizugaki, in which he was able to force exchanges out of his opponent at will and put him down with the first clean connection.

The Cruz performance wasn’t only surprising in the sense that a prospect off a lower-level win took out one of the most highly regarded bantamweights ever, it was also shocking in the sense that “quick KO artist without proven wrestling” seemed to be the perfect matchup for the elusive champion to shine. Garbrandt’s excellent scrambling allowed him to deny every one of Dominick Cruz’s reactive takedowns, and that left Cruz walking into the pocket without one of his primary threats to pit his loopy blows (better at long range when his opponent chases after him) against a faster and crisper puncher willing to wait on him.

As impressive as that performance was, Garbrandt didn’t really fight against type; standing in the pocket swinging 3-2s and 2-3s worked when Cruz didn’t have the fundamental soundness that Garbrandt did, and that allowed Garbrandt to showboat as Cruz swung his long hooks, counter cleanly, and follow Cruz out with flurries as he retreated. The same thing didn’t work against Dillashaw; TJ was able to hang in the pocket with Garbrandt, and that meant that he was able to feint and draw out the (relatively predictable) attack patterns of “No Love” to outdo him in exchanges. Also concerning was Garbrandt’s underdeveloped kick defense; while Garbrandt is one of the mechanically strongest boxers in the UFC, the narrowness of his game and his lack of adaptability meant that Dillashaw was able to outstrike him regardless.

The Young Punisher

Pedro Munhoz can be seen as the opposite of Cody Garbrandt in a lot of ways, most acutely as a promotional figure; while Garbrandt had a rocket strapped to his back at the first sign of legitimate promise, Munhoz has been struggling to be known as a top-level bantamweight despite win after win. In Garbrandt, “The Young Punisher” has a foe with name value to take advantage of, and a win would put him in the top 5 (and that’s a conservative estimate).

Initially, Munhoz was known as one of the best guillotine-snatchers in the entire sport; that reputation (deservedly) persists, and he’s added striking tools to his game that make him dangerous in every phase. Munhoz is still probably most comfortable as a grappler, but his best grappling moments against top-level fighters tend to be when he’s able to leverage his striking; the finish on Rob Font is the best example. Font definitely looked like the slicker and faster boxer in that fight, but Munhoz found real success when he pressured to force exchanges (even jabbing with a better jabber to push him back); eventually, Munhoz was able to feint a right hand to turn Font’s head with a big left hook, a hurt Font shot for the takedown, and Munhoz turned it into a mounted arm-trap guillotine in moments. Munhoz does tend to try to force the submission at times, even when he could win via other methods (the Johns beating might be the best example), but he’s still on the short list of fighters who could pull a guillotine from a dominant position (such as the back body lock, as he did against Russell Doane) without the decision being stupid.

What has come to the forefront in Munhoz’s last few fights has been an absolutely brutal kicking game. Munhoz tends to like exchanging, but his hands are heavy in every sense; while carrying good power for 135, they tend to be a bit slow to the mark (although his left hook is very good). Against Brett Johns, Munhoz was able to find some success throwing hands (flurrying into clinch knees), but the majority of his success came as a kicker; Munhoz started with counter leg kicks on Johns’ entries, and it eventually snowballed to every kick leading to severe visible damage (to the lead leg and to the body). This was even clearer in Munhoz’s destruction of Bryan Caraway; the front kick to the body did enough damage to lead to the stoppage, as Caraway shot desperately for no-hope takedowns. Munhoz is a ruthless and aggressive finisher, and while Garbrandt specifically requested him as a comeback fight, it is by no means an easy one.

Conclusions and Capping

The biggest obvious difference between these two fighters is raw speed; Cody Garbrandt is blisteringly quick with his hands and with his feet, where Munhoz is a bit more plodding and his hands are a bit more cumbersome. This makes a real difference especially in exchanges; where both have great left hooks, Cody’s speed allows him the edge in exchanges. Speed was really what made the difference in Munhoz’s fight against John Dodson; Dodson was pushed back relatively easily by Munhoz, but Dodson just threw a fast combination to force Munhoz into the defensive, stepped around him, and suddenly all that pressure was for nothing. Garbrandt could do a great deal with the tendencies Munhoz showed in that fight.

That said, Garbrandt hasn’t really shown the kick defense that allowed Dodson to stay as safe as he did against Munhoz. Dodson did a great deal of kick catching in that fight; particularly when Munhoz went to the body, Dodson was diligent early to catch the kick and elevate the leg to put Pedro off balance and keep him from kicking too aggressively. Munhoz is a dangerous-enough kicker that the threat has to be respected, and versatile enough that just blocking the shot won’t work for long; even against Dodson at a major speed disadvantage, Munhoz was able to use the leg kick to set up the head kick in the second round, and generally found some success keying on Dodson’s running blitzes to land counters. Outside kicking gave Garbrandt enough trouble against Dillashaw that Munhoz’s strong arsenal there could do a great deal of damage, and body/leg attrition could hand him the edge down the stretch (as it did against Brett Johns, who could barely stand due to Munhoz’s beatdown).

Also on Munhoz’s side is durability; Munhoz is an absolute tank (as shown in his fight against Jimmie Rivera) where Garbrandt is off two fights in which he took four knockdowns, and Dillashaw isn’t always as potent of a puncher as Munhoz is. One good thing that the Dodson fight showed on Munhoz was that he isn’t one to be put off; Dodson walked Munhoz onto a lot of flurries early, but Munhoz forced the issue every time Dodson wasn’t swinging, and against Cody’s somewhat suspect chin, that could be very helpful in increasing his chances even if he’s outslicked early. It could also get him knocked out, but if Munhoz can make the reads to time Garbrandt during exchanges, Garbrandt’s narrow game leaves him with little recourse (he was caught swinging the same combinations over and over against Dillashaw to get cracked multiple times in a row with the same shot) and Munhoz really doesn’t need a lot of sustained success to cement a win in the pocket. Despite the speed differential, a left hook as good as Munhoz’s keeps him very dangerous in exchanges; that alone may be able to keep Garbrandt from looking as preternaturally skilled in the pocket as he did against Cruz.

This isn’t a fight to cap very wide; both Garbrandt and Munhoz have the right skills to cause the other serious trouble, while having the weaknesses to fall into the other’s game. Garbrandt’s minimalist game gave him a great deal of purchase on a division in which speedy and powerful fundamentals were enough, but against Munhoz, he doesn’t have the margin for error and the lack of variety to his game can really cost him.

Ultimately, Munhoz is better equipped to handle the outside, better equipped to play the long game, and isn’t outgunned in the pocket enough that Garbrandt can reliably find that big shot without getting chinned himself.

Prediction: Munhoz via TKO (Round 2). This writer caps Munhoz at -140.

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