As we close out 2016 and look back on what has been one of the craziest years in recent MMA history, we felt it only proper to acknowledge our pick for 2016’s Fighter Of The Year.
Cody “No Love” Garbrandt started out 2016 as an unranked fighter more known for being the next prospect fighting out of Urijah Faber’s Team Alpha Male than any wins inside the octagon. While Garbrandt received a small popularity spike at the end of 2015 for his verbal altercations and near fight with Conor McGregor while coaching beside Faber on season 22 of The Ultimate Fighter, most fans knew very little about him as a fighter.
No Love’s year started off with a bang on February 21st at UFC Fight Night Pittsburgh against undefeated UFC newcomer Augusto Mendes. Mendes was a late replacement for John Lineker who feel ill the week of the fight and the fight was fought at a catch-weight of 142 pounds as a result.
The Alpha Male prospect wasted no time trading shots with the BJJ specialist showing of his superior movement and boxing. He showed off his ability to be calm and wait for an opening instead of just head hunting. With 45 seconds left in the first round Augusto dropped his guard just enough for Cody to land a quick combination that was punctuated with a devistating right hook and Cody had a walk-off first round KO.
The UFC brass took notice and gave Garbrandt a chance to prove himself against 21-0 Brazilian wonder kid, 7th ranked Thomas Almeida. It was the first time a Bantamweight non-title fight had ever headlined a UFC event. Almeida was looked the top prospect in the division and the best threat to the dominance of Dominick Cruz. The Brazilian never made it out of the first round.
Cody used an expert understanding of distance and range to pick apart the odds on favorite before backing him up against the cage and landing a brutal right hand that completely starched Almeida at 2:50 of the very first round. It was Cody’s second walk off KO in a row, earned the native Ohioan a performance of the night bonus, and moved his record to a perfect 9-0.
After his win against Almeida the chirping with Dominic Cruz began to take center stage. But Cody would be required to pass one more vital test before being given a chance to fight for the title. That test came by way of Japan’s own Takeya Mizugaki as the featured prelim at UFC 202: Diaz vs McGregor 2.
Garbrandt entered the fight intent on proving he was the only choice for the next fightBantamweight title fight and he did not disappoint. No Love had finally entered the rankings at #8 while Mizugaki was ranked #11. Cody Blitzed the Japanese start from the opening bell and by the 45 second mark dropped and swarmed Mizugaki for a very early first round finish, his third first round KO this year alone. In his octagon interview he called out champion Dominick Cruz who was all too happy to accept.
And that brings us to last night’s career defining performance.
Very few, if any, experts gave Garbrandt much of a chance against Cruz. Select few argued that he had a punchers chance. But it was widely considered and accepted that Cody was too one dimensional and Dominick has been too well rounded an versatile to fall victim to one lucky punch. And that’s what makes this sport so beautiful, every time you think you’ve finally figured out someone completely changes the narrative.
Cody Garbrandt spent five rounds out Dominick Cruzing Dominick Cruz. He used every tool that has made Cruz so successful against him, from expert movement and angles to range management, to timely take downs to secure very important points. Cody didn’t depend on his power as a crutch and instead used it a final tool in a flawless game plan by only loading up on power punches after forcing Dom into over committing.
What was even more impressive was the extreme calm of the challenger. He taunted every mistake and over reaction by Cruz with a dance or pose. No Love consistently baited the former champion into rapid-fire punches only to dodge every one and do a charismatic dance to emphasize his control of the situation. In the third and fourth rounds Garbrandt repeatedly dropped Cruz with increasing ease and it was apparent, we were seeing the birth of a star.
It’s been an incredible run thus far for Cody Garbrandt. He went from relatively unknown and unranked at the dawn of the new year all the way to dominating the greatest to ever do it in the bantamweight division. The world now knows who Cody “No Love” is and can see the sky is truly the limit for the 25 years young champion and that’s why he’s our 2016 Fighter Of The Year.