Cody Garbrandt’s first UFC victory was a story of shared fulfillment

Cody Garbrandt was installed as an underdog against Marcus Brimage at UFC 182, and that might have seemed fitting. Coming in, Garbrandt was an established underdog by circumstance. Anybody who knew him in his youth would have guessed he was more likely cut out for interrogation lights instead of spotlights. His father was an absentee ne’er-do-well who is currently behind bars in his native Ohio for a take-your-pick litany of crimes he committed. One of his uncles is in the clink, too. Prison was just another place growing up in the Garbrandt family. Even the uncle that raised him, Robert, was familiar with the sentencing process.

And Cody was drifting that way himself. He was kicked out of school for fighting, and was soon selling drugs, getting into trouble. There were no expectations on him other than the most foreboding kind. Cody’s path was either to work in the coalmines, or worse — to become just another Tuscarawas County inmate.

But, before he got there something happened, a shepherd of sorts crossed his path, an intervening angel, and what oddsmakers couldn’t have known three years later was that there was simply no way Garbrandt would lose his fight against Brimage.

Garbrandt, who grew up mean and learned to box early, showed superior movement. He was all footwork and angles, a tatted-up Dominick Cruz-like understudy who got in-and-out before Brimage could find the mark. With a little over 20 seconds to go in the fight, Garbrandt slammed home a left cross, and then a right, a sequence that put Brimage on skates. Garbrandt came forward, and coolly landed another left, and another right, the fight slowing down in front of him as he stood in, the sweet endnotes of a long-held promise, until Brimage’s legs gave out. With ten seconds left in his UFC debut, the referee called the fight.

Garbrandt had won.

In his post-fight speech, he said there was a little boy who’d been battling leukemia, and he was in the building. He said that three-and-a-half years ago he told the boy that he’d make it to the UFC and win, and that the little boy had told him that he would beat leukemia.

The little boy’s name is Maddux Maple. He was in section 216 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena with his family. He was crying tears of joy, because both kept their promise to the other.

Because odds be damned.