For Cody Garbrandt, it is now or never at UFC 300

Cody Garbrandt’s UFC career looked under serious threat of becoming a cautionary tale when, for the second time in his career, he surpassed 1,000 days without a win in 2023.

Having once dispatched arguably the greatest bantamweight in history to claim gold at the tender age of 25, Garbrandt had since endured a tragic fall from grace, with many speculating that an early exit from MMA was on the cards.

However, just a year after looking lost in the wilderness with little hope of salvation, the former champ now has a gilt-edged opportunity to propel himself back into the upper echelons of the bantamweight division at UFC 300. Las Vegas will watch on as Garbrandt stands off against Deiveson Figueiredo – a relative novice at 135lbs, but a former flyweight champion with a glittering resume.

Facing his biggest test in almost six years, it could be do or die for “No Love” on 13 April, as he is presented with a unique chance to claw his way back into the title picture. It is a title picture that Garbrandt first entered in 2016, within 18 months of his UFC debut.

Training out of Team Alpha Male, he was surrounded by championship pedigree, with Urijah Faber, TJ Dillashaw and Joseph Benavidez all becoming marquee talents in the UFC. Looking to emulate the success of his teammates, Garbrandt produced five straight UFC victories to take his professional record to 9-0. The streak, mostly made up of impressive finishes, gave him the pedestal to lay claim to a shot at bantamweight gold.

Who was holding the belt? Team Alpha Male’s tormentor, Dominick Cruz. Whether it be in the UFC or the WEC, Cruz had habitually embarrassed the gym, defeating a host of Garbrandt’s sparring partners over a decade of dominance. It thus became an inevitability that No Love would spark a rivalry with the man who had recently retired his mentor, Faber, at UFC 199.

Before UFC 207, a calm Cruz verbally demolished the prodigy, causing many to predict that Garbandt’s emotions would get the better of him come fight night. Instead, the 25-year-old put on one of the greatest clinics in title fight history. He was untouchable for five rounds, dropping Cruz multiple times and showboating to the delight of the crowd.

Garbrandt won the UFC bantamweight title with a clinic against Dominick Cruz in 2016 (Getty)
Garbrandt won the UFC bantamweight title with a clinic against Dominick Cruz in 2016 (Getty)

A unanimous decision victory was declared for Garbrandt, who became the youngest-ever UFC bantamweight champion. Some left the arena feeling they had witnessed the start of a title reign that would span into the far future. However, things were about to quickly unravel.

Garbrandt’s title reign would last just 10 months, with former teammate Dillashaw the architect of his demise. Dillashaw had left Team Alpha Male on ignominious terms in 2015, his relationship with the gym’s fighters devolving into a feud with Garbrandt, who sought to uphold the honour of his gym. But the two match-ups that followed contributed to the complete dissipation of No Love’s momentum and aura.

A second-round knockout at UFC 217 saw Garbrandt’s reign come to a premature end before an almost identical punch ended the Ohio native’s hopes of revenge nine months later.

Dillashaw had derailed Garbrandt’s hype train and dealt serious damage to his progression. Fears that Garbrandt’s chin had gone were all but confirmed in his “redemption” outing, as he suffered yet another knockout defeat, this time at the hands of Pedro Munhoz.

Garbrandt during a comprehensive decision loss to Rob Font (Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Garbrandt during a comprehensive decision loss to Rob Font (Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

And while a brutal buzzer-beater against Raphael Assuncao appeared to breathe much-needed life into Garbrandt’s lungs in 2020, Rob Font quickly dragged him back to the depths of despair, toying with him for five rounds in one of the most dominant performances of 2021. A failed move to flyweight followed as Garbrandt was sparked out clean by Kai Kara-France, leaving No Love in limbo and causing Dana White to question the former champ’s future.

“I don’t know,” the UFC president replied when asked where Garbrandt’s future lay. “You move down a weight class and get knocked out. It’s a rough one. He’s been clipped a few times now.”

With his career on a knife edge, Garbrandt needed to find his fighting feet – and fast. He was arguably one poor showing away from being cut or calling it quits, as he prepared to face Trevin Jones last March. Relegated to the prelims, No Love put on a decent showing to earn a unanimous decision victory, and while the performance was far from thrilling, it kept his head above water, ending a 1,001-day wait for a win.

Yet it was Garbrandt’s next bout that finally gave his fans cause for excitement. Folding Brian Kelleher with a stiff right hook, No Love provided a glimpse at the Garbrandt of old. Perhaps White sees money in a redemption story for the 32-year-old, having arguably provided him with a fast track back to the top 10 by sanctioning a fight with one of the division’s newest yet most dangerous contenders.

Garbrandt knocked Brian Keller out cold in his most recent fight (Getty Images)
Garbrandt knocked Brian Keller out cold in his most recent fight (Getty Images)

Figueiredo has only fought once at bantamweight, but the Brazilian has a distinct pedigree as a former two-time flyweight champion. Figueiredo’s quadrilogy of title fights with Brandon Moreno established him as one of the most entertaining fighters in the UFC, and after shutting out Font in his 135lbs debut, the 36-year-old has his eyes set on a rare status: that of a two-weight champion.

On paper, Figueiredo is far and away the toughest test Garbrandt will have faced since last fighting for a title in 2018. As such, this fight is a golden opportunity for the 32-year-old to prove whether or not he can still hang with top contenders.

A loss could prove devastating, a likely farewell to Garbrandt’s fleeting hopes of a surprise return to the title picture. However, if Garbrandt can spring the upset, he may yet find himself just one win from a shot at the belt, should scheduling and injuries elsewhere work in his favour.

It was once thought that Garbrandt would rule over the bantamweight division for years. If No Love is to reclaim the throne, it is now or never.

UFC 300 is on Saturday 13 April with the early preliminary card featuring Garbrandt and Figueiredo starting around 11.30pm; the main card will be shown from 1pm on TNT Sports Box Office