As happy as Cody Garbrandt was to have UFC president Dana White wrap the bantamweight title around his waist last Friday night, the 25-year old Ohio native was even prouder to hand it to someone else.
Standing next to Garbrandt as he was celebrating his first title win in the UFC was 10-year old Maddux Maple, a young kid from the new champion’s hometown in Ohio who started his own battle against cancer when he was just five years old.
Garbrandt actually met Maddux through his brother, who told his sibling to reach out to the little boy after word about his fight with leukemia spread throughout their small town. At the time, Garbrandt was 19-years old and was at a crossroads in his own life.
There was a chance Garbrandt would continue down the path that saw him get into trouble before being kicked out of school or he could choose to go another direction, which eventually led him to mixed martial arts.
According to Garbrandt, Maddux was a major part in the decision he finally made.
“It was a surreal moment. Something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life,” Garbrandt said about handing the title over to Maddux last Friday at UFC 207. “No matter what happens in my life, I’m thankful for this kid. He came into my life under unfortunate circumstances. For most of you that don’t know he was battling leukemia at the age of five years old, from my hometown, we met under those circumstances but we made the best of it. I wouldn’t be here without him. He gave my life redirection and purpose and in return I fought with purpose and lived everyday with more purpose.
“This kid was going through the fight of his life and had a smile on his face to never give up. He didn’t have a choice to give up and the things that I was doing in my life I was really (expletive) my life away. I could have gone down the wrong path, I kept going down the wrong paths but I believe everything happens for a reason. As crazy as this might sound, but he was really a turning point in my life. Finding him and gained a little brother and watching him, the help he helped me through my entire life with his battle. He doesn’t even understand how much he’s helped me.”
Maddux actually walked Garbrandt to the Octagon for his title fight against Dominick Cruz, which was just another of the many promises the new champion made to him after they first met.
Garbrandt made Maddux promise that he would beat cancer and in return he would devote himself to becoming UFC champion one day. For each step along the way, Maddux was right there next to Garbrandt, sometimes in spirit and other times in person, but his influence was felt at every turn.
Even during his title fight against Cruz at UFC 207, Garbrandt remembered a photo of Maddux that he had sent to him during training camp that spurred him to push through the final two rounds that ultimately led to his championship victory.
“That fourth and fifth round, I remember I had his dad send me a picture of him laying on the hospital bed with a port put in his chest and his early onset battle with leukemia, it was his first few weeks and I just looked at it and how far he’s came. What’s 10 more minutes? What’s 10 more minutes to go out there and capture this for him,” Garbrandt said. “It wasn’t just about me.
“It was my dream at a young age but I met him and it became our dream. It became our night and now it’s his night. I’m forever grateful for everyone that’s been a part of this journey with me. His family, himself, everybody that’s had a helping hand in my success and where I’m at right now, I’m very thankful.”
While most fighters dream of the day they will become UFC champion, Garbrandt couldn’t think of anything better than handing his title belt over to Maddux after defeating Cruz to win the title.
And that’s exactly what he did in the Octagon as Garbrandt and Maddux’s journey came full circle with both of them now winning the toughest battles of their lives.