Cody Garbrandt’s first attempt to defend the UFC bantamweight title didn’t go as planned. But given the rough road there, coach Justin Buchholz thinks the former champion’s solid start at UFC 217 served as a testament to his skills.
Garbrandt (11-1 MMA, 6-1 UFC) was a 2-1 betting favorite heading into UFC 217’s co-headliner against then-ex-champ and former Team Alpha Male stablemate T.J. Dillashaw (15-3 MMA, 11-3 UFC). And his heavy hands almost confirmed those expectations in the first round, when he had the challenger in serious trouble.
But Dillashaw was able to turn things in around in the second, pulling off an unexpected knockout to take back the bantamweight title.
Buchholz, who cornered Garbrandt, hadn’t gotten back to Team Alpha Male by the time he checked in with MMAjunkie Radio. But he shared some thoughts on Garbrandt’s comeback.
“When it comes to Cody regaining the title, it’s honestly just the focus he has,” Buchholz said. “A focused Cody Garbrandt, man, you saw what he did against Dominick Cruz. You saw what he did last year. And he was on the losing end of kind of a firefight.
“It will be an interesting process, coming back.”
Buchholz went into some detail in regard to less-than-ideal leadup to the drama-filled UFC 217 match. The two bantamweights, of course, were originally supposed to meet in July, after they were done with their roles as opposing coaches on Season 25 of “The Ultimate Fighter.”
When the two finally met in the octagon on Nov. 4, it was Dillashaw’s night. And Buchholz in no way takes away from Dillashaw’s merit there; he was always acutely aware of how dangerous of an opponent he was as they headed into the fight.
But what we saw up in the octagon was the result of a process that, especially considering such a worthy opponent, could’ve been better.
“Honestly, Cody, he was hurt a lot this year,” Buccholz said. “This is a known fact: The fight is won or lost in the gym. It’s such a known fact. So the camp going into it, it’s everything. With Cody’s injuries and what was going on with the gym. I just felt like – especially to get someone like T.J., T.J. is one of the most sickest competitors I’ve ever seen. He will train hard, and he will do whatever it takes to win this fight and this competition. He’s so ultra competitive.
“Cody has that competitive streak, as well, but I’ve never really seen another fighter like T.J. who has that type of just singular focus like that. And to train for T.J. Dillashaw for a year – this guy’s training, just in the gym, just trying to get back everything that he thinks was taken from him or whatnot. And this is the guy we’re going to face. I knew we were in for a tough fight.
“People would always ask me, they’d say, ‘What is the tougher fight?’ They’d do the MMA math, and they’d say, ‘Cody humiliated Dominick Cruz, and Cruz beat T.J.’ But that is MMA math. And we know it’s all bull(expletive). It doesn’t matter. It’s the setup. It’s the matchup. I knew we had a super tough competitor out there. And it was hard to get Cody the camp that I felt we needed to deal with someone like T.J.”
After the fight, Garbrandt briefly touched on the “long, hard road” and the adjustments he had to make “on the fly” due to the multiple procedures he had to have stemming from his back injury. But ultimately, he reiterated he made no excuses for the loss.
“I’m just thankful to be here and have health,” Garbrandt added.
Garbrandt went on to add that, at least, he went out on his shield. And the coach agrees that, all in all, his athlete did showcase some serious skill in there.
“With all that being said about Cody’s camp, he still almost put away in the first round,” Buccholz said. “That is a credit to how amazing of an athlete and a fighter he is. He was looking good. He was looking good and got caught with that kick.”
Buchholz also took the opportunity to address another topic that’s been on the news, though this time it’s one involving himself: his situation at Team Alpha Male. The UFC vet, who recently made a victorious return to fighting, caused some waves late last month when he announced that he was no longer the head MMA coach for the Sacramento-based team.
Buchholz, who now leads the muay Thai training there and has some “deep” loyalties to fighters such as UFC vets Darren Elkins and Cynthia Calvillo, clarified to MMAjunkie Radio that the situation wasn’t a “business thing.”
“I don’t run the MMA program anymore,” Buccholz said. “We were at the old gym, and I think two months into this gym we moved into a new facility. The program I had set and worked on and had coached over, it wasn’t really what I was trying to do.
“There was a lot of influences coming in. It wasn’t the same tone. I don’t want to be considered the head of a program I’m not in complete control over. It’s basically what happened.
” … Business aside, I love coaching. I love the team. I was the first guy to fight in the UFC on the team, when everyone was at WEC. I’ve done a lot for the team. So it’s not really a business thing, it’s just – I have these standards in the way that I like to run things.”
To hear more from Buchholz, check out the video above.
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