Cody Garbrandt is in the spot that former champions like Jose Aldo and Joanna Jedrzejczyk have also found themselves in, with two losses to the champion and no way to move upwards, but he’s also significantly less proven in the division than those two. Garbrandt’s title win over Dominick Cruz was a brilliant performance, but his path to the champion was somewhat questionable; knockouts over Almeida and Mizugaki allowed him to cut in front of the elite contenders to face Cruz. With Cruz’s constant injury issues, Garbrandt essentially has no relevant wins in the current landscape of the division; Cody has a point to prove going into his fight at UFC 235, and he’ll look to use his bout against Pedro Munhoz as an example of why he rocketed up the division in 2016.
Meanwhile, Pedro Munhoz has been quietly rising the ranks for a while now, with excellent wins over Rob Font and Bryan Caraway. “The Young Punisher” has looked sensational as a grappler and has shown off a vicious kicking game in his last two, losing only once in his last seven fights. Scheduled to be on a PPV main card for the first time in the UFC, Munhoz looks to bring his brand of violence to the former champion, and join the current bantamweight champion as the only fighters to professionally defeat Cody No Love.
Cody Garbrandt’s game is far deeper than it is broad; Garbrandt really only excels as a pocket boxer, but his ancillary skills do a good job funneling his opponents into the area of the fight where they can’t compete. Undefeated as an amateur boxer and undefeated on his road to the championship, Cody “No Love” became the last hope of Team Alpha Male to defeat a resurgent Dominick Cruz; Garbrandt delivered in sensational fashion, but two losses later, he needs a statement win to keep himself in the mix.
Garbrandt’s game is largely “wait for the other guy to swing, and then punch him until he stops functioning.” For an amateur boxer, Garbrandt’s arsenal is oddly narrow; his shot selection is largely limited to the 2-3 and the 3-2, but it worked until UFC 217 due to tight mechanics and insane speed. Garbrandt’s best-case scenario for a fight looks something like his sub-minute KO of Takeya Mizugaki, in which he was able to force exchanges out of his opponent at will and put him down with the first clean connection.
The Cruz performance wasn’t only surprising in the sense that a prospect off a lower-level win took out one of the most highly regarded bantamweights ever, it was also shocking in the sense that “quick KO artist without proven wrestling” seemed to be the perfect matchup for the elusive champion to shine. Garbrandt’s excellent scrambling allowed him to deny every one of Dominick Cruz’s reactive takedowns, and that left Cruz walking into the pocket without one of his primary threats to pit his loopy blows (better at long range when his opponent chases after him) against a faster and crisper puncher willing to wait on him.
As impressive as that performance was, Garbrandt didn’t really fight against type; standing in the pocket swinging 3-2s and 2-3s worked when Cruz didn’t have the fundamental soundness that Garbrandt did, and that allowed Garbrandt to showboat as Cruz swung his long hooks, counter cleanly, and follow Cruz out with flurries as he retreated. The same thing didn’t work against Dillashaw; TJ was able to hang in the pocket with Garbrandt, and that meant that he was able to feint and draw out the (relatively predictable) attack patterns of “No Love” to outdo him in exchanges. Also concerning was Garbrandt’s underdeveloped kick defense; while Garbrandt is one of the mechanically strongest boxers in the UFC, the narrowness of his game and his lack of adaptability meant that Dillashaw was able to outstrike him regardless.