At the Indian food buffet with the up-and-coming fighter.
It was lunch hour and the UFC bantamweight champion of the world was facing off against a chafing tray of bright orange chicken makhni. Cody “No Love” Garbrandt had, just a few days earlier, defeated Dominic Cruz to win the championship belt. Now it was just him and the chicken. “I’ve never had Indian food,” he confessed, a flicker of boyish apprehension tightening his features. “I’m a small town kid from Uhrichsville, Ohio.” But here he was. Mano e pullum.
UFC 207, the event that made him a champion and, therefore, landed him in this downtown Manhattan Indian buffet with me, a pitstop amidst a swirl of highly choreographed press interviews, was notable for two reasons.
That night, Ronda Rousey earned $3 million to lose to Amanda Nunes in 47 seconds. But 25 minutes before Nunes destroyed both Rousey’s face and legacy, Cody Garbrandt fought undefeated 31-year-old Dominick Cruz.
Garbrandt’s unanimous victory stretched the full five rounds, and the kid from Uhrichsville, Ohio, used all of them to humiliate Cruz. This he accomplished, not only by the traditional methods of technical bludgeoning, but with extra cocksure flair: imitating Cruz’ drunken uncle style, executing the fast-foot shuffle made famous by Ali, and lots of finger pointing. At one point, in the middle of the final round, Garbrandt dropped to the ground and did a push up.
But when face-to-face with Punjabi chicken bathed in a rich, buttery tomato sauce, a dish both foreign and dangerously capable of splattering on Garbrandt’s slim custom-made suit and windsor-knotted purple tie, the champ hesitated. His manager, Ali Abdelaziz, wearing a glen plaid suit and a cashmere turtleneck and seated to Garbrandt’s right, interjects.
“Don’t worry, Cody. It’s not spicy.”
A part of Garbrandt contends he shouldn’t be here. Not just here, tender morsel of chicken balancing on tines, but here, in a custom suit, with six-figures in the bank and a championship belt and a manager named Ali Abdelaziz, and a future of ever bigger payouts and even more exotic dining experiences and bigger entourages.
Uhrichsville is a tiny mine town in the belly of Ohio, the kind of town that fits neatly into Trump’s vision of an America dotted with factories decaying like tombstones. Most everyone Garbrandt grew up with works in the coal mines or on the railroad or is doing time. He has five half-brothers and five half-sisters and one full-blooded brother, Zach Garbrandt, who is ten months older.
“Zach was always meaner, bigger, and rougher than me,” says Garbrandt. A smart man might have one’s money on Zach being the prize fighter here instead of Cody. But after high school, and a few years working the mines, Zach had gone into business with their step-father, welding railroad lines up and down the East Coast.