The brawler who’s predicted to be UFC’s next big star is a teddy bear at heart.
When fighter Cody Garbrandt enters the Octagon at Madison Square Garden Saturday to defend his bantamweight championship belt against archrival TJ Dillashaw, he’ll have his muse by his side: Maddux Maple, an 11-year-old cancer survivor.
As he has before, Garbrandt, 26, will let Maple pick the hand he’ll use to knock out his opponent. “Then, I give him a hug and kiss. It’s a calming thing having him there,” Garbrandt told The Post.
The two — who share the hometown of Uhrichsville, Ohio — met six years ago, after the young boy was diagnosed with leukemia. Garbrandt offered to donate proceeds from an amateur cage fight to help defray the Maple family’s medical costs. He wasn’t expecting to make an emotional connection with the then-5-year-old.
“I felt changed,” Garbrandt said of meeting the child. “I wanted to be a positive role model.”
At the time, he was a rudderless 20-year-old in a blue-collar town, dreaming of becoming an MMA star. His mother had dedicated her life to making sure Garbrandt didn’t go down the same path as his father, who had been imprisoned multiple times on charges including drugs and attempted murder. But the athlete had recently been stabbed in a bar fight.
“I was dealing with a lot of demons,” Garbrandt recalled. “[Maple] helped me put it all in perspective.”
He made the kid a promise: He would make it to the UFC if Maple beat cancer. In 2013, about two years after they first met, Maple’s leukemia was declared in remission. Eighteen months later, Garbrandt made his UFC debut. By the end of 2016, he’d won the Bantamweight title.
“I [took] off the belt and put it on Maddux’s waist. That [made the win] more powerful and rewarding,” said Garbrandt, who has so many tattoos, he’s lost count of the number. Among them: a grenade on his hand, “because I drop bombs,” and diamonds on his neck. “Diamonds are made under pressure,” he explained.
n 2014, he moved to Sacramento, Calif., to train among fighters including Dillashaw — who became Garbrandt’s mortal enemy after secretly defecting to a camp in Colorado.
“He turncoated us,” Garbrand said. “I want to hurt him in the cage.”
He also has eyes on MMA icon, Conor McGregor. “I would go in and knock the f–k out of Conor in a boxing ring or a cage fight,” he said.
Dana White, the president of UFC, believes in him. “Cody . . . could be the next big star,” he recently said.
For now, Garbrandt’s looking forward to the birth of his son, due March 30, who he and wife Danny plan to name Kai Fisher.
He’ll likely bring the baby to Ohio to meet Maple. Even after the athlete moved to Sacramento, the two have stayed close and FaceTime each other at least once a week.
“I always say we’ve done this. Honestly, he is an angel,” said Garbrandt of Maple. “We were placed in each other’s lives for a reason.”
See the full article at “The Post” – http://nypost.com/2017/10/28/meet-the-11-year-old-cancer-survivor-who-inspired-a-ufc-star/