UFC 207 saw the crowning of a new champion as Team Alpha Male’s Cody Garbrandt dethroned bantamweight king Dominick Cruz in what head Coach Justin Buchholz described as a “Master class” performance. Garbrandt defeated Cruz via unanimous decision handing Cruz his first loss in almost 10 years.
After a long standing rivalry between Cruz and Team Alpha Male, Justin Buchholz was sure he had the right game plan to dethrone Cruz. Prior to the fight, he talked about how he’s been around Cruz since 2008 when Charlie Valencia fought him and how he cornered 27 rounds against him. The statement caused many fans to mock the situation, claiming that Team Alpha Male will never have an answer for Cruz.
“People were making fun of those 27 rounds but I was like I’ve never been the head coach before,” Buchholz said. “I’ve been a training partner on all those; I’ve just been watching Cruz I know what he’s doing. You don’t think I know Cruz? I’ve had some good inklings on how to beat Cruz. A lot of things that we worked on in camp landed and it was just a beautiful performance by Cody.”
The fight between Cruz and Garbrandt was projected to go two ways by most media experts; either Cody gets an early knockout or Cruz outworks him for the decision. The fight proved to be the opposite as Cody found success in the latter rounds scoring a very impressive 10-8 fourth round. In a way, it was even more impressive for Cody to get the decision rather than his usual early knockouts.
“If you look at the fight, Cody’s best round was round 4 and that was unknown territory supposedly but we’ve been logging in these rounds in sparring,” Buchholz said. “In sparring you can get close to a fight.”
“When you have a team like Team Alpha Male, all these studs on the mats, Erick Sanchez, Andre Fili, Teru Ishihara, he sparred with these guys day in and day out. When you have these amazing guys to go with, Urijah hanging on your head, you have Alex Sandoval just unlimited cardio. You have all these different guys to train with that is such a huge weapon.”
Not only was Cody able to hurt Cruz constantly, he was mocking him by dancing and taunting. When asked whether he expected this out of Cody, Buchholz said he was just enjoying the performance.
“I gotta be honest; none of the coaches had anything to do with that. Looking back at that performance and seeing things that he was doing in sparring and even things he was doing on the mitts, I can see where it came from. He was like Michelangelo that night; he was painting a beautiful portrait. It was a great fight.”
The tide started to turn towards the third round when Cruz was cut badly above his left eye. While Joe Rogan claimed that it was an accidental head butt which cut Cruz, Buchholz assured me that it was a combination they’ve been working on.
“It was the start of the third round,” Buchholz explained. “It was the first kick of the round, Cody comes out with a combination and finished with the right head kick and scored perfectly. Cruz actually rushed him and Cody fell to his back and scrambled up but he had scored you know.”
After a dominant round 4, most people were sure that we had a new champion. Buchholz credited Cruz for his incredible toughness but was surprised at how close the scorecards were.
“When the scoring was announced, I was shocked I didn’t think it was that close at all but I was confident that he won that fight. When the decision was announced and I saw Cody’s face and I saw Maddux and I saw his uncle Bob “Sting Ray” in the back, I was just like oh my God.”
Garbrandt threw his hands in the air and proceeded to wrap the belt around 10 year old Maddux Maple who was battling Leukemia. A promise fulfilled to Maddux, himself and the team in one of the most memorable moments in the octagon yet.
For Justin Buchholz who took over as the team’s head coach just over a year ago, the victory was just as sweet for him personally. After a tumultuous second half of 2015, many people believed that Team Alpha Male was done. The departure of then bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw and all the drama it ensued left Team Alpha Male in a tough spot.
“I was seeing articles where people were saying we were done,” Buchholz said. “Benavidez wasn’t training with us, TJ had left and we had a bad December. We dropped 3 of 4 fights and that doesn’t happen to Team Alpha Male, we just don’t know how that feels and there was just a lot of chaos in camp.”
“We had our homegrown world champion leave and then a guy who coached us for 2 years leave and we were just left there trying to figure out what we were going to do. So taking over this year, it’s been amazing and I had no doubt. This year I’ve spent more time on this than I’ve ever spent fighting professionally.”
A year later and after all that drama, Team Alpha Male had a phenomenal December 2016. The UFC returned to Sacramento where Urijah Faber had a dominant performance and a farewell to a terrific career. Prospects Alex Sandoval and Josh Emmett picked up impressive wins and finally Cody Garbrandt capped off the year with a stunning performance at UFC 207 bringing home UFC gold.
For Cody, going 4-0 in 2016 and dethroning one of the pound for pound best has opened many doors for him. With a potential Cruz rematch and number one contender TJ Dillashaw looming, Garbrandt has his eyes set on even bigger things and Buchholz is all for it.
“Him coming on the MMA Hour and asking for those fights with Aldo and McGregor, that’s where it’s at. He just dethroned one of the pound for pound best fighters of all time and one of the most dominant champions. Cody needs to sit back and lick his chops and see how this plays out a little bit. He could see who wants to get paid and pick that guy.”
Team Alpha Male are moving to a new facility sometime next month and coach Buchholz is excited for all the possibilities for the team this year.
“We don’t even have a cage in our gym,” Buchholz said of the current gym. “We took care of Cruz with cage awareness without even using a cage. Imagine when we get a cage, it’s going to be in the new gym and I can’t wait to use it and get some sparring in the cage. It’s going to be wonderful to have a whole array of modern equipment; just a fantastic gym and we can’t wait to move in there.”
After a tough last year, Justin Buchholz along with Danny Castillo and Chris Holdsworth have used their in cage experience to lead Team Alpha Male back to success. With a new champion and a new facility, things are looking up for one of the most renowned gyms in MMA.