Cody Garbrandt dreamed of being a UFC champion. In his darkest moments, when those dreams were dashed, he dug deep with the help of an unlikely friend—five-year-old Maddux Maple, a local hometown fan with leukemia. They made a pact: Cody would be in the UFC and win the championship, and Maddux would beat cancer.
Read their moving story in Cody’s new book, The Pact, and go behind the scenes into Cody’s training and how he made his dreams come true.
Cody Garbrandt grew up in a rough town in the Central Appalachian region of Ohio, surrounded by a longstanding culture of fighting—and drugs. Raised in this environment by a single mom (his dad left him at the young age of three to reside in the Ohio State Penitentiary), Cody grew up fighting, and he grew up wild. His future seemed predestined to end in the coal mines, or in prison.
Thankfully, Cody had visions of something more. His American Dream? Mixed Martial Arts. But a path to success wasn’t clear. He spent as much time fighting in the streets as he did in the gym—one bad decision away from losing everything. Then, at age 20, Cody’s brother introduced him to five-year old Maddux Maple. Maddux was deathly ill with leukemia, his survival by no means assured. A unique friendship developed as they made a promise to each other: Maddux would beat cancer, and Cody would make it to the UFC and become world champion.
Through five long years of pain and hardship, they both persevered; Cody, through the agony and sacrifices of fighting his way to the top, and Maddux through the horrors of chemotherapy. They loved and supported each other. They served as each other’s inspiration. And in December 2016, they made good on their pact: Cody won his UFC Championship belt, which he promptly presented to Maddux—the boy who had beaten cancer into remission.
|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Mark Dagostino is a multiple New York Times best-selling coauthor who is dedicated to writing books that uplift and inspire. Prior to writing books, he spent ten years on staff in New York and Los Angeles as a correspondent, columnist, and senior writer for People magazine. He now lives a somewhat quieter life in New Hampshire.
Read an Excerpt
WANT TO KNOW WHAT I REMEMBER MOST ABOUT my childhood?
Pick a time or a place in my hometown, and chances are I can tell you about a fight that happened then or there — one that I watched, or one that I got into.
Fighting's how I marked my time.
Like in fifth grade, I remember fighting this kid Jimmy outside his house over by the football stadium. I was kicking the spit out of him when a guy drove up in an unmarked sedan. He was a real responsible-looking dude, a grown-up authority-figure type for sure, but he didn't get out or try to stop the fight or anything. Instead, this guy pulled up and looked right at me and said, "Well, I can tell you're gonna be seeing a lot of me."
I looked back at him and yelled, "Get lost, man! This is none of your business!"
When he left, I turned to one of the other kids who was standing around watching us fight and said, "Who was that?"
"Oh, that's Jimmy's probation officer."
That's right. A fifth-grader had a probation officer. He wasn't the only one, either. And here's the really crazy part: Jimmy's probation officer drove up right in the middle of me whaling on him and didn't do anything to stop it — because fighting was that much a part of life where we lived.
There's a saying around these parts: "If you're looking for help, call 911. If you're looking for trouble, call 922."
"The 922." That's the nickname for the little corner of Ohio I called home. It comes from our telephone exchange. Not the area code — that would be too big and nonspecific — but the next three digits after that.
My hometown of Uhrichsville, Ohio, is a Midwestern town full of old brick buildings and empty storefronts. Back in the late 1800s, it was a booming place — a town that billed itself as the "clay capital of the world." A major east-west railroad line runs right through the middle of it, and all sorts of businesses grew up around those tracks. It was probably someplace really great to live before all the jobs washed out for reasons no one seems to remember. Before so many people were left struggling just to pay their bills. Long before I was born.
Uhrichsville and its neighboring twin town of Dennison make up one combined small-town community here, and over at the Dennison Railroad Depot Museum, the streetlights are decorated with red, white, and blue banners that say "Dreamsville, USA." That was the nickname the town took on during World War II — which seems pretty funny to me, because nowadays the only thing most people in our corner of Ohio ever dream about is finding a way out.
My family, the Garbrandts, were pretty well known in the twin cities way before I came along. I guess you could say we had a reputation.
Growing up, we weren't the sort of family that went skiing together or hiking together or swimming together. I didn't even know any families that did that kind of stuff. Instead, we were a family that went to fights together: wrestling matches, boxing matches, neighborhood fights, bar brawls, it didn't matter. We went to fights and witnessed fights and talked about fights and fighters almost as much as we got into fistfights and fought with each other over every little thing every chance we got.
Maybe if I'd been born to a family of doctors or scientists or something I'd have spent my childhood hitting the books. Instead, I spent my childhood just plain hitting and getting hit and hitting back whenever I could.
Some of my earliest memories in life are of getting into it with my older brother, Zach. He's only ten months older than me, but he was always a whole lot bigger than me and naturally stronger than me, and it seemed like anything I did could set him off. I'd grab a toy that was his or say something he didn't like or look at him the wrong way, and he'd start whaling on me. I'm talking really young, like when we were three, four, five years old.
In some other family, I suppose the dad would've been there to step in and stop all that fighting. But our dad was in prison for most of our childhood. He's still in prison as I write this book. My mom tried to step in, but she just couldn't seem to stop us.
Occasionally Zach would beat me up pretty bad — so I learned to fight back pretty quick.
I think the first time I really hurt Zach (not that he would admit this) was when I was still a preschooler. We were playing Three Musketeers out in the woods somewhere, and we got into a fight. I cracked Zach in the head with a stick — cut his head right open. Mom wasn't too happy about that, but after all the beatings he'd given me, she told him it served him right.
I got into my first street fight in preschool too. Our mother put us in the Moravian day-care center, a local Christian-based school, while she went to work. My poor mom. She got the call that day because some kid bit my finger and I hauled off and socked him in the mouth.
It was just the beginning.
I was six years old when I got my first concussion. Zach and I were playing some sort of a no-rules hockey game on rollerblades in my grandparents' basement across town. Everything we did turned into a fight, so this was no different. I tried to get away from him and ran up the stairs with my roller-blades on, but Zach threw a basketball and knocked my legs out from under me. I fell all the way down the stairs and bashed my head on the cement floor. My first knockout.
I remember being so scared when I woke up in the hospital not knowing where I was or what had happened. We left there with a big old X-ray of my head, though, and I brought it into school for show-and-tell. I thought it was cool!
That's the thing: It was cool. I loved to fight. I didn't mind getting hurt. I liked to try new moves that might take Zach down, to push myself and learn to hit harder than he did. Those fights, as crazy as they got sometimes, were fun to me. And to Zach.
What Zach did to me on the stairs wasn't cool, though, and even at that young age I was patient enough to wait and exact my revenge when the time was right — right when he would least expect it.
Zach and I weren't allowed to play in the basement at my grandparents' house for about a month after I got that concussion, but finally one day after school Grandma said we could play. We were sitting on the cold cement floor putting on our rollerblades, and Zack kept looking at me like, "This is gonna be fun! We get to play!" He was all excited, and so was I — but for a very different reason.
I thought, I remember when you kicked me down those steps. So I laced up my rollerblades real quick, and while he was still busy tying his second skate, I lifted my leg up as high as I could and kicked him right on the side of his head — not with the toe of the skate, but with the big block brake on the back of the skate. In an instant, Zach's temple swelled up like an egg. And then it kept growing. It ballooned out a good two or three inches from the side of his face before Grandma got some ice on it.
* * *
Our mom couldn't take us anywhere without us fighting. She couldn't even take us to the mall without Zach and me getting into it and wrestling under the clothing racks. So she decided to channel that energy of ours into something a little more purposeful. And the only thing she could think of was to throw us into the most popular sport in our town: wrestling.
It seems like everyone in the 922 is into wrestling, the way people in other towns might be into their Friday Night Lights –style football games. The state wrestling championships held by Claymont High School are all listed on a sign off one of the highway exits into town. There are plaques with the names and photos of the top wrestlers hung on the walls in our schools. Our local newspaper, the Times–Reporter, dedicates all kinds of ink to the local and state wrestling scene. Wrestlers were pretty much the closest thing we had to stars and heroes in our twin cities when I was growing up, and I remember getting excited about going to matches when I was as young as five years old.
As soon as my mom saw that Zach and I were into the sport, she pushed us to be good at it. No sooner did she get us into the school programs than she got us into after-school wrestling camps, too, where she took all of the coaches' advice on how to turn us into great wrestlers. In grammar school she had us disciplined, man. She made sure we were on time for practices, and she made sure we started eating right, even though she wasn't a healthy eater herself. She went out and bought some cookbooks and started cooking veggies, and getting us some lean protein through chicken breasts cooked on a George Foreman Grill so the fat all drained away.
Mom always made sure our homework was done, too, because we couldn't be on a wrestling team if we didn't keep our grades up. We'd get home from school, and she would bring us a snack, then take us straight to wrestling. We'd come home from wrestling, and she'd make us shower to get the stink off us. Then we'd eat dinner, finish up any homework, and go to bed.
When the school week was over, she'd take us around to wrestling tournaments, entering us in matches against kids from other towns on Fridays and Saturdays. Sometimes it was a two-hour drive in each direction, but she never let up. She engraved us with the grind.
Starting in first grade, I proved myself to have some unique talents on the wrestling mat. We had novice tournaments in grade school. We would do a week of wrestling, then go to a two-hour session taught by the high school kids on Saturday. Then the tournament itself would be held at the high school — and I'd win every single year.
My mom said I was her "little monkey" because that's what I looked like out on the mat, scrambling all over the place and scoring in ways my opponents couldn't seem to keep up with. I would roll across the mat and run from one side to the other to keep my opponents and everyone else thinking, What is he doing? I just had fun with it.
Zach and I both loved the adrenaline rush of seeing an opponent right there in front of us and then figuring out how to take him down. We went to each match believing that we'd trained harder than anyone else and knowing we only had one shot to prove what all that training had done.
In some ways Zach pushed me even harder than my mom did. I remember going to wrestling practice at nine or ten years old and thinking the coach was a real jerk for pushing kids so hard they would cry. I can remember the first time a coach tried to get us to do a hundred push-ups. I was probably only fifty push-ups in when my arms started shaking and I started to feel the burn in my forearms. By sixty I was ready to collapse. But the coach kept yelling, "If your knees touch the ground, you've gotta start all over at zero!"
It seemed like all of the other kids were dropping to the mat all around us. But I looked over at Zach — he was pushing himself harder and harder. He looked back at me and said, "Don't touch your knee! We're not squealing out!" And I kept going just to show him that I could.
I also kept going for my mom. I wasn't sure what kinds of families the other kids came from or why they were willing to let themselves cry and give up during practice, but I knew my mom was sacrificing big-time to get us into those elite-level wrestling camps at a young age. She sacrificed a lot. She went most of those years without buying herself even one new pair of shoes, just so she could afford those camps. I would picture those worn-out old shoes of hers and think, There is no way I'm gonna cry and drop out just 'cause it hurts a little!
She sacrificed for us so we could do what we loved to do. And what we loved to do was wrestle. To us it was worth all the training, all the intense discipline that only grew more intense as we got older.
It wasn't just my mom and our coaches that pushed Zach and me into the discipline of wrestling, though. We had a couple of other important influences — one of them good and one of them not so good.
The not-sogood influence was my dad, and part of the reason I dedicated myself to wrestling was because I didn't want to wind up living the life he'd lived. My mom was still just a teenager when we were both born. She's the one who held down a job, went to school, graduated, and took care of us while our dad was in and out of prison for theft and assault and drug charges.
My dad's father, our grandfather, had gone to prison too. And from what we heard, whenever he came out he used to beat my dad and his brothers pretty bad when they were kids. I guess the cycle of that kind of violence looks pretty obvious from the outside, but it just seemed normal to us. Our grandfather mellowed out in his old age, so Zach and I never knew him as a violent guy. But his influence rubbed off on more than just my dad. My uncles wound up going to prison too. My dad and his brothers were all tatted-up tough guys who kept finding trouble wherever they went in their teens and early twenties — and those were basically the only male role models we had as kids.
I got pretty tired of the small-town mentality where so many of my peers and even some of my teachers kept telling me, "You're gonna turn out just like your father."
Maybe part of the reason they thought that of me is because I struggled in school. I had a hard time keeping my head in my books because I loved to fight, and I might have loved it just a little bit more than most of my peers. Maybe that's why my dad and uncles got into trouble too. Maybe that's why they ended up in jail. Maybe it's genetic.
All the grown-ups around me kept telling me that if I kept on fighting, I wouldn't amount to anything. They were looking out for me, but I wanted to fight. I was driven to fight. Even as I got into middle school and it started to become clear that I was a good wrestler, there were still people telling me that I wouldn't get anywhere. If I kept fighting, they said — even when "fighting" meant wrestling — the only place I'd wind up is in prison next to my dad.
I didn't want that. But sometimes it just seemed like it was in the cards. No matter how much discipline my mom imposed, fighting was in my blood, and fighting was just what kids did in the 922. I couldn't help myself.
Like in fifth grade, when I got into that fight with Jimmy and found out that he had a parole officer — I don't even remember what that fight was about. Maybe a girl. Who knows? When you're fighting in fifth and sixth grade, those fights are pretty pointless.
The thing that some people don't get about the way we fought, though, was that we could go right back to being normal afterward. Zach and I never hated each other. We'd both wipe off the dirt and blood and sit down and have dinner together. I'm sure me and this kid Jimmy saw each other at school the next day and just nodded hello in the hall or something. Zach and I played football as kids, too, and we could get into huge fights with our teammates but still work well together on the field. It was all just part of life.
I was rarely the person who started a fight, but I was happy to take on the fights that came to me. Going all the way back to first grade, there were times when fights broke out spontaneously. There were also times when someone would call a kid out for something and agree to meet at some specific location to fight after school. Everyone would hear about it and circle up to check it out, and sometimes kids in the crowd would start fighting each other while they watched. It seemed like there was never an adult around to stop it. Maybe because all of the adults in the 922 had grown up fighting too.
I learned as I got older that the culture didn't change after school was finished. There were bar fights and street brawls happening almost every night of the week. There were spots, including the pump house on the outskirts of town, where people would show up to fight after they were called out, and crowds would gather to watch and fight themselves. It's just how people in our corner of the country proved their worth and found their place in the world. I don't know why. It's just how it was — and still is.
I mentioned there was another influence in my life, though — a good influence. A person who would try to teach us that fighting could have a point. Who taught Zach and me that fighting could make a positive difference in our lives.
This man believed in fighting.
He preached to us about fighting in the same way he talked to us about God.
Excerpted from "The Pact"
Copyright © 2018 Cody Garbrandt.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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