The new year has seen a new UFC in many ways. The most notable changes are the promotion’s busier schedule and its steps towards worldwide domination. When fans look at these changes, they see an effect of a thinner offering of top talent on individual cards, and also a slew of fresh faces and “as-needed” replacement fighters taking up more preliminary-card real estate.

But what if those fans considered how the UFC’s expansion is benefiting those fighters that have been waiting for their largest career break into the big leagues? Let’s not forget that even such notables as UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao were nobodies to UFC fans at one point.

Enter bantamweight Cody Gibson. He’s a Tachi Fight Palace veteran and a professional mixed martial artist of six years with a record of 11-3 who is on a six-fight winning streak. The UFC needed to replace an injured Lucas Martins at UFC 170 against Aljamain Sterling, and Gibson was chosen to fill the spot. After a lifetime of training, Gibson received the call to join the big show. He had just two weeks to prepare.

Gibson (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Gibson (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“I had been in the middle of doing private wrestling lessons on Sunday this week. So I wasn’t around my phone, and then when I went and checked my phone after the class I had a bunch of missed calls from my manager,” Gibson recalled in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “So I called him right back, and he had informed me that they had needed me for a short-notice fight for the 22nd. I’ve been waiting for that call for five years, been training in combative sports 12 years, so for me it was probably the best phone call I’ve ever received.”

Gibson had helped himself in the past to be on the UFC’s mind in case a situation just like this arose. He’d tweet to UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby, letting him and the UFC know that he’s ready to fight in case the promotion needs him. Now, with the ink drying on a four-fight contract with the UFC, Gibson can look back on his self-marketing approach and know that it paid off.

“More than anything, I just wanted to keep my name in [Shelby’s] ear, you know,” he explained. “Be fresh in his mind and let him know that I stay ready. Always willing to take any fight at [135 pounds]—I’ll fight at 170 if they offer me a fight. That was part of it. But, for this fight, it happened so quickly I didn’t even get a chance to try and make my case for it. It happened in the snap of the fingers and the next thing I knew, I had my opportunity. Pretty excited about it.”

Gibson’s journey to where he is now is a story that’s as humble as any. He’s a Californian from the modest city of Visalia. While wrestling in college, a friend offered for Gibson to come train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with him. It fit perfectly with his “gym rat” mentality. He’d take his college courses for the year and then start taking amateur fights in the summers. The greenhorn was aided by his wrestling background while he was introduced to the other facets of the game.

Gibson found a home at Tachi Palace Fights as a young professional after his start in 2008. It was a short drive to the fight for the local boy. He knew that the lower weight class champions of TPF were scouted by the UFC. At the time, he was fighting on cards alongside future UFC transplants such as Ian McCall, Ulysses Gomez and Fabricio Camoes.

Gibson lost his chance for a TPF title at his weight class of bantamweight against Gomez in 2011. It was one of only a few setbacks in his career, but Gibson kept on traveling and fighting, knowing that there’s only one place he was looking to end up.

“I fought a lot around there,” he said. “Had a couple fights at other places too. I fought on that Nick Diaz show. He put on a show last summer, and I fought on that. I wasn’t looking to sign with Bellator or World Series of Fighting or any of the other organizations. Some offers came, but my ultimate goal was to be in the UFC.”

“I’m an old man and I want my kids and grandkids to know what a badass I was,” he mused. “I want to show them that I was at the pinnacle of the sport. I think I played it pretty smart to just hold off and wait for that call.”

This Saturday, he’ll take his first fight with the promotion against Sterling. Gibson won’t have a full training camp behind him, but he has always pushed to be ready for anything. You get a feeling that Gibson has a strong vision and ethic for preparation towards being ready for whatever opportunity will come, as if it’s somehow expectantly unexpectant.

“I try to use cardio as a weapon in fights. Everyone talks about power or speed, but I think cardio can be used as a weapon too,” he explained. “You see all the time, you might not be the most skilled fighter in the cage, but if you have better cardio you can push the pace. That can win a lot of fights.

Gibson (top) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Gibson (top) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

“Two weeks is two weeks. You can’t simulate training eight to 10 weeks for a fight and all the condition that’s involved. You’re not going to do that year round.”

Taking a short-notice fight can be a gamble, but Gibson had been hedging his bets to get to this point anyway.

“I’ve been training consistently since my last fight,” he revealed. “I had an injury. I always feel like when you have injuries there’s always something you can do. For hand injuries, do something with your feet. For a foot injury, do something with your hand. So, I was still in the gym training every day. He’s a tough guy; he’s a good prospect. I’ve known about him for a while. I’ve seen a couple of his fights. I think it should be a good fight. I don’t think any of us came to lose, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Something that makes the fight more appealing to Gibson—and also to his opponent—is that it will be seen on the Fox Sports 1 televised preliminaries. Up till now, Gibson had never fought to such an exposure.

“I think both of us are real fortunate that it kind of fell in place like that. That we were able to fight on the Fox Sports 1 prelims,” he said. “A lot of times, first-time fighters are kind of delegated to the Facebook—or now, the Fight Pass. It’s a pretty cool little thing for my community. I live in a small town, so it’s a pretty big deal to a lot of people. I teach high school wrestling, so it’s a good motivator for the kids as they head into post-season. Just the idea that you work hard at something, it’s going to happen. You just gotta take that blue-collar approach to it, you know. Put your head down and keep working hard.”

“I am looking to make a splash,” Gibson said of his debut. “I’d rather not even be there if I were known as a boring fighter. I’d rather just not fight. I want people to want to pay to see me fight. I want people to talk about me after the fight and build from them. I’m looking to make a splash. I’m looking to get a finish. I’m looking to get a bonus. I’m looking to open some eyes.”

The fight is only days away now. Gibson is as prepared as he can be with his team at Elite MMA. With the help of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu coach and mentor Tom Knox—an influential pro skateboarder in the ‘90s and black belt under Cleber Luciano—and Bellator middleweight tournament winner Doug Marshall working with him on his Muay Thai, Gibson is ready to show that a blue-collar work ethic can pay off. That makes these fresh faces in a growing UFC an interesting proposition to new fans.

“I think fans should tune in because they’re going to see a high-pace fight,” Gibson concluded. “I don’t sit back too much and dance around. I’m looking to finish the fight at every possible minute of the fight. I always like a good fist fight. If they like good fist fights, they should tune in.”

Cody would like to thank All Pro Science, Venum Fightwear. Contact Matt Apticker at Paradigm Sports Management for sponsorship. Follow Gibson on Twitter: @TheRenegade559

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.