After taking out another UFC uber-prospect, it’s time to see how far Cody Stamann can go in the UFC bantamweight division

Tom Duquesnoy was supposed to be the next big thing. The 15-1 Jackson-Wink MMA product had been touted as a future champion by many – including this very magazine – after tearing through European promotions and an impressive Octagon debut. But there was already an American on the UFC roster who also had 15 wins against one loss, and his own ideas about taking the 135lb division by storm.

Michigan Top Team’s Cody Stamann derailed that hype train with a dominant display – stopping the Frenchman’s dangerous standup with a double-leg takedown reminiscent of GSP, then getting the best of the striking exchanges in the final round. Despite the official verdict reading ‘split decision’ – “yeah, that was crazy,” Stamann says – there was no doubt in most peoples’ eyes who won the fight.

In 2016, Cody Garbrandt went from unranked to champion within a calendar year. Just before his fight against Bryan Caraway was announced for UFC 222 on March 4th, FO grilled ‘Mr Wonderful’ to find out whether he thinks he has the tools to follow his namesake.

How exciting was it to match up against such a hyped fighter?

I think that fight definitely put me on a lot of people’s radars. Beating a guy like that – a blue-chip prospect – in that manner is the best fight I could have gotten for my second in the UFC. I fought a guy with the same amount of UFC experience as me, and he had the following at 10 fights of a guy who was in the top five. Just getting that bout was a huge win for me. Honestly, I’m still surprised I got it.

Did you have a chip on your shoulder because all the hype surrounded him, despite your near-identical records?

Definitely. I think I have in a lot of my fights. It’s part of what makes me so hungry as an athlete. That’s why I continue to get better every fight. I’ve kind of been underrated forever. I don’t come from a mega gym, I didn’t fight for a mega promotion like Duquesnoy did coming up. I’m relatively unknown. One part of me, the human part, says this is completely understandable. You don’t necessarily have the hype and the following a lot of these guys do, so it’s reasonable to expect that. But the fighter side of me says, ‘F**k that!’ People should know who am. I’m one of the best in the world. I’ve just got to go out and prove it.

How many people do you think you surprised?

A lot of people. The people in the upper brass of the UFC weren’t
that surprised. I had a few people calling me from the UFC saying, ‘I knew you were going to win that fight, I knew you’d be trouble for Duquesnoy.’ People who really know about the sport made out pretty well. They made a lot of money because I was the underdog. I know a lot of people close to me made a lot of money! I think the majority of MMA fans and the MMA community expected Duquesnoy to run through me. Those are the people who lost out.

What kind of a message did you send to the fans, the UFC and the rest of the 135lb division?

I should be on the radar of everyone in the bantamweight division. Tom Duquesnoy was. A lot of people saw him coming in and being the next guy who would have a run at the title, and I just beat him. I’ve got to be on the fighters’ radar, for sure. The average fan might not know who Tom Duquesnoy is, so might not know who I beat, and I still have a lot of proving to do to them. I think the top brass of the UFC knew I was one of the guys who flew under the radar. Sean Shelby said I was kind of like Jimmy Rivera, who flew under the radar until he fought Urijah Faber.

Have you shown you should have been in the UFC a long time ago?

My mom always tells me everything happens for a reason. I never really believed it. I definitely feel like I could have been in the UFC a long time ago, but a lot of the guys who are coming into the UFC now are like 8-0 and 7-0, kind of like I was, and they really don’t have the cage experience you need to compete against guys at the highest level. I feel with 16 professional and 20 amateur fights, I have that in-cage experience and fight IQ that will take me to the top. A lot of other people will fall short. When I go in there, I’m going to figure out a way to win, and I think a lot of that has to do with how much experience I have against tough opponents.

Was it something that frustrated you at the time?

At the time, I was pretty bitter about it, but now I look at where I am and where I’m headed in the UFC and I really do think it all happened for a reason.

How close are you to breaking into the rankings ahead of the fighters in the 10-15 spots?

I feel I can beat any of those guys. Put me against any of them and I’d figure out a way to beat them. This fight with Duquesnoy, when I first got his name, I was kind of cloudy on whether I could beat him, but eight weeks later I knew I could beat him. I had a great game plan: I study my opponents religiously. If they give me eight weeks, I can beat anybody in the UFC. I don’t care where they’re ranked.

Do you think you can compete with the guys higher up, too?

I spend so much time thinking about this. My mind never shuts off. I watch other fights and am already putting together game plans to beat all these guys. I’m more of an athlete and a competitor than a fighter. I’m really good and can fight a lot of different styles depending on who my opponent is. I can be a straight kickboxer, a boxer, a wrestler, a bully-type fighter, it just depends on who I’m fighting. I’m a lot more dangerous than all these guys because I’m versatile and can fight at different ranges and through different styles. A lot of these guys have been fighting the same way for 10 years. They’ve never really evolved. I can fight flat-footed or I can bounce in and out. I might never shoot on somebody, and then against somebody else, I might shoot non-stop. That’s why I think I can beat any of these guys.

Who would you like to fight next?

I think Aljamain Sterling or Bryan Caraway. Those are two guys I want to fight. People are telling me to pump the brakes and not go after somebody that big, but I really feel I can beat those guys in the next couple of months and that will put me into the top 10. I’m not sure my management or the UFC are going to let me do that. I’ll probably have to pay my dues and get another fight before that, but I feel I can beat those two guys right now.

How are your abilities improving?

I think I’ve always had the tools, I’m just sharpening them. I have a lot more time to focus on just MMA. I spent a lot of time working and doing other things – kind of hustling. Before you get in the UFC your life is kind of a hustle. Training is always a priority but I’ve never been able to train the way I wanted. Now that I can, I can train two or three times a day. I’m always improving one piece of my game, including my confidence. Now that I’m in the UFC, that weight is off my shoulders. I have a different mentality. I wasn’t where I wanted to be for so long, doubt starts to creep in. Are you going to be able to compete with those guys? Well, now I am in the UFC, I’ve competed with one of the best in the world, and I really didn’t think I performed that well. I have a lot more to give and I’m realising I am an elite guy. I can compete with anybody in the world.

How far can you go in 2018?

I’ll be in the top 10 in 2018, no doubt. I’m potentially three fights away from fighting for the title, and I don’t want to be one of those guys who kind of hangs out in the top 20 for two years. I’ve climbed pretty far pretty fast and I’m not going to climb that many numbers now because there aren’t that many spaces in front of me. But I definitely know I’ll be in the top 10 in 2018.

Do you think you can emulate Cody Garbrandt’s rapid rise?

I was doing some research, and so was my manager, and we discovered the only other guy who has moved as fast as me was Cody. That gives me a lot of confidence moving forward. I look at all these guys and look at their records and how many times they’ve fought, and I’ve had just as many fights, if not more, than a lot of these guys in the top 10. I don’t feel like anyone is going to be a real veteran for me. I’m going to go in there and really whoop some ass.

This article first appeared in the January edition of Fighters Only. Sign up for a free digital subscription by filling in the form on this page.