There’s a quote that circles around the web, attributed to many, but the author is unknown. Printed across memes and status updates, “Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind.”
When it comes to battles, we all have them. It’s universal among those who sit behind desks, pick up children from school, wait in hospital rooms, or sit in classrooms. We are all experiencing life, and in many moments, it can be hard.
I had the honor of sitting down with UFC fighter Cody “No Love” Garbrandt to explore the battles he faces as a fighter and as a young man. He grew up in a community known to battle poverty, addiction, and incarceration.
It’d been a busy morning of photo shoots and interviews. For this popular MMA Icon, fighting is not foreign. Cody fights every day to prepare for the battles he chooses to take on in “The Octagon.” The Octagon is the space designated for professional Mixed Martial Arts competitions. But I was there to talk to him about a struggle that had been more intense than the one in the Octagon, an internal struggle Cody has just revealed for the first time, in his “White Chair Film” for the non-profit multimedia company I Am Second. You can view the exclusive premiere of Cody’s “I Am Second” film below.
I sat on the edge of an outdoor couch waiting for my turn to connect with Cody. I wondered if he would feel comfortable or even wanted to “go there” with a stranger about something as vulnerable as this topic would be. As carefully as I could, I asked him if he was okay talking about the day he attempted to take his life.
“I want you to know that I’m aware this is a sensitive topic for you, and a new one to talk about publicly.”
Cody nodded, seeming unfazed by my concern or question. His eyes are light brown and determined, his body covered in tattoos. Someone nearby asks him, “How many tattoos?” He answers, “Oh, I lost count a long time ago.”
“You ready?” he asks. “Let’s do this.” Our conversation began overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Southern California, a stark contrast to his childhood in Ohio. His father was incarcerated, and his mother gave her children all she had and tried to instill ethical values in them so that they wouldn’t repeat their father’s story. His uncle was their boxing coach.
“We had an amazing mother who pushed us you know to always show up to practice, work hard and enjoy the journey. It was something she would always, not preach to us, but just kinda tell us “you’re not quittin’—Johnny might be quittin,’ his parents might be quittin,’ but you’re not. Once you start something, you gotta finish.”
The Garbrandts grew up in a community where fighting was the currency exchanged for respect and reputation. “I come from a long line of fighters, and my uncle was my boxing coach. He got a life sentence at 15, found the Lord in prison and had an epiphany and got out. My grandfather boxed. My father boxed. It’s the fighting we come from, generations of fighters. It’s in our blood to do. I was always around a lot of negative fighting whether it was domestic fighting or street fighting. I took that negativity and turned it into a positive. Look at me now, I’m a World Champion and I’ve been able to a lot of amazing things in this sport.”
Envisioning the Future
Like many growing up in America, college was a carrot dangled as the ticket out of a life of drugs, poverty, and crime. Cody went to college but found that it didn’t suit him. Upon returning home, the group of friends he was hoping to avoid by leaving town lured him back into the scene. He shares, “I left college and I was trying to find my path or passion and I had everybody in my ear telling me to do this or do that but my passion was fighting. Not many people believed even back then that you could make a living and do this. I always wanted to, and always did. I just felt after leaving college and you know I left my passion with wrestling—I had a full ride—I left a college and then I was going in and got mixed with the wrong crowd started just going out partying, drinking just kinda living life recklessly with no care because I lost something that I loved.”
Cody’s Crisis of Direction
As Cody shares for the first time publicly in the I Am Second: White Chair Film, there was a night that he slipped out of a party early by himself. The hopelessness and overwhelm of a life without clear purpose or meaning became so heavy that he wanted to end his life. “I don’t know if it was drug-induced,” he trails off as though considering why he’d fallen into such a deep dark place, “My friends and I would get some cocaine and party. I don’t know if it was that but I was like tired of this going out all the time and doing the same thing over and over with the same crowd. I wanted something new. I decided to to take my life that night.”
Cody’s brother got a text from a friend alerting him that his brother had left the party early and that they were concerned. Zach went over to the house and found Cody within enough time to save his life.
I asked Cody, “What was that moment like?”
“He’s been my best friend– been there for me for my whole entire life. He gave me a big hug and told me everything was going to be okay, to follow your dreams and do whatever you want.”
This experience became a turning point in Cody’s story. Returning to his faith and seeking the help he needed, Cody realized that he couldn’t live a directionless life. He decided to recommit his life to pursue professional MMA fighting. So that’s what he’s done.
“I think I just let doubt fill my head. I had strayed away from God. It’s crazy, I feel like I strayed away. I was afraid to talk to him, I was like ashamed. I didn’t do my purpose or fill my purpose, which is something I had always believed. I guess it was the combination of all of that and I’m forever grateful for Zach to be there at that time and to snap me back into reality.” Cody shared vulnerably.
“I have a growing relationship with the Lord, [and want] to understand more about him and how I can serve. I’m constantly reminded of how far I’ve come. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a work in progress, but I understand that God has me right where he wants me. I will not be defined by my past—-which is why I decided to share my story on the I Am Second film.”
Future Family Values
Cody “No Love” Garbrandt seems to know a lot about love. As I asked about his new 5-month-old son Kai, his face lights up with pure joy. A smile spreads across his face as he describes the blessing he experiences being married to Danny and getting to be a father. Cody wants to give Kai what he didn’t have in his own childhood.
Finally, I ask a question I’ve been wondering, “What lessons do you want to teach Kai? What do you want him to be fighting for in his life?”
“His purpose. Find whatever purpose he has in life, to find the dream. Hopefully that the Lord will bless him with a dream and the courage to chase it. So many people go throughout this life without any dreams or passion or anything—and if they do have a dream then they are too full of self-doubt to go out and chase it and put in the time and work and effort to really make it come true. So they settle and they’re not happy or fulfilled.”
I drove away from the meeting with Cody “No Love” Garbrandt feeling all the love that now fills his life. I’m grateful that he’s still here with us fighting the battles we all face to discover meaning, purpose, and love.
The message from Cody is clear: Live your purpose and seek to live a life that honors God.
As I begin my drive through horrible traffic on the 405 Freeway, I reflect on his poignant film, and the words of his brother Zach, shared at just the right moment: “Everything is going to be all right.”
And for Cody Garbrandt it seems that win or lose, he’s doing well.
No matter what battle you find yourself in: Be kind to yourself and to others. You’re never alone.
In Canada and the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). In the U.K., ring the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.
Photo cred: Vivien Best
Garbrandt joins a star-studded line up in I Am Second’s “White Chair Films” series. Previous short film features include Kathie Lee Gifford, The Robertson’s (Duck Dynasty), Chip & Joanna Gaines (Fixer Upper), Scott Hamilton, Lynsi Snyder, and many more. I Am Second has over 100 million film views to date, with new videos and original content slated for release later this year. See the I Am Second stories through film here: www.iamsecond.com.