Cody Brundage’s spectacular guillotine win over Dalcha Lungiambula on March 12 at UFC Vegas 50 may have netted him a “Performance of the Night” bonus – but the money is going toward a purpose far greater than his own glory. His one-year-old daughter, Kingsley, was diagnosed with a rare developmental disability shortly before his UFC debut – which has left Brundage more motivated than ever to ensure that he can support his family’s needs.
“[My daughter] has a gene mutation called ALG13,” Brundage explains to the Jiu-Jitsu Times. “There have only been about forty cases of it, ever, so it’s super rare. Basically, it predisposes kids to untreatable epilepsy, seizures, and things like that, which leads to developmental delays. The prognosis isn’t great because there are so few cases, so it’s a day-by-day thing for us – we don’t really know, long term, what it looks like, but we’re hopeful.”
He’s open about his daughter’s condition, hoping to serve as a source of support and awareness to other parents of children with disabilities: “I don’t mind talking about it, because I feel like I’ve seen successful people who have dealt with similar things, and seeing their success and hearing them talk about it gives me hope, and makes me feel better. Knowing that they’re okay, they’re giving their kid a good life, it makes me feel like I can do the same thing. So if I can be that for anybody else, I want to do that.”
So, what went through Brundage’s head the night he won that performance bonus from the UFC? Mostly, the will to impose his game plan, which centered on gassing his opponent out. “The guy I was fighting, he puts on a lot of pressure – heavy, very explosive, very powerful,” says Brundage, “so my game plan was actually just to meet him in the middle. His biggest knock is his cardio, so I felt like if I could just keep a pace on him, the fight would get progressively easier as it went on.”
The fight didn’t start off as auspiciously as it could have. “I was in on a single, and he was in a Whizzer position, and he was able to land an uppercut, which kind of buzzed me a little – it surprised me, you know, because you don’t really expect someone to bring that kind of heat from the knees, but he definitely brought the heat!” Brundage laughs. “So I was like, ‘Okay, so I don’t really want to get back to the feet, because I’m a little bit hurt,’ so I kind of tried to hide in the takedowns a little bit. He was throwing and trying to get me out of there, but a lot of the stuff he was throwing wasn’t landing super clean. And then when we get back to the feet, I had my wits about me again, so I was surviving, and kind of like, ‘Okay, I’m not gonna win this round, I’m getting beat up.’”
However, Brundage remained confident of his cardio advantage – and that if he managed to survive the first round and force his opponent into a second or third, he’d turn the fight around.
“Watching the film, you can tell that he knows his weakness is his cardio, so he’ll really blitz somebody, just so he can put pressure on them and force them to back off, so he can breathe a bit,” Brundage explains. “So I wasn’t going to back up, I was going to meet him in every exchange, I was going to make him exchange.”
In the end, Brundage didn’t need any extra rounds to take the fight back on his terms. Thanks to a well-timed guillotine choke, he won by submission before the first round ended. It’s one of several submission victories he’s claimed in recent memory, but Brundage doesn’t necessarily classify himself as a submission artist by definition. “Wrestling is definitely my strongest suit,” he admits. “I’ve done it a long time, I’ve wrestled all through college, but most wrestlers, their striking is pretty stiff – whereas I feel like I’m a more athletic wrestler, so I’m able to strike pretty well and pull off submissions – and some of [what I did], like jumping guard, most wrestlers aren’t going to do that.” It speaks to a versatility that Brundage has grown comfortable with during the past three years of his tenure in the pro leagues.
“I feel like a submission artist is more someone like Ryan Hall,” says Brundage. “I wouldn’t put myself in that category. I have solid submissions, I have good jiu-jitsu, but not on the level of guys like Ryan Hall or Demian Maia – those guys are the real submission artists.”
That said, Brundage does feel that his strong wrestling foundations allow him to dictate where the fight takes place. He points to the increasing numbers of high-level jiu-jitsu practitioners who have incorporated more wrestling into their practice to gain a competitive edge. “The wrestling is a great foundation for building your jiu-jitsu if you’re willing to go learn,” says Brundage, and adds: “A high-level wrestler with maybe less experience in jiu-jitsu is going to be able to compete with high-level jiu-jitsu guys who maybe don’t do any wrestling. But I think if you put [wrestling and jiu-jitsu] together, that combination’s pretty hard to beat.”
One half of a UFC power couple alongside MMA veteran Amanda Brundage née Cooper, Brundage has worked hard to adapt to his role as not only a fighter but a family man. “The [family life] balance is definitely tough,” admits Brundage. “Sometimes, I only get to see my daughter thirty, forty minutes a night. I feel lucky that my wife understands the grind, she understands the commitment that it takes, especially when you’re fighting the best guys in the world. She’s never pressured me to be home more, and I’m really lucky that she has the perspective [of having been in MMA herself]. Most people don’t get that.” In order to compensate for scant hours together during tough training camps, the Brundage clan makes the most of time between Cody’s camps to maximize quality time together.
“My wife’s a fighter, but she’s really taken a back seat [to take care of the family] – she went and got her CNA license, she’s in school – so she can help our daughter a lot more,” says Brundage. “And that’s paying dividends. We’re in a Facebook group with parents of other children who have the same condition, and they’re like, ‘Wow, [your daughter] is only one and sitting up? My child didn’t sit up until they were three!’ And I attribute all of that to my wife putting in the work and time with her.”
“The fact that she’s putting her own dream – her dream of coming back to the UFC and fighting again – on the back burner, really motivates me,” adds Brundage. “Her willingness to let me take the role of a fighter while she takes on more of the role of parent, definitely makes me want to push myself. Like, if she’s willing to do this, how can I skip a gym session? How can I cheat on my diet? How can I be short of perfect at what I’m doing? She’s giving up one of her biggest dreams and goals for now – so how can I disrespect that by not doing the most I can to be successful?”
Family life aside, Amanda’s own impressive MMA credentials – which in fact predate Brundage’s own – have also proven a tremendous boon to his professional development. “When I first met my wife, she was just my teammate and one of my coaches,” says Brundage. “I had no idea what I was doing, so she was coaching me up, and she was like, ‘Listen, you’re going to be really good, you’re going to get to the UFC, and you’re going to owe me two percent forever.’ I joke that she gets way more than two percent now!”
Their origin story as a couple is the stuff of both romcoms and sports dramas. “I moved to Michigan and was coaching wrestling,” says Brundage. “It was about an hour and a half from the gym where I was training. And I was living in the middle [between my work and my gym]. So I’d go to the gym early in the morning when no one was there. I’d be there for like two hours, hitting the bag, and I had no idea what I was doing.”
That was when Amanda intervened. “She would be there [at the same time] giving private lessons,” remembers Brundage. “Eventually, I was probably there for like three days, not knowing what I’m doing, when she comes up to me and goes, ‘Listen. Have you ever fought before?’”
“No,” Brundage admitted sheepishly.
“Have you ever boxed?” asked Amanda.
“No,” repeated Brundage. “I’ve never done any striking, I’m just a wrestler.” He’d taken a few jiu-jitsu classes by that point but was still a relative beginner.
“Okay, listen,” said Amanda, who was primarily a boxer at the time, “I’m going to help you with your striking. In exchange, you can help me with my wrestling.”
Brundage agreed readily enough. “Really, I didn’t help her that much,” he confides, all self-effacing smiles. “She was helping me way more than I was helping her. But the thing was, I didn’t know who she was at the time! I was like, ‘Who’s this girl who’s gonna come teach me how to strike?’
As it turned out, the “girl teaching him how to strike” was, at the time, a professional UFC fighter.
Brundage chuckles when he remembers their first meeting now. “I was all egotistical and arrogant, like an idiot, and then of course, I find out later that she competes at the highest level, and is way better than me at everything! So she helped me a lot with my striking. I would go in the morning, then drive to practice, do the practice, then drive back and do night classes, where she would help me as well.”
“That went on for about six months, and we just got really close,” Brundage continues. “I was with her for her camp in Detroit, when she fought. We were just friends at the time, but we were really close, and one thing led to another. We started dating, got married, and now we’ve got a baby.”
He also gained valuable secondhand experience from observing the trajectory of his wife’s career in MMA. “It’s tough, growing up in the UFC [the way she did],” Brundage notes. “Every fight you have is the toughest fight you’re gonna have. Everyone there has the same story [you] do. You can’t take anyone there lightly.”
“[Amanda] is my confidante,” says Brundage. “Before my fight, I was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to do this. This guy is scary, he hits hard, maybe I should just act like I got hurt.’ And she was like, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ And I know I can’t do that, but she’s someone I can talk to about those things, because she’s built the same way. Any person who’s ever fought – maybe they won’t tell you that, because it’s not the cool thing to do, or they want to seem tougher than they are – but this sport is crazy, and it plays tricks on your mind. The mental battle leading up to your fight is almost as hard as the physical one. So to have someone there who knows all the stressors about what you’re going through – and to be able to bounce that off of her, and to know that this is normal and that it’s okay to feel this way – I’m lucky to have her, to have her doing that for me all the time at home. My coach also reinforces it in practice, so they’re a really good one-two punch.”
“Whenever ‘I’ accomplish something [in a fight],” – Brundage uses air quotes here – “I always say that ‘we’ accomplished it. And I say ‘we’ because I would never be there without my teammates, my coaches, my wife – I know that. I would be a wreck without them. I wouldn’t be nearly as successful as I am without them.”
His wife doing occasional double duty as one of his unofficial coaches hasn’t stopped Brundage from sometimes playing the contrarian athlete – even back when Amanda was also his teammate. He smiles, remembering his very first amateur fight: “I remember, before I walked out, my wife was in my corner, and she was like, ‘Listen, we’re just going to wrestle this kid. Don’t throw any punches, don’t get hurt, just wrestle him.’”
“I think I might throw a punch or something,” Brundage protested.
Amanda wasn’t having it. “No! Just wrestle!”
Lo and behold, Brundage knocked his opponent out with the first punch he threw. He laughs. “I was like, ‘This is the greatest sport in the world!’”
Did his wife disapprove of him disregarding her coaching? “I was so over the moon that I won, she kind of let it go,” Brundage admits, grinning.
It’s a sequence of events comedically echoed in his showdown against Lungiambula. “Before this fight, I was like, ‘If he shoots in, I’m gonna jump for the guillotine,’” says Brundage. “And [my wife] was like, ‘Don’t jump the guillotine! That never works!’”
Sure enough, Lungiambula shot in, and Brundage hit the guillotine. “Told you so,” Brundage crowed at Amanda over the phone after the fight.
“I’m glad that it worked,” she relented dryly, “but don’t do that ever again.”
So, what got Brundage interested in MMA in the first place? “It’s kind of crazy – I was always a big fan, I was running fight clubs out of our wrestling rooms,” he remembers, laughing. “And I was terrible! I was horrible. I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just knew how to wrestle.” Unlike some of the other fighters he knows, he didn’t have a terribly rough upbringing as a teen growing up in middle-class America, but he didn’t love the sport any less. His wrestling background also instilled a love of competition in him – which was hard to satisfy with anything other than a combat sport. “After college, my mom was like, ‘Do CrossFit!’” recalls Brundage. CrossFit, though, didn’t fill the void the same way fighting did.
“The biggest hurdle was just doing it for the first time,” says Brundage. “Because I remember I would always tell my parents I was going to fight.” Brundage’s parents were less than thrilled at the notion. “You have a college degree, you have all the opportunities in the world, you’re not going to fight,” they’d tell him.
But Brundage fought regardless. He took his first fight on short notice. At the time, he was living out of his car and didn’t even tell his parents that he’d taken the fight. “It was in Ohio. I weighed in, I posted a picture on Instagram, and my dad called me,” Brundage remembers. He sports a slightly sheepish grin. “He was like, ‘What are you doing?’”
Luckily, Brundage’s parents are a lot more approving of their son’s career choice now that he’s proven his mettle as an elite athlete. A family of sports enthusiasts, Brundage is grateful to them for raising him in a deeply physical culture: “I was super lucky. Both my parents were really strong, mentally. My mom was on the Olympic team for biathlon, my dad was Special Forces, my youngest brother plays lacrosse, and my sister plays D-1 soccer.”
“I think it’s still tough for them that I fight – for any parent, it’s tough,” says Brundage. He understands those emotions particularly well as a young parent himself. “If my daughter came to me and told me she wanted to fight, I’d definitely be hesitant. I think for my parents, it’s not even that they’re worried about me getting hurt – it’s just tough for them to see their son in a physical altercation, whether I’m winning or losing. It’s tough for them because they didn’t grow up in that world – my wife’s dad, was a boxer, so her mom and dad get that side of the physicality a bit more. But [my parents] are still really proud, and super supportive.”
Brundage’s parents were also initially concerned about the financial stability of an MMA career – so it helps that Brundage is smart with his money. “The UFC is the NFL of our sport, but the net worth of the NFL or NBA is obviously much higher,” he notes. According to Brundage, it’s difficult for a fighter to do anything tangible to advocate for higher pay. Walking out is rarely an option, simply because the talent pool available to the UFC is so deep and young, ambitious fighters so replaceable.
“I’m happy with how I’m being compensated,” he says, “but it is what it is. My friend Dustin Jacoby always says, ‘Listen, if you just win, it’ll work itself out,’ and that’s true. It’s tough when that’s your ultimatum to make money, but it’s true – if you continue to win, you’ll continue to get new contracts, and once you get to the second or third contract, you’re making enough money that not only are you living well, you’re living comfortably – as long as you’re smart with your money.”
That caveat – being smart with your money – is key. “Part of the problem is that a lot of fighters aren’t smart with their money,” Brundage points out. “A lot of fighters aren’t paying their taxes. A lot of fighters don’t know how to invest. A lot of fighters just aren’t doing intelligent things with their money, which is why they have to turn around and fight someone that maybe they shouldn’t fight. It’s happened many times.”
As a result, he’s a big believer in financial literacy resources for MMA fighters. “What I would love to see, in terms of reform, is the UFC maybe investing in financial counseling classes for fighters,” says Brundage. “Because I know a lot of fighters who maybe didn’t make a ton of money from their fights – but made a lot from investing that money after the fight. These guys make good money to fight, but since we get paid in large chunks – which is unusual [for income] – if you know how to invest that money, you can turn it around and have something at the end of your fight career. So I just think there should be more focus on financial advising, honestly.”
Brundage hopes to eventually become an MMA coach in his own right. “My [original] goal was to be a high school teacher and high school wrestling coach,” he says. “I’ve had some really good mentors, some really good coaches to bounce ideas off of, which has taught me a lot about my own game as well. So it would be really cool to be a coach here [at Factory X] and coach alongside the guys I’ve worked with. It would be awesome.”
As for what legacy he’d like to leave behind, Brundage hopes to be a role model for both fans and athletes coming up in the sport. That doesn’t just mean setting a good example – it also means learning from the mistakes of his own youth. “Back when I was an amateur, I thought I needed to [trash talk], and a lot of it just cringed, you know?”
He winces at the memory. “I can’t tell you how many Facebook statuses I’ve deleted, how many callouts of people I’ve deleted, just because it was so fake. I look at it now like, ‘How could you even write that? You were such a fool.’ But I was twenty-three years old, I was younger, and I thought that was what you needed to do to be successful. I just don’t feel that way anymore. And I try to tell amateurs from my old team the same thing, like, ‘Listen, you don’t need to do that to be successful. You can get to the highest level without doing that.’ I try to help people learn from my mistakes.”
He laughs, still full of mild but good-natured embarrassment over the antics of his youth. “Thankfully, that’s in the past, I’m not doing that anymore. And it was when I was such a young fighter that thankfully, not too many people got to see it!”
What about the Brundage of the current era – the older, wiser fighter and family man who’s had enough time now to regret the cringey social media behavior of his early career? “As a fighter, I just really want people to see me as someone who wouldn’t quit, who wouldn’t give up on themselves – as well as someone who’s entertaining, and I think those two things go hand in hand,” he says. “Outside of the cage, though, I just want people to see me as genuine. I try to be as genuine as possible. I feel like there’s a lot of fakeness in the game because people think it sells, or for whatever reason – you know, I’m not going to knock anybody from doing what they think they have to do, but for me, I’ve just always tried to be genuine.”
“I’ve always tried to ensure that my ‘character’ is truly who I am,” he continues. “And I take pride in that, and I feel good about that. And I’ve kind of molded that after guys like Anthony Smith, who’s one of my mentors, and has really taken me under his wing, and Dustin Jacoby, who’s done the same. I just think being genuine is the best thing you can be, and that it goes a long way to show people who are fans that you don’t have to be this boisterous, egotistical person. You can just be who you are, and that’s pretty cool too.”
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