The Ultimate Fighter
On April 15, Cody Stamann wasn’t walking under ladders, wasn’t letting black cats cross his path. Let’s just say the bantamweight contender was doing everything possible to make sure his May 1 bout with Merab Dvalishvili stayed intact.
“I'm isolating myself from anything dangerous,” he said. “I'm at a point now where I'm absolutely terrified about anything the world can throw at me.”
Was bubble wrap an option?
“I feel like I have to put a bubble suit on from now until May 1st.”
Stamann laughed, but it was more accurately described as a weary chuckle from a man who hasn’t asked for much since last summer. All he wanted was a fight.
“It's been a long, long training camp,” he said. “I've been ready to fight now for probably four months.”
That is a long training camp, and whether it was having to withdraw from a fight with Dvalishvili last December, seeing Dvalishvili pull out from a February rescheduling of the bout, or seeing late replacement opponent Askar Askar forced out of that February date, it hasn’t been easy for the Michigan native.
“You get right to the gate and you're ready to fight, and then it's like, 'Nope, just kidding, it's not happening, you can go home,'” he said. “I never realized how bad I wanted to get into a cagefight until they told me the day of that it wasn't happening. (Laughs) It was a whole different feeling. But this is weird time.”
Stamann knows that in this sport, these things happen, and there’s really no one to blame. You just do your best to deal with the twists and turns and get ready for the next one. The 31-year-old is more gracious than many in accepting what he can’t change, yet despite that attitude, he still can’t wait to get into a fistfight this weekend.
“I still want to punch everybody, but this game humbles you,” he said. “It really does. And I think if you're really gonna succeed at a sport that's so crazy and so ever-changing, you really gotta find the good stuff in everything. Otherwise, you'll just drive yourself crazy. I've been lucky and I have a lot of really good people in my life, and they're constantly reminding me that it could be so much worse. And they're right, because it's been worse. I didn't come from a gracious place where I had everything. Life's hard and it doesn't matter what you're doing, and if you decide to be an athlete, it's real hard, and I'm not sure that everybody necessarily understands that.”
Given the break since his fight against Jimmie Rivera last year, when presented with a third chance to face Dvalishvili on Saturday, Stamann wasn’t interested, believing that the MMA Gods were playing tricks on him and “The Machine.”
“I've been scheduled to fight this guy twice, and this fight seems like it's cursed, like something's gonna happen, no matter what I do,” he said when asked about fighting Dvalishvili this time around. “I said, ‘So is there anyone else, any other possibilities?’ And then Merab starts showing up at Xtreme Couture, where I train, and he starts training with all my partners.”
Yeah, that’s a little odd, but understandable considering that Dvalishvili was in Las Vegas helping bantamweight champ Aljamain Sterling. Soon, though, Stamann’s gym mates started to convince him that maybe the third time was the charm with the Georgian.
“Everyone's like, 'Hey Cody, Merab's good and he can wrestle, but we think you're better, and if there's a stylistic matchup for you, if somebody took a present and wrapped it and put a nice pretty bow on it, it's Merab.' Basically, my training partners and coaches talked me into signing for the fight again,” said Stamann. “I was out, I didn't want to do it. I've been training for this guy for so long, I want some variety in my life.”
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Variety will have to wait. Stamann took the fight, and Dvalishvili was forced to work with the Syndicate MMA squad while in Vegas.
“I don't have a personal issue with him, but it's my job to hurt this guy,” said Stamann. “I don't want to see him. I don't want to hang out with him. No offense to him, but I don't want him anywhere near me. I want him to be healthy and prepared, but I don't want him around me.”
The two will see enough of each other on Saturday, and it’s one of the more anticipated bouts on the card. Then again, any fight involving bantamweights these days gets the blood pumping, and not just for the fans, but the participants.
“Any time you're involved in a ranked matchup, if you're a ranked fighter in the UFC, you're a couple fights away from something really big,” said Stamann. “And I look at all the people that are in the division, I look at all the opportunities, all the big fights that could be made, and if you would have told me when I started this that eventually I could be fighting Frankie Edgar at 135 pounds, I would have been like, 'Nah, that's not gonna happen.' Or maybe I could fight Jose Aldo at 135 pounds. It's a crazy division. There's five former champions in the division and that doesn't really happen. If you look at bantamweight 1 to 25, it's without a doubt the deepest division in MMA. And it's pretty cool to see my name up there.”
Now he wants that name to rise higher from where it currently sits at No. 13 in the bantamweight rankings. That quest starts tomorrow.
“There are so many great opportunities in front of me,” Stamann said. “There's nothing but big fights, nothing but tough fights, and I put myself in a place where May 1st I'm gonna open a lot of doors and there's gonna be a lot of huge opportunities and I can't wait. I've been waiting my whole life for these opportunities. I've worked hard and now I'm here and I've just gotta make the most of it.”