For Cody Durden, mixed martial arts is, indeed, a team sport.
Forget about the fact that when Durden, a Covington native and Class of 2009 Eastside graduate, steps into the ring on July 22 as the No. 2 MMA fighter in Georgia against Jared Scoggins — the top flyweight fighter in South Carolina — he’ll be doing it alone.
This isn’t tag team wrestling, where he can slap the hand of another fighter to bail him out of tough jams. It isn’t football or basketball where he has the luxury of handing the ball to another player who’s in a better position than him to score.
Durden will fight Scoggins one-on-one, hoping to inch his way closer to a NFC title fight. But the fact that the fight is on July 22 reminds Durden of the moment when he closed the deal on uniting with his most important team member.
“This is my date,” Durden said. "July 22. It’s going to be my night again.”
Why? Because last July 22 is when Durden asked his then-girlfriend to marry him.
“It was right after I had won that fight,” he said. “And after I won that fight, I didn’t know if I’d ask her to marry me inside or outside the ring. But I did it inside, and when I did it, I told her that 'All of this couldn’t be possible without you,' and I truly meant that.
After that day, Durden and his fiancé Brittany were married April 8. And since then, Durden — undefeated as a pro with a 4-0 record — says he can clearly see why his upward trajectory as a fighter continues.
“She’s the one fixing my meal preps and just really helping me,” Durden said. “She’s the one telling me, ‘don’t eat that ice cream.' She’s making sure my quotas are met for my next training sessions. She’s making sure I’m eating right, and that’s what I need. Someone who has my back. It’s a team sport. I couldn’t do it without her.”
What Durden has done is carve out a solid reputation around the state as a dynamically aggressive fighter with a budding flair for a little showmanship. His 4-0 record as a pro couples with his 5-1 amateur mark to make him a formidable challenge for anyone he steps in the ring against.
The flyweight (125 pounds) and bantamweight (135 pounds) fighter experienced his lone setback in his first ever fight when he lost to a guy who was fighting two weight classes above his. He’ll admit that the loss planted a small seed of doubt, but it was quickly overcome and confirmed as a small, yet necessary obstacle for his path.
“When I lost that first fight, I was wondering to myself, ‘Should I hang it up?’” he said. “But I gave it another try, and the next time out, I won. It felt amazing.”
Beyond that, he’s also managed to pair himself up with some of the top fighters in the state in Douglas and Dhiego Lima.
Douglas Lima currently holds the Bellator Welterweight Championship, while Dhiego has before been crowned the Titan FC Welterweight champion. As Durden subjects himself to a heavy training regimen each day, it’s the Lima brothers who he says have helped mold him into the fighter he’s becoming today, while giving him hope of reaching national elite status.
“These guys are real close to me,” Durden said. “They took me under the wing.”
He references, again, his second pro fight and precursor to his engagement when he talks about how the opponent he defeated was finished by a rear neck choke just 1:01 into the match — a huge accomplishment considering no one had been able to make the fighter surrender before.
“The guy actually had never been finished before,” Durden said. “He’d lost before, but I finished him for the first time.”
It was a moment that sent his confidence through the roof — even before the proposal.
“As I improve, I see these things that I’m accomplishing, and I’m truly believing in my skill set,” he said. “Every day I’m in the gym one or two times a day working and perfecting my skill.”
Right now, it’s all about Durden getting ready for one of his biggest fights to date. Scoggins not only comes in as a highly regarded fighter, but with what seems to be a family gene for this type of combat.
“I’m now presented with the task to fight Jared,” he said. “And that’s all (the Scoggins brothers) is train and prepare to fight.”
But Durden has a nice cache of experiences as well, including winning the 2016 Georgia Breakthrough Fighter of the Year award, and carving out a niche for himself as a sure finisher.
Not bad for a guy who once saw himself as just a high school wrestler who one day decided, after wrestling, that he needed to have the feeling of physical competition again.
“I just love how it always is that you can never stop learning in this thing,” Durden said. “Every day when you go in there, you’re getting better every time. And there’s the strategy of it. If you’re a wrestler fighting a karate guy like I am, you want to work on taking him down. If I’m fighting another wrestler, you have to perfect your standup. You’re never gonna be the master of a situation. But, like, if you’re a wrestler and good on the ground, you also need to learn how to strike.
“That’s pretty much all I work on is my strike and ground game.”
He’s also working on trying to make as lucrative of a living as he possibly can in the sport — not just to line his pockets, but to get in and help push the sport to new heights.
“I feel like MMA as a whole is growing and the competition is getting harder and harder every year that goes by, since so many people are getting involved,” he said. “In the early 2000s, no one knew what MMA is. Then MMA came to Atlanta. I was with Dhiego in a suite when it came watching it all. It’s steadily growing here, and I feel like I can do good in competition throughout the whole United States.”
He references his most recent fight as an example — a 39-second win by tap out back on March 24. He cites it as an example of how he’s not just winning, but dominating and trying to become a crowd pleaser.
“As soon as the bell rings, I’m looking to destroy,” he said. I’m not just looking to go out and win. You can be the best fighter in the world, but if you’re not entertaining and winning impressively, you’re not going to sell tickets.”
He wants to do more than just look out for himself, though. He wants his success to become something he can pay forward to others — the whole team approach perspective, again, to what is seen as an individual sport.
“My short-term goal is to get the NFC belt, and I’m right at it,” he said. “My long term goal, is me wanting to be in the NFC and to start my own gym one day to help others get to where they want to be as well.”
This next level, however, starts with a win against a quality opponent on a very meaningful date that’s already been good to him.
“It’s my date,” he said. “It’s how tall was supposed to pan out. This guy’s been someone that’s been climbing the ladder, and I want to climb the ladder. I knew I’d be fighting him one day, and I’m ready.”
Durden’s Fight Night
When: Saturday July 22, fights start at 5 p.m. Durden’s fight, the main event, will begin around 9 p.m.
Where: Infinite Energy Arena, 6400 Sugarloaf Pkwy, Duluth
Tickets: You can purchase tickets for the event at www.nfc.thundertix.com