What do a 10-year-old cancer survivor and a 25-year-old UFC Bantamweight Champ have in common? A small town in Tuscarawas County, Ohio called Uhrichsville and a desire to help each other get through tough battles.
Soon after Maddux Maple was diagnosed with acute lymphocyctic leukemia at age 5 in 2011, everyone in Uhrichsville knew the boy had a big fight ahead of him.
“Uhrichsville is a small town,” said Maddux’s Mom, Stephani Maple. “Everyone knows everything about everyone in Uhrichsville.”
Cody Garbrandt, who was an amateur fighter living in Uhrichsville at the time, heard about Maddux’s cancer treatment at Akron Children’s Hospital and decided to donate all the proceeds to his next fight ticket sales to help the Maples.
But the friendship really began when the little fighter and the big fighter first met Jan. 26, 2012.
“It was awesome and a little bit weird at the same time,” recalled Maddux. “Here I am talking to a guy with a whole bunch of tattoos and I’ve never seen people fighting in my life. But he was really nice and I programmed his phone number into my iPod. I texted and called him all the time. Then I started walking him down to his local fights.”
It is like they are brothers, explained Stephani. Cody looks after Maddux and gives him purpose while Maddux gives Cody motivation to keep to his task. “They saved each others’ lives,” Stephani says, pointing to an especially poignant moment in January of 2014.
“Maddux came into the kitchen one night and told me he was done fighting. He said he wanted to stop taking his medicine. He wanted to give up,” said Stephani. “We set up a facetime session with Cody and they made a promise together.
“Cody told Maddux, ‘Buddy, you got to keep fighting. You’ve got 8 months left of treatment and you can’t give up now. I tell you what. Let’s make a promise. If you promise to keep fighting, taking your meds and beat cancer, then I promise I’ll make it to the UFC and I’ll take you with me. We’ll become champs together.”
Maddux finished his treatment in August of 2014. Cody signed onto the UFC 3 months later and kept his word. A sponsor flew the Maples to Vegas for five fights and they also attended one of Cody’s fights in Pittsburgh.
On Dec. 30, Cody fought Dominic Cruz, who was the UFC champion for 10 years prior, and emerged victorious. Maddux walked him to the cage and was by Cody’s side when he was awarded his UFC champion belt.
“I went wild and jumped all over the place,” said Maddux. “Cody told me, in front of everyone and on TV, that this belt belongs to someone special, and his name is Maddux. We’ve been waiting five years to be able to do this. That was our dream and it finally came true.”
Stephani said it was an exhilarating moment for everyone.
“To watch him struggle all these years with the leukemia has been tough,” she said. “Cody’s championship win didn’t make me forget about everything we’ve been through, but it did help fade it a bit. And his attention gives Maddux so much confidence. He’s been bullied at school about being bald and missing school. He can’t play sports, so this means so much to him.”