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UFC greets its new bantamweight champion, Cody Garbrandt, as a star

Cody Garbrandt, left, battles Dominick Cruz in the UFC bantamweight championship bout at UFC 207 on Friday in Las Vegas.
(Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

Cody Garbrandt’s remarkable rise from unranked fighter at the beginning of the year to UFC bantamweight champion at its close could very well have a parallel in his future pay-per-view drawing power.

Ohio’s 25-year-old Garbrandt is seen by UFC President Dana White and others in the organization as a compelling figure who can attract the masses drawn to cage fighting.

Garbrandt did his part Friday night at T-Mobile Arena  by taking the belt from San Diego’s Dominick Cruz (22-2), who hadn’t lost since his first meeting against recently retired Garbrandt mentor Urijah Faber in March 2007.

Tattooed up his neck and a survivor of a leg stabbing at a country music bar in Ohio years ago, Garbrandt has polished his act with a devotion to mixed martial arts and clean living.

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He touched hearts by bringing a young boy who’s surviving leukemia into the octagon after Friday’s victory, strapping the gold UFC belt around the boy’s waist.

On a night he may have lost Ronda Rousey for good, White said he plans to launch Garbrandt onto national sporting consciousness by first placing him in a major mainstream magazine in early 2017.

“This kid has it,” White said.

In the octagon, Garbrandt showed that by dropping Cruz five times and winning by scores of 48-46, 48-47, 48-46. A kick opened a cut over Cruz’s left eye in the third round, which Garbrandt identified as the turning point of the fight.

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While Cruz, 31, guessed before the bout that Garbrandt might fatigue as the fight headed to the closing championship rounds, that’s actually when the young fighter sealed the match.

“That was never a question. I fight ferocious first round and fifth round,” Garbrandt said. “I was getting my lungs warmed up. It was great to fight one of the best in the world and do what I did.”

While Cruz worked to dismantle Garbrandt psychologically before the fight, Garbrandt answered with physical abuse and found time to shoot back some verbal blows as the bout transpired.

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“He’s a good talker. I barely graduated high school,” Garbrandt said. “In the third round, he had blood spilling down his face and I asked him, ‘You having fun yet,’ and he didn’t answer me. I knew right there that was my fight.

“I have great respect for him. He’s a great champion.”

Garbrandt has a compelling next fight in front of him with No. 1 ranked contender and former bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw in line.

Dillashaw and Garbrandt trained together at Faber’s Team Alpha Male gym in Sacramento before Dillashaw left for a Colorado facility. Team Alpha Male member Paige VanZant told the Los Angeles Times previously that she witnessed Garbrandt drop Dillashaw in sparring several times.

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But Garbrandt said he “had so much fun with Dom … let’s run that … back” with a rematch.

The UFC will have the final say, but Garbrandt was feeling pretty good about himself after the win and said, “I’m the champion now, the baddest guy in the division. I call the shots.”

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire

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