June 5th, 2021, presented as something of a potential career trajectory moment for a then twenty two-year-old Cody Haddon.
Touted by many as a future star of Australian MMA, Haddon was thrust into the spotlight of an Eternal MMA main event having notched just two professional fights in his young career.
His opponent would be then reigning Eternal MMA Flyweight champion, Stephen Erceg – a man in need of an opponent after a scheduled title fight with hard-hitting contender Paul Loga fell through and ultimately rescheduled.
Struggling to find opponents in his own division, Haddon jumped at the chance to face a champion moving up a weight class in search of a fight to fill the void left by the rescheduled title bout.
Questions were asked if this match up was “too much, too soon” for the then 2-0 Haddon. Erceg boasted a wealth of experience as a mixed martial artist and was well on his way to next phase of career, while Haddon was barely at the beginning of his journey.
Haddon would ultimately go on to lose a decision to the flyweight champion in a three-round war that would eventually be named “fight of the year” for 2021 – a fight that was anybody’s to win right up until the final bell.
It would be first blemish on the young prospect’s MMA record, but a huge boost in stock given his performance against a far more established opponent. It’s a performance that has aged finely, given the fact that Erceg would earn himself a call up to Dana White’s Contender Series less than twelve months later.
Fast forward to May of 2022, Haddon would steady the course and notch his third professional win at Eternal 66 against surging contender, Jarrett Wilbraham.
A fight that lived up to the hype in every way would see the twenty-three-year-old Haddon finish Wilbraham early in the third round with a series of elbows following a well-executed takedown.
For Haddon, it was a moment of vindication after dedicating himself to years of hard work as a martial artist. After taking some time to work on himself both personally and professionally following his loss to Erceg, Haddon found it tough to find an opponent who would be willing to share the Eternal MMA cage with him – a major hinderance for a competitor with high ambitions and a clear vision of the path he wishes to take.
Speaking with Eternal MMA, Haddon reflected on his emotions after the win and what it means for his future.
“For me (winning) is always reassurance,” said Haddon.
“Obviously the fight was tough, and it got a bit messy. You kind of lose that assurance of yourself (during) the fight. Not that you’re doubting yourself, it’s just that it’s an intense fight.”
“After winning and getting the finish (I felt) relieved to have won, even though I thought I was going to win. At the same time, I was obviously very energetic and excited about winning, and (even) angry in a way.”
“(It’s) a bit off a mix of emotions. When I win, especially if I get the finish, it makes me feel like I want to start calling all these people out. That’s not my persona, it’s just how I feel. It’s kind of like ‘I deserve this’. I deserve another fight; I deserve people to stop running from me and actually step up and fight.”
Step up and fight was exactly what Haddon’s opponent, Jarrett Wilbraham set out to do when seemingly nobody else would.
A surging prospect in his own right with vast skill set, unorthodox style and a unique height advantage for the bantamweight division, Wilbraham presented as a dangerous opponent more than capable of squaring Haddon’s win-loss record.
Undefeated at 5-0 coming into the matchup, Wilbraham was riding a wave of momentum that included an impressive TKO victory over the durable Jamie Hunt at Eternal 63.
Suffice to say, this was not a matchup tailored to get Haddon back on track. Wilbraham is as tough a competitor as Australia has to offer with his own lofty goals. This was going to take a complete performance from the Western Australia native.
Haddon and his team, fronted by Luistro Combat Academy head coach, Romel Luistro, studied what little footage was available on Wilbraham prior to the match. According to Haddon, the game-plan was more about emphasising his own skill set rather than devising a specific plan for what Wilbraham would bring to the table.
“I definitely watched the fight with Jamie Hunt,” said Haddon.
He looked very, very good in that fight. I knew that he liked to throw big head kicks, I knew that he liked to throw big knee’s, I knew that he liked to clinch – go for the body lock. I knew he was very strong and fit.”
“My coach Romel said, ‘No game plan. You got out there and mix it up with the guy. You’re better than this guy in every area’. So, there was actually no game plan.”
“I went in with an adaptable mindset and just tried to be as adaptable as possible in there with Jarrett.”
An adaptable mindset would prove to be an important key to success as the fight opened at a furious pace, with Wilbraham pushing the issue and forcing an early takedown. Wilbraham would advance position and attempt to take Haddon’s back, looking for a submission. Haddon managed to find his way back to his feet, only for Wilbraham to slam Haddon back to the mat with a thunderous takedown.
It was in these opening exchanges that Haddon became fully aware that he was in for a tough fight.
“He took me down and my first thought was ‘how much does this guy weigh right now?’, he felt like a lightweight,” said Haddon.
“He was super strong – probably the strongest I’ve felt in a fight. He just grabbed me and picked me up straight away.”
“When I started to move and noticed that he wasn’t trying to let go of grips, get better grips and advance position, that’s when I realised, he was just trying to hold me with strength. I knew that was only going to last a (short) amount of time. I was composed the whole time.”
“It was a matter of being efficient with my energy. I knew he was going to come hard. In my mind the whole time during the fight (I was thinking) ‘just keep putting pressure on him, he’s going to start slowing down’.”
“I definitely felt like he was dangerous the whole time, but I just let him swing and miss, get tired, and then I was able to have my way with it.”
As Haddon alluded to, efficiency would also play another vital part in securing the victory. With both fighters having their own moments in the first round, Haddon had the best of them with a well timed jab that dropped Wilbraham as he was loading up with his own right hand.
A three-time Australian amateur boxing champion, Haddon exhibited exceptional footwork, timing and range. His obvious skill set on the feet continued to be demonstrated as the fight progressed with well executed combinations and precise head movement that gave way to precise counter striking.
Beginning to sense a drop in energy from Wilbraham midway through the contest, Haddon took full advantage with his own takedowns and ground control. Never out of the contest until the finish, Wilbraham would continue to contest the fight from his back, making submission attempts and never accepting his position as Haddon continued to work within Wilbraham’s guard to impose his own dominance over his taller opponent.
The momentum that Haddon took into the third and final round would pay off almost immediately. A double-leg takedown in the opening minute was quickly capitalised on by a series of heavy elbows to the face of Wilbraham, leaving the referee no choice but to wave the fight off.
What initially seemed like a possible early stoppage was quickly proven to be the right call from an alternative camera angle to the original broadcast. The initial takedown from Haddon was driven with enough force to stun Wilbraham as his head hit the mat, with the follow up elbows sealing the knockout victory for the fan favourite in his home state.
With the win in hand, Haddon’s attention turned immediately towards the rest of the Bantamweight division. Calling out no one in particular, Haddon made it clear that he wants all would-be challengers to come and see him when it’s time to step back inside the Eternal MMA cage.
Clearly of the opinion that not only his performance, but also his words may have lit a fire under the rest of the division, Haddon expects that he should now see a slew of challengers step up in attempt to take away some of his shine.
“I think now I’ve created a little bit of a response,” said Haddon.
“There is a few more people now that definitely want to fight me, they want to take something that I might have. Having a lot of fans and stuff like that, they definitely want to take that from me now. It’s lit a bit of a fire in their bellies, and they definitely want to put a stop to me because it makes them look better.”
“I definitely want to get another two, three, four more fights in by the end of this year and stay pretty active. Therefore, I can solidify my position. Then after that, I deserve to be going on to (bigger things).”
The biggest question facing Cody Haddon right now is whether he truly is the future of Australian MMA. Considered by many fans and media to be the case, Haddon himself was steadfast in his opinion on whether it’s a label he is happy to shoulder.
“One hundred percent,” said Haddon.
“I feel like I’ve been the future of Australian MMA since before I had my first amateur MMA fight. I’m super happy to carry that. If I’m not carrying that, I’m a bit insulted. I’ve always seen myself as the future of Australian MMA. All my fans around me have always seen me as that, all my friends and family – coaches as well.
“I feel like I deserve that label. Like said, I’d be insulted if people aren’t labelling me that. Not being big headed or anything, (but) the thing is I’ve been wanting to do this since I was six years old – I’m twenty-three now. It’s the only thing I’ve thought about since I was six years old.”
“My schoolteachers would ask me ‘what do you want to do when you’re older?’ (And I’d say) I want to be UFC champion.”
“I remember I did a presentation in year three of the UFC, explaining to everyone in the class what I want to do, what the UFC is and why I want to do it.”
“I‘ve been a fan and I’ve been wanting to do it for a very long time. So, to be labelled that, I (feel like) I deserve it.”
– Cody’s match vs Jarrett Wilbraham at Eternal 66 can be replayed on UFC Fight Pass.