LAS VEGAS — Cody Stamann’s eyes said everything. He did remarkably well to compose himself and gather his thoughts given what has been going on in his life. He’d just defeated Brian Kelleher in an impressive performance at UFC 250, but he showed little joy or sense of satisfaction.
On May 27, his 18-year-old brother, Jacob, unexpectedly died in Michigan. Cody mulled pulling out of the bout, but he just felt his brother, an elite wrestler, would want him to compete.
Stamann now lives in Las Vegas and wasn’t able to hug his mother and father. He wasn’t able to grieve with his surviving siblings. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t do much of anything but wonder why this would happen.
His brother had begun to go down a wrong path. Jacob was a natural and things came so easily to him that he’d begun to take shortcuts, Stamann said. No one in the family knew the extent of the problem, though. Officials still haven’t released a cause of death.
Jacob had planned to fly to Las Vegas and spend time with Cody, but because of the coronavirus pandemic, he couldn’t do it.
“You just wonder, if he were here with me like he was supposed to be, could I have done something or would things have been different?” he said.
He sighed and stared at the floor. He was emotionally spent, his insides torn apart. He spent a sleepless night on Friday thinking about his brother, and was miserable for most of the day Saturday.
He was fighting Kelleher, a hot opponent who was fighting for the third time in 2020 and had finished each of his last two bouts. But his thoughts all day were not on the fight but on Jacob and his family.
“I just kept saying to myself, ‘I have to do this. I have to do this,’” he said after winning 30-27 on all three judges’ scorecards. “I had to give my family something else to think about that was positive and good. I couldn’t be there for them. I couldn’t be there for my mom. I couldn’t be there for my dad. I couldn’t be there with my brother and my sister. I wasn’t there for anyone, so I felt this is what I had to do for them now.
“When I made it about something bigger than myself, that helped and made it easier for me to do.”
It became infinitely easier once the bell sounded. Fighting is what he loves, what he excels at. He’s ranked No. 12 in the UFC’s bantamweight division and is now 5-1-1 in the UFC. He’s 19-2-1 overall and could crack the top 10.
He looked like he may break down as he walked to the cage. He was on the verge of tearing up as ring announcer Bruce Buffer announced the verdict. But he was at peace for 15 minutes, the only peace he’s had in the last 10 days.
“I knew that somehow, I just had to get to the fight,” Stamann said. “Once you get into the fight, you don’t feel anything. You can’t think of anything. There’s a guy standing in front of you and he’s trying to hurt you. It’s the most surreal form of meditation there is. You’re not thinking of your electric bill or your house payment or anything like that while there’s a guy standing in your face trying to hit you.
“In the fight, I didn’t think about it. I had a job to do. But before and obviously now, after, it’s pretty difficult. There really aren’t words to express unless you’ve been in this situation.”
He made the effort to speak about his brother, to let people know the type of person Jacob was in life. It was difficult, and the last thing that Stamann wanted to do was talk to a series of strangers about his most intimate emotions.
Losing a family member is always difficult, but when it’s a teenager who was talented and had a wide range of options ahead of him, the sense of loss multiplies.
“He was a good kid, man,” Stamann said. “He was a talented kid. Like so many young, uber-talented, winning kids, they have two options: For me, I was so gifted athletically and things came so easy to me, I didn’t have to work as hard as everyone else. I started to go down the same path that he wound up going down, but fighting kind of saved me.
Much respect to @CodyStamann who fought brilliantly and defeated @brianboom135 less than two weeks after the death of his 18-year-old brother Jacob. Deepest condolences to the Stamann family pic.twitter.com/5bTWrrdoNp— Kevin Iole (@KevinI) June 7, 2020
“We thought it was just a phase and he’d get out of it. But he tried something that a million kids try and it just so happened that when he tried it, it was fatal for him. As a brother, I feel like I should be there to protect. And he was supposed to be here in Las Vegas. It’s just so hard to understand.”
Stamann is going to return to Michigan but this isn’t going to be something he easily puts behind him.
“When it first happened, I was an absolute mess,” he said. “I was destroyed. After a little time passed, I got a bit better, but as the fight came and I thought of him, it’s been hard. There’s so much going on. I was kind of tearing up in the back and I’m even tearing up now. This is one of those things, there is no answer for and no way to explain.”
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