UFC Brawler Cody Gibson Is In the Fight of His Life Against a Pile of Student Loans

July 9, 2014

UFC fighter Cody Gibson, aka The Renegade, has made news a couple of times recently. First for discussing with Fox Sports that he’d use some fight bonus money to pay off student loans and second when he had a controversial TKO against another fighter in what some called a precipitous end to the match. We reached out to Gibson to talk to him about both of these newsworthy occurrences, but mostly about his student loans and what he thinks about his debt.

Cody Gibson

UFC Fighter Cody Gibson
Image Courtesy of Cody Gibson

If you’ve never heard of the UFC, it’s the Ultimate Fighting Championship and it’s the premier mixed martial arts organization (like the NFL of MMA). Mixed martial arts is a full contact combat sport that allows kicking, striking and grappling, and often involves a blend of different fighting styles from wrestling to different schools of martial arts. Fighters wear shorts and lightweight partial gloves that allow the athletes to both strike and grapple effectively. They brawl bare chested and barefoot, reminiscent of the ancient Greek Olympic combat sport Pankration.

It’s an exciting sport and Gibson has been fighting professionally for more than six years and has had 16 professional fights. He’s relatively new to the UFC and has just had his second fight. While in high school and college, he wrestled and transitioned to MMA after college. But his focus was always on completing his education. Gibson has a bachelor’s in history, a master’s in education and a teaching credential. He’s currently working as a substitute teacher and wrestling coach at a high school in his small California hometown.

We interviewed Cody about his college experience, student loans and how he’s planning on tackling his debt.

Tuition.io – Did you accumulate student loans for your undergraduate degree, master’s or both?

Cody – For both, but really for the teaching credential and masters. The latter two were where most of it came from.

Tuition.io – Are you planning on pursuing your career as a teacher?

Cody – I’m going to continue fighting and substitute teaching. It’s a really good job because I can go in and work a seven or eight hour day, then train in the afternoon. Then when I have a fight, I can take time off to train full time. That’s my plan right now. I’m tempted to take a full time teaching position but I feel like trying to juggle both fighting and teaching would make me a worse teacher.

Tuition.io – Do you plan on using Public Service Loan Forgiveness?

Cody – The APLE program caps at $17,500. But when it’s $100,000 in loans, that’s a small chunk.

We paused in our interview here for a few minutes while I explained the nuances of the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Like a lot of student loan borrowers that could qualify for this advantageous program, Cody didn’t know much about it. Once I explained what the program could do to take a dent out of his $100k student loan balance, he was interested in learning more. Cody has mainly Stafford loans and is just ending his grace period next month for some and in December for others.

The above video is an MMA fight of Gibson’s prior to his start with the UFC

Tuition.io – Are you planning to use IBR or PAYE?

Cody – I was looking at the different options but I haven’t started repaying them so I haven’t done anything yet.

We took another pause here where I advised Cody that the best time to apply for IBR or PAYE was while he was still in his grace period so that if he qualified, he could get the lower paying option in place from the get-go. Because his loan balances are so high (around $100k), on a 10 year plan his payments would be about $1,000 a month. With a substitute teacher salary and likely four or so fights a year, his income should allow him to qualify for the lower payment plans.

Tuition.io – How long have you been married and does your wife have college debt?

Cody – We will be married two years in October. Thankfully, Jackie does not have student loans. Her grandfather put money away for her to go to school. She got her bachelor’s and is now back in school in the nursing program.

Tuition.io – You told FOX Sports you were hoping for a fight bonus to put towards your student loans – how much are fight bonuses?

Cody – You make a fee depending on your contract. My base pay is around $8,000 for a fight and your bonus can be the same amount. If you are in the Fight of the Night, both fighters get $50,000. You can also get special performance bonuses of $50,000, so there’s a lot of money out there.

Tuition.io – Do you have any regrets about your student loans?

Cody – I do, yeah. When I graduated from high school, I was 17 and my parents didn’t have any means to help me go to school so I just remember that I wanted to go to school and was signing papers [for loans] and it didn’t really register that it was actually money that was going to count someday.

I’m proud that I got my degree, but when I went back for my master’s I couldn’t go to the state school because I had to work full-time. The only option was to go to a private school to get my teaching credential and my master’s and that’s when I really started racking up the bills.

Tuition.io – How are student loans impacting your life?

Cody – A lot of my friends have loans and just talking to them, they say the payments they’re making are hard. I’m nervous and dreading it a little bit. I’m scared, I guess.

I told Cody that it was fascinating to me that he isn’t scared to get into the ring with another man who wants to beat him to a pulp, but student loans frighten him.

Cody and Jackie Gibson

UFC Fighter Cody Gibson and his wife Jackie Gibson
Image Courtesy of Cody Gibson

Tuition.io – Do you have any words of advice for future college students about school debt?

Cody – I would say to look into as many scholarship opportunities as you can because there is so much money out there and people don’t know about them or put in the time or effort to write the essays and put in the applications. I wish I would have applied for more and been more persistent. Also, I think you should really take into account what you’re signing. Be aware of it and have your head around it.

The people I feel the worst for are the people that have a lot of student loans and didn’t get their degree. I have plenty of friends in that situation.

Tuition.io – Do you have any words of advice for aspiring MMA fighters who want to get into the UFC?

Cody – I’m really fortunate that I went to school and got my degree because a lot of fighters didn’t and don’t have an education. I’ve dreamed about doing it [fighting in the UFC] for a long time. People should still compete and accomplish goals, but for a lot of fighters, when their fight career is over they have nothing to fall back on.

Most of the fighters with degrees came from wrestling backgrounds like I did. You’re done in the UFC by your mid-30’s and then you have a lot of life after that. My wife has been very supportive because I was always working on my education so I had something to fall back on when I retire [from the UFC]. So I would say – go to school first.

Before wrapping up the interview, I told Cody all about the resources at Tuition.io. He has two different loan servicers and this keeps him from seeing the big picture on his debt – I explained how our free student loan tool could help him. I also told him about the How To guides at our Student Loan Help Center that could walk him through the process of applying for IBR or PAYE.

What I see with Cody is consistent with most young borrowers that are just getting out of school. They’re trying to get a grip on their debt, are juggling several servicers and aren’t aware of all the programs that are available to help them. Many programs like IBR, PAYE and PSLF aren’t well publicized enough and many loan servicers don’t go out of their way to let borrowers know they have options.

To find out more about Cody Gibson, you can follow him on Twitter @TheRenegade559 or check him out on Facebook. You can also see his stats and info on the official UFC site here.