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Road to the Title

Leonard Garcia shows off his mouthguard after a sparring session

Leonard Garcia
After a sparring session

By Robert Casaus

November 5, 2008, in a night that made history for the WEC - more specifically the Featherweight division - the world watched its most dominant 145-pounder lose his belt, an underrated 145-pounder win the crown, and a former champion get knocked out in just a 1:12 by a fighter that most people outside the MMA community hadn’t heard of. Leonard “Bad Boy” Garcia shocked the MMA community and delivered a strong message to all WEC Featherweight contenders when he knocked out former UFC Lightweight Champion and MMA veteran Jens “Little Evil” Pulver.

Garcia, who trains out of Greg Jackson’s world-famous camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico, has now put himself in the number one contender spot in the WEC Featherweight division.

Garcia admits that he realized his potential as a Mixed Martial Arts fighter at a very young age. “I was always a rugged kid, and I was a farm kid,” Garcia said. “When I was younger, I used to put boxing gloves on with my brother in the back. Even though I was young, I was one of the best at throwing a hard punch and at taking a punch. I was naturally aggressive growing up and so I started training to become a better fighter, and it went from there.”

Garcia began to compete as an amateur in the mid-1990s, and did the majority of his training at home. “I used to train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at an academy and did all of my stand up training in my garage. That’s how I trained for all of my fights,” Garcia said. Garcia progressed as an amateur before debuting as a professional on May 1, 1999, with a victory over Chris Cantrell at USWF 15. Garcia lost his next fight against Brent Medly via judges’ decision, but he won his next eight bouts with victories over the likes of Victor Estrada, Jake Hattan, and Shawn Simpson, and he rectified his loss to Medly by catching him in a triangle choke when they met up in November of 2000.

After Garcia’s win over Rocky Johnson in April of 2006, he earned himself a contract to fight in the UFC’s Lightweight Division. In his UFC debut against Roger Huerta, Garcia fought a tough three rounds but ultimately lost via unanimous decision.

The loss to Huerta served as a disappointment to Garcia. “Of course I’m always going to want to fight Roger again. Roger and I stylistically match up very well and I think that would be another good one.”

Garcia wasn’t deterred by his loss to Huerta; many have faced the notorious “octagon jitters,” and a loss to Huerta is by no means something to be ashamed of. Garcia came back strong just two short months later, and submitted Allen Berubie in the first round of their match-up at the UFC’s Ultimate Fighter 5 Finale. In what would be his last fight as a UFC 155-pound fighter, Garcia lost another unanimous decision to Cole Miller. “I was sick when I fought him. No excuses, I took the fight when I shouldn’t have.”

He admits that the loss against Miller is one he would like to avenge. “I want to do that fight again,” Garcia said. “I’d like to see what I can do against him well.” He admits that he has even sent Miller messages on Myspace to talk about potentially meeting again.

Rumor has it that Miller is also making the move down to 145 pounds, and Garcia has felt the need to encourage that move in hopes of one day fighting him again in his new weight class. “I Myspaced Cole Miller and told him that the move down to 145 was the best thing I have ever done as a fighter. I’d like that fight again,” Garcia said.

It was after the fight with Miller that Garcia, under the recommendation of Coach Greg Jackson, decided to move down to 145 pounds and compete in the WEC’s Featherweight Division. “I always wanted to be known as one of the top guys. That’s our goal as fighters, to be known as the top guy. When we decided to go to the WEC and down to 145, we went there with thoughts of being a force to reckon with,” Garcia said. “I had complete faith in Greg’s [Jackson] decision for me to go down to 145 and now I am reaping the benefits of it. Anything that Greg says I trust in it,” he added.

Garcia feels that he is now in the weight class that he was made for, and couldn’t be happier as a Featherweight. “I love it. I’m dieting down to a weight class; I’m not eating to stay at 155 any more. It feels better, and I’m very happy with the situation.”

And why wouldn’t he be? Garcia has only technically been a fighting Featherweight for just over two minutes, and in those two minutes (and forty three seconds to be exact), he has knocked out a very tough Hiroyuki Takaya and derailed former UFC Lightweight Champion Jens Pulver.

Garcia acknowledges that he is now the top contender for the belt, but admits he is still growing every day as a fighter, and is far from his fullest potential.

“I feel like I get better and better every day, and when the time comes that I stop learning and stop progressing, is when I’ll know I have reached my peak as a fighter.”

Progress is something that won’t be difficult for Garcia, as he trains with some of the best fighters in the world. Keith Jardine, Nate Mardquart, Joey Villasenor, Georges St. Pierre and Rashad Evans all train out of Jackson’s camp in Albuquerque, and Garcia will be the first to tell you that he soaks up the knowledge that the vets have to offer him. “I think you are only as good as the people around you,” Garcia said. “We come into the gym, and we get beat up every day. This is the place where you are never comfortable, and you always feel like you are in danger, but it’s a good thing. Today I sparred with Rashad and he’s a bigger guy, and he tried to knock my head off - it’s the name of the game and I love it like that.

“We really push each other hard and we know that we are padded up and we need to go. So today when Rashad needs help training for his fight, we all get in there and help. We make sacrifices for each other and that’s what makes us such a great team.”

With a majority of Jackson’s fighters in title contention or already belt holders themselves, Garcia fits in well at the camp and has his eye on the WEC Featherweight title. “I am going to be the champ,” Garcia said. “I work very hard and that’s my goal, to be the champ. That’s why I dropped down to 145 and I bring that idea into the gym every day that I train. Every fight that I fight I’m not supposed to win it, that’s what I’m told at least, so it’s really important for me to go in there and prove that that’s where I belong.”

Garcia has his hopes high for a rumored bout against Brown in March for the title. Garcia says he would like to win the belt and defend it against Urijah Faber, who was once thought to be the greatest Featherweight of all time. “I’d like to fight Mike for that title, and I’d be more than happy to defend it against Urijah,” Garcia said.

And as for Brown, Garcia delivered this message: “Mike, I think you are a tough guy, man, and I think you are a great fighter. In March when we meet up, I hope you bring everything you have to the table because I’m bringing everything I’ve got. You are going to get the best Leonard Garcia, and I can’t wait.”

Leonard Garcia training session

December 11, 2008

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