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Friday, 12/20/2013, 09:58 am

EXCLUSIVE (Part 1) | Leonard Garcia Talks Early UFC Career and UFC Debut Against Roger Huerta

“It wasn’t until I got cut [that] I realized, like, ‘Man, I was in there for seven years!’” Leonard Garcia said, reflecting on the time he spent fighting for the UFC.  During that time, Garcia gained fame as one of the grittiest fighters in the 155- and 145-pound divisions.

By Christopher Murphy @MurphMMA

It was 2007 and the UFC was witnessing the rise of one of its first Mexican-American superstars, Roger Huerta.  He was put against promotional newcomer Leonard Garcia on the main card of UFC 69, an event that will forever be remembered for one of the biggest upsets when Matt Serra dethroned then-welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre with a first-round TKO.  But before that fight could unfold, Huerta and Garcia would fight in an unbelievable three-round battle that earned both men a $30,000 bonus for Fight of the Night.

That bout would cement both Huerta and Garcia as two of the toughest fighters in the UFC’s rankings; and Garcia would carry that with him to earn a total of four Fight of the Night honors during his UFC career.

During a recent interview with BJPENN.COM, Garcia talked about that first fight inside the UFC Octagon.

Yeah, it all played out in that fight,” Garcia told BJPENN.COM.  “I was able to get in there and fight somebody like Roger – who also, being a Mexican-American and being proud of that – to fight him, you know, seeing his fights and watching his style [and] the different things that he did… I knew that the fight would play out that way.  The chances of me going in there and hitting him with a good shot and knocking him out, I was kind of like, ‘This dude’s got a great chin, he’s a really strong wrestler, it’s going to be a crazy fight!’

When it all ended up playing out, he was super cool with me; it definitely, we showed people what the Mexican spirit was all about.  That’s what that fight was for me, was really just letting it all go: not caring about points, not caring about anything, just staying in there and fighting until the end.  Had we gotten 5 [five-minute rounds] back then, I mean one of us might not have been the same afterwards, but it would have been one of those fights, man.

Even as a three-round bout, it certainly became one of those fights.  It established Garcia as a fighter truly willing to scrap until the very end; and it was a launching point from which Huerta sky-rocketed to mainstream attention.  When asked, Garcia said he always hoped for – and continues to do so – a rematch with Huerta.

I always wanted to rematch Roger Huerta,” he explained.  “I kind of always hoped he would drop down to 45 or come back at 45’s and we could fight again and see how we [would] have [done] at my weight-class.  It was just a great experience, and I mean, really, that fight alone – like even now, we’re doing an interview and still talking about that very first fight – that fight kind of cemented me in, you know, it put me in a good place with Dana [White], and it put me in a really good place with the fans.  You know, people appreciate that, man, they like to see the fighters who can get hit and keep fighting.  I watched ‘Rocky 4,’ you know, back since the 80’s I’ve been watching that movie, and it never gets old, even to this day [it’s] still one of them great movies.  At the end of the day, that’s a fighting style that people like to see, and that’s what I believe – I know I have that.  It’s a good testament to me in that fight.

Following that fight, Garcia would have mixed success in his career.  He fought 1-1 after his bout with Huerta before joining the WEC and dropping to the 145-lb. featherweight division.  It was there that Garcia fought Chan Sung Jung, better known as ‘The Korean Zombie,’ in a fight that was voted 2010’s Fight of the Year.  He would return to the UFC with a Fight of the Night win over Nam Phan.  Following that fight, Garcia would go on to lose five consecutive fights that ultimately led to the UFC cutting Garcia.

I feel like the five-fight losing streak definitely was, you know, it wasn’t just a formality, it was a wake-up call to me,” Garcia said.  “The lazy training camps; the days that I didn’t feel like training, and I just would go; or the weeks where I would go Monday, Tuesday, knock somebody out on Tuesday and go, ‘Oh, I’m good, I know I’m fighting in a month, but I just knocked his ass out, I’m good’; all of that finally caught up to me in those five fights.  Even though I was that lazy, they were all decisions.  Like I’m still in there with the best fighters in the world, still going the distance with them.  After the formality of it, of being cut, and getting back to a better fighting form, and finally working at wrestling and understanding it, and being able to defend a takedown or even trying to submit somebody from the bottom – these are all things I should have been doing back then, but I’m doing them now.  I don’t see any reason why they wouldn’t call me back.

And that certainly is a possibility.  Garcia just scored an impressive KO victory to earn the Legacy featherweight title – an honor he earned on the tail end of a three-fight winning streak.  With the newfound dedication in the gym and the sharp turnaround in the cage, Garcia is hoping to earn himself one last shot at proving himself inside the organization at which he feels most at home, the UFC.

I didn’t realize how long I had been in the UFC until I had gotten cut,” Garcia said.  “Then I started really looking back and trying to find, you know, the holes in my game, trying to think back, ‘Oh, where did I make this mistake?  Where did I make that mistake?’  You go back through the library of all these fights, and it’s just like you said – when you’re in it, the events happen so often, but the thing for me is I kept having these big fights: the fight with [Huerta], the Nam Phan fights, the Korean Zombie fights, you know, they kept being bigger and bigger.  You know, long drug-out wars.  Time slipped past so fast.  It wasn’t until I got cut [that] I realized, like, ‘Man, I was there for seven years!’  You know?  It doesn’t feel like seven years.  Now, looking back at it, it’s one of those things where I feel like, you know, I accomplished a lot, but I left a lot on the table.  That’s why I’ve been working so hard and doing the things I have to do to try to get back there, see myself in one more time and make one last good run at it.

Be sure to catch the rest of Garcia’s interview where he talks about his recent success outside the UFC and the spirit and heart that makes Mexican fighters some of the toughest and most exciting athletes in MMA today!

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