(Leonard Garcia never fails to bring the action – photo Hedges/Zuffa)
It was not long ago when Leonard “Bad Boy” Garcia was plowing through the competition like a featherweight bulldozer. Back to back knockouts led Garcia to a shot at the featherweight title against then-champion Mike Brown but a careless mistake cost him the fight and changed his entire approach to fighting as a whole.
In this exclusive interview, Garcia explains that he will be going back to his old aggressive style when he meets George Roop at WEC 47 on March 6. Other topics that are brought up include a rematch with Mike Brown, a fight against the loser of the Jose Aldo/Urijah Faber matchup and much more.
Heavy.com: You were originally set to face Diego Nunes but he pulled out and now you’ll be fighting George Roop. What are your thoughts on the sudden change of opponents and has your approach to training changed at all?
Leonard Garcia: The only thing that we could see as far as stylistic differences is that George isn’t as good as Diego is on the ground. Technique wise, I was planning on fighting a shorter fighter, but fortunately two of my training partners are six feet tall and have that long reach – “Cowboy” [Cerrone] and Carlos Condit – so it really wasn’t too bad of a change.
Heavy.com: Taking into consideration the fact that George Roop agreed to this fight on extremely short notice and had very little time to prepare, do you think this is going to be an easier fight for you than Nunes would have been?
Leonard Garcia: I don’t know exactly what [Roop] has been doing, I don’t know if he’s one of those guys who stays in the gym all the time. From what I understand, he’s really scrappy and most of his fights have gone to a decision. I’m glad that he stepped in, but I’m hoping that he’s ready for me. Everybody knows I carry a real hard pace in my fights. He took it on two weeks’ notice, so yeah I’m thinking he’s in shape, but I just don’t think he’s going to be in the shape that I am going to be in.
Heavy.com: Roop has said he has no problems standing and trading with you. In fact, he is encouraging a standup war. Do you think it’s wise for Roop to stand with you?
Leonard Garcia: You know I hope he does. That’s my M.O, man, to turn it into a dog fight. In the gym where I train, I train with Rashad Evans, Georges St. Pierre, Keith Jardine, Joey Villasenor, and “Cowboy” Cerrone. I spar with all these guys and they tell me it’s stupid for them to get into a slugfest with me, and they fight at 205. I mean, if the fans want to see a standup war and if Roop wants a dogfight, then I will applaud him afterwards when they wake him up.
Heavy.com: Since your unfortunate loss to Mike Brown you haven’t seemed as aggressive as you have been in the past. What do you attribute that to and will you come out differently against Roop?
Leonard Garcia: When I lost the fight to Mike Brown I kept hearing over and over ‘it was a careless thing that you did. You threw everything into the left-hook and you gave him your back in the end’ and that kind of stuck with me. My style has always been to go for it all and I don’t pull any punches. In fact, people make jokes and say ‘Leonard will try to knock you out with a jab’ and that’s just my style of fighting. But after the Brown fight, I started thinking ‘well maybe it’s not such a good idea to be so reckless. I was reading all the blogs where people were saying ‘oh he’s just a brawler’ and I started buying into all of that so I really wanted to become more technical.
Now I’ve just had two months where I have had good scraps with everybody and I finally seem to be turning the corner now and I’m developing my own style so it’s working.
Heavy.com: This is going to be your first fight of the year 2010. Is there anything new that you’ve added to your overall game that you will be looking to show off in the cage?
Leonard Garcia: Yeah definitely. I just got my third stripe on my brown belt so I’m very close to getting my black belt. If Roop gets stunned by a punch and for whatever reason tries to take me down I am real eager to show off my ground skills. I also feel like my takedown defense is finally getting to where it needs to be and now that I think I can stop a takedown I am going to be throwing my hands and feet a lot more.
Heavy.com: Most fans are probably unaware of this but you actually planned on being a football player until an incident that saw you stabbed eight times put an abrupt end to your college career. Can you tell us about that?
Leonard Garcia: Football was something that I loved from the time I was a kid. When I came into Jackson’s they asked if I had wrestled in high school and I just looked at the guys and said ‘yeah every now and then if I got into a fight there would be a little wrestling’ and they all laughed at me. I didn’t know any other sport but football.
I really seriously thought that I was going to play football professionally someday. I had a really good chance of making Texas Tech as a wide receiver. I went out with the guys one night and ended up hanging back with a girl and a guy on PCP came in to Taco Cabana and he stabbed me eight times.
He punctured both my lungs and got really close to my aorta in my heart, so it’s basically a miracle that I’m even able to do this interview right now – much less anything that I’ve accomplished in MMA.
That crushed me, man, and without football I didn’t know anything else. I was always a very aggressive person and very competitive and that is all that I knew growing up.
I started taking up Jiu-Jitsu, which kept me competitive. I ended up going to a show just to watch and they asked me to fight. That’s kind of how my MMA career started. I just jumped in there not knowing much except how to street fight. After my first four or five fights, I started getting real serious with it. Once I found out that I was pretty good at it, I made my way up to Jackson’s and got into the UFC and it’s worked out ever since.
Heavy.com: After watching Jose Aldo completely steamroll Brown to win the title. Does that make you kick yourself thinking ‘man that could have been me if I would have done this or that?’
Leonard Garcia: It definitely bothers me to see somebody blow through Brown. Even seeing Urijah give him such a good fight their second time around. Pretty much what happened to me happened to Urijah the first time they fought. I am definitely excited to get back in there. I’m actually hoping to bypass Mike Brown completely and get to Aldo with these next few fights. I seriously think with my learning curve going up the way it is right now, I feel that I have a good shot in 2010 to make a title run and I’ve got to start with George Roop on March the 6th and that’s going to be my New Year fight.
Heavy.com: Your fight with Roger Huerta is right up there amongst the greatest fights in UFC history. Do you still look back and draw inspiration from that fight?
Leonard Garcia: You know, that was the kind of fight that Roop is taking right now. I took it on short notice and I wasn’t in top shape but I was able to get in there and fight. Every time I watch that fight it still bothers me a little bit because I tell myself like ‘man what could I have done if I was in better shape?’ or ‘if I didn’t do this I could have capitalized here or there’ and I think in the third round I had his back.
I think a rematch with Huerta would be a fun fight in any weight class and I would definitely take it again.
Heavy.com: If you’re one to give predictions, how do you see this fight with Roop ending?
Leonard Garcia: If Roop really wants to come out and stand and bang then I’m going to knock him out in the first round. No question about it.
Heavy.com: Alright Leonard, thank you for taking the time to talk to me today. We at Heavy.com are looking forward to your fight and we wish you the best of luck. Is there anything else you would like to say before we end this? Speak now or forever hold your peace.
Leonard Garcia: First of all, I would like to thank TapouT for being such a great sponsor. I’d also like to thank my whole management team. Of course, Greg Jackson and my team out here. I feel like we have the greatest camp in the world and I’m eager to come out and give you guys a show on the 6th. Last but not least, God made all of this possible so I would like to thank him for everything. Also thank you guys for doing this interview, I really appreciate your time as well.