UFC featherweight Pablo Garza’s Octagon career is off to a blazing start—two finishes in two appearances in the last five months earned him $159,000 in bonuses for Knockout and Submission of the Night performances—yet just a year ago, he was thinking of calling it quits on the sport he happened to come across.
His first UFC bout came last December, where a flying knee disposed of Fredson Paixao in the organization’s first ever 145-pound contest to the tune of $30,000.
At UFC 129, in the opening fight of the night, he secured a first-round flying triangle choke to pocket the largest submission bonus in UFC history, pulling in $129,000. Despite all in the initial success, the 27-year-old is still uncomfortable splurging on a $300 Playstation 3.
"The first bonus with training and trying to be a full-time fighter, I basically paid off a lot of bills I had in collections and did all that,” Garza told Bleacher Report. “Just got financially settled. Paid off a bunch of stuff. As for this bonus, I'm going to save it. Invest it or something."
“The Scarecrow” never dreamed of fighting in the UFC like many of the competitors stepping in the cage today. He didn’t wrestle in high school, and his only competitive background came as a point guard at Jamestown College.
But three years ago, he began boxing with a friend. Then a month later, he followed his friend into mixed martial arts, where within the year, his current gym, Academy of Combat Arts, formed.
"Last year, in January, I told myself I was done—I couldn't do it anymore. I had too many bills and stuff I had to do,” said the three-year veteran. “Me and my coach and I had a long talk and he convinced me, just give it one more year, and in that year, if nothing comes of it, then you know what? Hang it up if you want.”
Garza stuck with it, and within two weeks of an exhibition bout defeat to Michael Johnson on The Ultimate Fighter season 12 airing, he submitted to Zhang Tie Quan in the WEC for the first loss of his professional career. Still, the reason he was fighting was more or less because people kept saying, “You’re pretty good at it. You might as well keep doing it.”
He listened. Then came his back-to-back victories in the Octagon, which have transformed the kickboxing instructor from the University of North Dakota into a fast-rising UFC prospect.
"I think [featherweights] have [taken notice], but with that being said, there's so much more that I need to be working on,” he said. “The competition is extremely deep especially now with Kenny Florian going down to '45 and Tyson Griffin going to '45. The competition now is going to be really intense."
Garza discovered the natural scrappiness he brings to the cage years ago when facing bullying due to being one of few Mexican-Americans in North Dakota throughout junior high and high school. Once he found martial arts in his mid-20’s, he taught and trained while doing factory work producing windmill blades and bartending on the side to get by.
His pursuit to hit the big stages of professional prizefighting like the UFC from his small-town life wasn't easy, but despite the tough competition awaiting him in the Octagon, Garza admits, “It’s a lot easier now for me."
Danny Acosta is the lead writer at FIGHT! Magazine. Follow him on twitter.com/acostaislegend