Garcia (15-7-1 MMA, 2-3 UFC) faced Phan (16-9 MMA, 0-2 UFC) on short notice in December 2010, and managed to score a decision victory. Many observers felt that the outcome was controversial, which has led to their rematch on Saturday night.
Needless to say, Garcia was thrilled when he received word of the rematch and the opportunity to prove that he’s the superior fighter. It also doesn’t hurt that he gets to do so in a return to his home state of Texas.
“I was excited, it’s a fight that I wanted,” Garcia recently told BleacherReport.com. “We both been looking forward to it, we've got a chip on our shoulder from the first fight, so we’re both coming in with something to prove. And those are the best fights, you know both guys are going to give it all they got because both of us have something to prove.”
Garcia’s name is associated with knock down, drag out fights that will leave you on the end of your seat for the duration of the fight.
That’s exactly the reason why he was promoted to the main card after a heavyweight bout was dropped from the event. Garcia feels that’s a testament to the hard work and exciting fights he puts on each time he steps in the Octagon.
“Definitely, it’s good to be patted on your back every now and again and the UFC has done that, they gave me the opportunity to open the card (pay-per-view portion),” Garcia said. “They know what I bring to the table (and) this time I’m going to have all six abs instead of just two. It’s going to be a big difference and everybody is going to see that I’ve worked a lot harder and I’ll be ready to put on a better performance than I did the first time. I think the UFC wants to make the pay-per-views a lot more exciting and they want guys that are going to keep bringing people back.
“My fighting style is what people like to see, they like to see a guy that goes out and leaves everything in the cage. Also, give it up to Nam, he’s one of those guys as well. We got fight of the night last time we fought and I’m excited about this one, especially back in Houston, it’s my home state and everything’s played out perfectly. I wanted the rematch, I didn’t care where it was, but to have it in my home state that worked out perfectly for me. The UFC knows what I bring to the table and I think that’s why we’re kicking off the card.”
In his return home, Garcia is filled with emotions knowing that has a special opportunity ahead of him.
He can silence critics that questioned the result of the first matchup with Phan in the state he spent many years of his life. Needless to say, he can’t help but to be emotional ahead this weekend’s pay-per-view at the Toyota Center.
“I’m an emotional person, everybody can see that in my fighting style. I kind of go out there and let my emotions get the best of me everytime. I’m the same way with stuff like that, it played out perfectly being in my home state. When I found out about the fight and it’s going to be in Houston and a week ago I found out I was going to be on the main card. It’s like a really good event, there’s a lot of good energy before me.
“I hate to admit it, but you get so excited you almost want to cry. It makes me happy to that point, so to be able to go out there and perform in a place where people are going to be backing and supporting you, it’s a great feeling and it’s something that I’m looking forward to. I have a couple things I’m ready to tell Nam before the fight, I want to tell him ‘I hope he brings his A game because this time I’m coming in with mine.’ So, we’re set for a good one.”
In preparation for his second meeting with Phan, Garcia honed his skills in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the Jackson-Winkeljohn camp and “The Ranch” alongside lightweight contender Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone.
Additionally, Garcia has continued to learn under the tutelage of striking coach Mike Valle and the results were evident in his last performance when the fight remained standing.
“I got a new striking coach as well as Winkeljohn, who is always there as well, but Mike Valle is our pad guy. He works with me and Cowboy, he lives at the Ranch with us. He’s one of those guys that understands MMA. He’s a Thai boxer trainer and he converted his style over to MMA and he’s become part of the family at Jackson’s. Me and Cowboy are lucky enough to get him out to the house. He’s not a guy that comes in and tells us striking is everything that we need to work on and that’s it.
“He’s a coach that tells me you need to grapple, you need to use your wrestling, we need to implement takedowns in your technique. He’s definitely helped me and Cowboy out a whole lot and it’s like he told me ‘We’re not reinventing Leonard Garcia, we’re just refurbishing everything, we’re making everything to where it’s your style still, but I’m bringing in new points.’ This is a growing sport and if you stop growing then you’re going to be left behind.”
Garcia’s crowd pleasing style is sure to be well received once he enters the Toyota Center.
His uncanny ability to continue on when others can’t push through the tough moments is a due to the fact that Garcia and “Cowboy” put it all on the line in practice to ensure they’re battle ready once they step foot inside the cage.
“My brother Cowboy man, everyday in training we have statements we tell each other,” Garcia said. “When you watch fights, you see a guy get hit and he turns around and runs or he covers up funny. We tell each other, if you ever do that in a fight, don’t bother coming back home. The flight back, get it back to your home state, get it to Colorado or go back to Texas. Just don’t even show up at the Ranch ever again. It’s stuff we tell each other like that every day, we train really hard as evidence for my last fight. I was supposed to fight Bruce Leeroy (Alex Caceres), I had some cartiliage damage under my ribs from Cowboy two weeks before the fight. It wasn’t his fault, it’s just the way we train, we train hard (and) people walk in the gym and see us training against each other and they think we hate each other.
“Then we hop in the same car and leave at the time, these people are mindboggled, they can’t believe that two guys are in there trying to hurt each other like that and then come out of there and they’re like ‘What’s the deal with those two, they were in there beating each other up and now they’re leaving together.’ That’s just the way we are and we’re both competing together right now for fight of the night, knockout of the night, and I think it’s a testament to our training.”