I had an epiphany Saturday night while watching UFC 136.
It happened moments before Bruce Buffer read out the judges' scores for Leonard Garcia vs. Nam Phan II. To that point, I had been dreading that this fight would go to a decision, and bracing for the very real possibility that the judges—once again—would screw this up and give Garcia a win that he didn't deserve.
For years, I, like many MMA fans, had criticized Garcia for his reckless, haymaker style that, while exciting and entertaining, was far from effective. I resented every judge that had ever been mesmerized by his tornado-like style of striking, even though most of those punches whiffed entirely, and had cost worthy fighters their rightful wins.
This was the only fighter on the planet who I could be 100 percent certain had lost, only to see his hand raised due to his smoke-and-mirrors routine.
But Saturday night, as Bruce Buffer read out the unanimous score in Phan's favor, something clicked in my mind, and I realized that I had Leonard Garcia all wrong. Not only had this man found a way to endear himself to countless fans, but his style kept him employed and on the main card of most UFC events. He had taken a limited skill set and a reckless disregard for his personal health, and ran with those tools farther than anyone not named Chris Lytle ever had.
Any animosity I felt towards Garcia completely melted away, and all I could do was marvel.
Realistically, Garcia could and probably should be 0-9 in his last nine fights. Stop and think about that for a second.
A nine-fight losing streak is the stuff of MMA legend, and not in a good way. And yet during that time, Garcia has managed to eke out three split decisions and a draw, raising his record to a mediocre 3-5-1 since 2009, and padded his wallet with four Fight-of-the-Night bonuses along the way.
It is truly amazing that a fighter whose last indisputable win came by TKO against Jens Pulver, in 2008, has managed to not only stay under Zuffa's employment for the past three years, but has become the poster child for exciting, all-out brawls.
He's done this by finding a style based purely on aggression, something that most judges score favorably, and most fighters are too cautious or scared to duplicate.
Garcia has literally found a near-perfect style for the 10-point must system that rewards aggression and Octagon control, and has kept a steady paycheck because of it.
Some of us want Garcia to defend himself more, to pick his shots carefully and ration out his power instead of throwing each punch like a 100 m.p.h fastball, but who are we to judge? Without that raw aggression, there's a very good chance that we'd never have seen Garcia in the Octagon at all.
The casual fans have certainly noticed, and Garcia receives ovations louder than most other fighters, regardless of winning percentages or technical prowess.
While MMA has taken great strides to become a mainstream powerhouse, we are still at a point where being exciting is almost as precious of a commodity as winning. That's why Dan Hardy can lose four in a row and escape the axe, but a lay-and-pray fighter can be gone with one slip up. Garcia has created the ultimate insurance policy for himself, entertain the bosses and the score that Buffer reads out doesn't matter so much.
Bottom line, I don't ever want Garcia to change his style, to become a fighter more focused on winning than putting on a show. Sure, I'll cringe and curse the judges when Garcia squeaks out another 29-28, 28-29, 29-28 split decision that he didn't deserve, but I will no longer blame Garcia for a judge's ineptitude.
Garcia has found a way to play the game, and survive doing it. Keep taking those bonuses home Leonard, you've earned them.
Follow Cameron Gidari on Twitter at Twitter.com/GidariTapouTVTC