Leonard Gracia couldn’t be happier following what could easily be described as the biggest win of his career. The Greg Jackson trained fighter’s first round knockout over former UFC champion Jens Pulver has the MMA world buzzing that there’s a new force to be reckoned with in the featherweight division.
After a nine month lay off and recently being cleared of federal charges that had been hanging over his head like a dark cloud, Garcia told fiveouncesofpain.com in an exclusive interview that he feels like it was all just a part of his destiny to become one of the best fighters in the sport. It’s almost as if he needed the time off to reinvent himself and reinvent himself he has. Garcia looked amazing in his destruction of a future hall of famer at WEC 36 and seems to have found new life in his mixed martial arts career.
After his big win over Pulver, the featherweight slugger has wasted no time in making it known that he wants a shot at the 145 pound title. The title that Mike Brown recently acquired by shocking Urijah Faber when he knocked him out in the first round. From the looks of things that fight could be in the not so distant future.
Whether he fights for the belt in his next fight or not, Garcia just wants to fight. After a nine month layoff that left him “agitated” and hungry to fight, he’s eager to show the world the new and improved Leonard Garcia.
Cory Brady: What are your thoughts looking back on the fight between you and Pulver. Were you surprised you were able to catch him so early?
Leonard Garcia: As far as my training camp went it didn’t surprise me at all. The initial shock of it being over so quickly just recently started setting in.
Cory Brady: What was your game plan going into that fight?
Leonard Garcia: I seriously thought after the Hiroyuki Takaya fight that he was going to try to take me down. I was kind of hoping that his pride would make him stand up and I think that’s what did it. He made a comment that I only had one knockout or something like that. I’ve never trained at a kickboxing academy or a mixed martial arts place ever before I came to Greg Jackson’s. If you watch the Roger Huerta fight and then you watch the Hiroyuki Takaya fight there’s an obvious big change in my kickboxing. He should have watched my tapes and studied that but I guess his pride got the best of him.
Cory Brady: So you feel like Pulver was underestimating your punching power because you only had the one knockout listed on your record?
Leonard Garcia: For sure, that’s exactly what it was. If he would have watched any of my earlier fights he would have seen that I have a lot of submissions but it was because I rocked a lot of people standing up and they would take me down right into a submission. I was able to drop people and get on top of them and get a choke in. I’ve always had the punching power, it’s always been there, but now I’m quicker and stronger at 145 so everything’s coming along a lot better.
Cory Brady: Did you get some good advice from Duane Ludwig going into this fight being that he already had the previous stoppage over Pulver?
Leonard Garcia: Duane’s the man. It doesn’t really matter who I fight. As long as I can do my stand up training with Duane I feel confident with anybody standing up.If you can last one round with Duane when he’s really turning it on then you’ll be alright in a twenty five minute fight.
Cory Brady: This is a huge win for you. Do you feel like you have kind of turned a new page in your mixed martial arts career with your win over Pulver?
Leonard Garcia: Yeah, I think this cements me into the weight class and makes me a force to be reckoned with at 145. Any time you beat somebody with such a big name it just does things for your career. I can already tell a huge difference and it’s been less than a week. I worked really hard to beat Pulver and I definitely pushed it to another level during training camp. I’m doing a lot of things different now. I’m starting to take supplements, vitamins, I’m dieting. I’m doing a lot of different things that Greg Jackson has me doing and I think I’m coming together perfectly so this is a huge step for me.
Cory Brady: How happy were you to return to action after that nine month layoff?
Leonard Garcia: With everything that happened with me and all of that crap that went on and then also with the hurricane it just felt like it was never going to happen. I was like “What’s going on? I can’t catch a break”. Every time something would happen. I would always say “When we’re under those lights and we’re across from each other and the referee says go, that’s when I’ll know it’s real” and that’s exactly how it felt.
Cory Brady: It’s like everything happens for a reason and maybe the reason you hadn’t fought before was because it was just waiting on everything to line up right against Pulver.
Leonard Garcia: Everything worked out in my favor, I mean everything. I feel like this fight wouldn’t have happened had I not had those legal problems. You just hit the nail right on the head. You said “Everything happens for a reason” and that’s the way I take it. I try to take everything in stride and try to make the best out of everything and that’s exactly what happened in this situation.
Cory Brady: Do you expect to fight Mike Brown for his first title defense?
Leonard Garcia: Yeah, I am. I don’t know how quickly he’s going to be able to get back in there. I heard he had some torn cartilage in his ribs. There’s a couple of things that we really need to sit down and talk about but yeah, I’d love to fight him. I can’t speak for the WEC and I can’t make matches that haven’t been signed yet but I truly feel like I’m the #1 contender.
Cory Brady: So if that fight was to go down, how do you feel you guys match up?
Leonard Garcia: Me and Mike are both really big 145’ers. I think he’s a better wrestler than me and I think that I’m a better striker than he is. I’m not too sure on the jiu-jitsu. I know he trains out of a great camp.I have a brown belt, it’s about to be a black, from what I understand, that’s what they’re telling me. I think stylistically it can be a really exciting fight or it can be a really boring fight if he tries to hold me down. Whatever it is. Roger Huerta tried to hold me down so we’ll see. I was out of shape when I fought him so let’s see if anybody can hold down an in shape Leonard Garcia.
Cory Brady: If you are offered the fight for the belt but Mike Brown’s injury keeps him out of action for a while, will you be looking to fight again before Brown just to stay active?
Leonard Garcia: Yeah. I don’t sit around and wait for anything. My family is first and foremost and this is how I take care of my family. If there’s another fight that comes up and I can do it and he’s saying that he’s still injured then I’m going to do it. I’m not going to sit around and wait. I took nine months off this year and that had me highly agitated so next year I want to fight as much as I can.
Cory Brady: In your last couple fights for the WEC you’ve gone 2-0 with 2 first round knockouts. Have you been looking for the KO lately?
Leonard Garcia: I’m a naturally aggressive person, even in training. When I throw a jab they laugh. They tell me “Man, you throw a jab like you’re trying to mimic a right hand”. Every punch I throw I’m trying to let it all go. I think that makes me an exciting fighter and I think that’s what people want to see so it’s not so much that I’m really looking for anything, I’m just trying to let it go at all times. I’m one of those guys that even in training I have a couple guys that are dodging me in practice so it just works out that way. That’s just how I am. I’m not looking for knockouts, I’m not trying to get knockouts, they’re just coming so it’s working out.
Cory Brady: How do you feel fighting at 145 compared to 155?
Leonard Garcia: I feel stronger at 145 than I did at 155. I went down and trained with Roger Huerta since our fight and he was telling me that it’s like night and day now. He’s like “You feel stronger, you’re faster, everything”. He was like “It’s crazy. You look smaller but you feel like a bigger person”. At 155, I can’t lie and say that I wasn’t cutting anything to get there but I was cutting maybe two or three pounds. Cutting to 145 is just like cutting for everybody else, it sucks. I hate cutting weight. I know it’s a hard cut for me but it’s not unreachable. It’s really easy for me to get there but I just hate to do it. Either way, it’s a better weight class for me and I love it.
Cory Brady: Do you think this is where you will stay for a long time to come?
Leonard Garcia: The good thing is that the 145 pound weight class is so stacked right now, there’s so many fights that I want to do. If I win the title and have two or three defenses then I’m going to jump up to 155 and keep testing myself. For me, that’s what fighting is, you’re just testing yourself. I want to be known as one of the best, if not the best. If it takes two weight classes like De La Hoya and all those guys that have done it in boxing then I’ll do it in MMA.
Cory Brady: How good does it feel to have put all of your legal problems behind you and have your entire MMA career in front of you?
Leonard Garcia: It’s the best feeling in the world. It’s funny that you asked that. My Mom was asking me that question just the other day. I was talking to he and she just started crying. It just feels great getting everything cleared away and now I’m just ripping away. I’m going 100% full steam ahead. I appreciate this career so much more now because of that. I’m not taking it for granted so you guys are going to be seeing a lot of exciting fights coming from me.
Cory Brady: Hey Leonard, thanks so much for your time. Are there any sponsors you’d like to thank before I let you go?
Leonard Garcia: Yeah, I want to thank Tapout first and foremost. I want to thank Nutritox. Those guy’s really helped me out with my nutrition level and a lot of things so any fighters coming up, Nutritox is the real deal. Also Killer Clothing and MTX Audio. Any new sponsors out there that want a fighter that’s guaranteed TV time, look up my manager and hit me up.