Every Mixed Martial Artist’s course through the sport is unique though many share common traits outside of technique. Some grow up with an intense desire to duke it out regardless of their environment. Others stumble into martial arts, eventually finding an unexpected passion for the competition and discipline coming with the territory. So, while rising UFC featherweight Pablo Garza may be among the latter group, the course he’s taken since first lacing up a pair of gloves is without question unlike any other fighter’s to date.
From debuting under the Zuffa banner on less than a week’s notice to ultimate redemption in the Octagon to an incredible opening round “Submission of the Night” performance at UFC 129, Garza has taken each step of his journey in stride and only now hopes to make a brief pit stop to refuel and fine-tune his engine after seven fights in the year preceding his recent win in Toronto.
Garza took some time to talk with Five Ounces of Pain about his submission success against Yves Jabouin, as well as his experiences leading up to the historic win and his plans for the immediate future.
As far as how his love of MMA initially developed, Garza explained he had always been into sports but never competitively punched another person in the face until a chance encounter in college.
“I played college basketball so I was really into being athletic, just competition in general. I had a friend who did some boxing and he recommended I go to a boxing gym. After about a month of boxing I met some guys who did MMA and I started training with those guys,” the 27-year old began. “I just kind of fell into it. I started doing it and the more I did it the more I loved it. I liked the whole martial arts aspect so I just stuck with it.”
After winning seven straight to open up his career Garza ended up as part of the twenty-eight fighters in the elimination round on the Ultimate Fighter Season 12 but was outpointed by eventual finalist Michael Johnson. Though a bitter pill to swallow at first, the moment was one “The Scarecrow” wisely used as a positive in terms of helping intensify his desire to improve.
“At first I was really kind of bummed out about not getting on the show, but with what has happened lately…I mean, everything happens for a reason. Instead of taking that as a major loss I used it to motivate me to train even harder.”
Garza did just that, winning both of his follow-up appearances including a bout less than three weeks before getting a call from WEC about serving as a last minute replacement against then-undefeated Tiequan Zhang at an event in five days. Though Garza would go on to lose by Guillotine Choke the showing and spirit in taking a late bout paid off in the form of an opportunity to become part of the first featherweight fight in UFC history at, ironically, the Ultimate Fighter Season 12 Finale. In the end he added his name to a few more spots in history as the first 145er to not only win in the Octagon, but to do so by KO as well as to earn a “Knockout of the Night” distinction due to the highlight-reel nature of his Flying Knee finish.
“I felt that I wanted to go out and prove something,” Garza said of redemption. “To try and show the UFC and Dana White I had more skills than what they originally saw.”
His reward for the sensational strike, besides the attached cash and notoriety, came less than two weeks ago as one-half of the show-opener at UFC 129, otherwise known as the largest MMA event in North American history with 55,000+ screaming Canadians in attendance.
“My mindset the week before and all the way up to the fight was, man, I was gonna leave everything out there that I wanted to,” Garza said of his approach entering the epic event. “I wanted it to be, win or lose, that I wasn’t gonna have any regrets. I was gonna go out there, not pull any punches, and leave everything in the ring. My mindset was that I didn’t want to hold back.”
Hold back he didn’t, and rather than simply succumb to nerves or play it safe he paid fans and his employers back for the trust he’d been given with a spot on the card. Midway through the first frame, after weathering some stiff shots from the local favorite, Garza jumped into position for a Flying Triangle Choke when opponent Jabouin attempted to lock up with him and eventually secured the hold to force a tap-out, his seventh overall win by way of submission.
However, as quickly as the “Submission of the Night” maneuver may have come, it was actually a move Garza had discussed with his camp a day earlier and practiced in the moments leading up to his bout – a fact a certain Strikeforce lightweight champion can testify to based on a playful look he gave Garza backstage before showtime.
“Back locker room like 10-15 minutes before my fight and we were warming up and my coach shot in, I jumped and I hit a Flying Triangle off a single-leg. And I can’t remember who it was…I think it was Gilbert Melendez….kind of gave me a little smirk like, ‘Awww…you better not try that in the fight. Don’t do that. That’s bad news for you.’ So then, after I (used) it in the fight and I came back in, he gave me a high-five and said he couldn’t believe I did it.”
“As far as the Flying Triangle, that’s something I’ve done in Jiu-Jitsu tournaments – like in Gi tournaments and stuff like that – so it wasn’t the first time I’ve attempted that. I’ve done it off shooting in on a single-leg and then jump the Triangle, but as far as an actual fight I’ve never done it before,” Garza explained. “(Then) I saw an opening. Actually, what people don’t know, is that me and my coach the day before were talking about how I was taller and he (opponent) was probably going to try and take me down. We were kind of messing around with it, like, thinking I can hit a Flying Triangle off a single-leg because he’s shorter.”
The win not only earned Garza an immense amount of respect from others but a $129,000 paycheck based on the scale of UFC 129 and has landed him on the short list of “must see” Mixed Martial Artists in his division. The circumstances are not lost on him though he’s still in the process of absorbing the entire situation, only treating himself to a motion-sensing update to his PS3 rather than any luxury purchases with his newly fattened bank account.
“It definitely feels like a dream. It hasn’t settled in yet. It hasn’t really hit me yet. I still tell my fiancée I can’t believe I did what I did. It’s so surreal,” Garza reflected on the last year of his life.
As far as what’s next, the 11-1 North Dakotan has his sights set on improving as a whole rather than looking at any particular opponent, even bypassing on biting at any interest in terms of rectifying the only loss of his career in a rematch with Zhang by getting a full camp to prepare.
“I really don’t care about him. It really doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t benefit me at all to go back. I just want to fight somebody who is gonna move me up in rankings or make me better, you know? Me and my managers just don’t see anything beneficial out of doing that (with Zhang). It doesn’t get me any closer to a title-shot, so it really doesn’t bother me at all.”
“It’s time for me to just take a little time off to train and get better,” Garza elaborated on his future plans. “All my fights prior I was training but I was training specifically for a person, on how to beat a person. I wasn’t training to better myself as an overall competitor. Especially in the UFC, everybody is extremely good. So I want to take the time to better myself rather than train to beat someone. I’m not one to call anybody out or think about that. My focus is just on staying in the UFC and keeping my job.”
Garza closed things out by offering thanks to sponsor RevGear and his training partners at ACA Academy of Combat Arts and Minnesota Martial Arts Academy, as well as to his fans and his fiancée for their support.
PHOTO CREDIT – UFC