Leonard Garcia was recently released by the UFC, following five consecutive losses. Garcia is one of the most exciting fighters in the history of the sport. A split decision win over Chan Sung Jung at WEC 48 in 2010 was called "the best fight I've seen in my life," by Joe Rogan, who has seen as many top-level fights live as anyone ever. Another fight the same year, also a winning split decision, over Nam Phan, won Fight of the Night. Garcia went on to win five more 'OTN' bonuses.
When Garcia was released, he was expected to be snatched up quickly, as a fighter generating that level of excitement comes on the open market so rarely.
Garcia told Bellator" target="_blank">MMAFighting.com he was reluctant to review an offer from Bellator, due to public differences between the organization and both former Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and former Bellator bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky.
"The good offers have come from World Series of Fighting," said Garcia. "I believe Bellator made an offer, and I haven't asked to hear it yet because my intentions are to come back to the UFC. I feel if I go to Bellator, I'll never come back. That's one of things where I'm not sure that I'm ready to hear an offer from them."
"I've also read some stories about a champion there that was promised so much money and was forced to fight for less."
"At the moment those are the stories that I'm hearing, and you can't fight for a company like that. You just can't do it. They'll hold you back. If it's true, they'll hold you back. But if it's not true, if I find out different, then I'll openly talk to them and see what they can offer."
Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney told MMAJunkie no offer was ever extended to Garcia, and that the promotion had "no interest" in the 33-year-old featherweight.
"Leonard Garcia has never been approached by our company," said Rebney. "We have never had any interest or expressed any interest in signing Leonard Garcia. But he claimed to have been approached by Bellator about signing. Now, I've got a lot of respect for anybody who steps inside the cage. I've got a lot of respect for anybody who's got the guts to be a professional mixed martial artist. But with all due respect, we had no interest in signing him."
Rebney said Garcia was not the only figure approached by a phantom Bellator rep, citing as well a Southwest gym owner and an East Coast manager.
Garcia's management, Haymaker's Empire Sports Management, told MMAJunkie that that Rebney's claim "strains credulity."
"In light of Bellator's alleged legal chicanery with their own champions like Eddie Alvarez and Zach Makovsky, and high-profile fighters like Leonard Garcia making known their desire to avoid a potentially bad situation, it is not surprising Bellator is trying to get ahead of the bad PR plaguing their promotion," said Garcia's reps in a statement to MMAJunkie. "However, this story about a 'phantom' Bellator representative making phony offers to fighters just strains credulity."
"One must wonder, if this had actually been occurring, why Bellator waited until now – after Garcia made known his and other fighters’ mistrust of their promotion – to suddenly decide to make mention of 'The Bellator Phantom. The claim appears childish and far-fetched at best."
"Haymaker’s Empire Sports Management stands behind its fighters and won’t allow them to be trashed by any organization."
Haymaker's Empire Sports Management President Jerry Villasenor said that the contact had been directly to Garcia, and not through his management team. Villasenor said that Garcia could not identify the Bellator employee in question.
"Leonard got the call the day it had been announced that he had been cut by the UFC," said Villasenor. "He received tons of calls for interviews and tons of calls from promoters expressing interest. I think once they realized that Leonard had no interest is when the 'Phantom' was born."
Garcia ultimately signed with Legacy FC, and debuts July 19 against Rey Trujillo at LFC 21.
So what do you think UG? Does anyone here know the Southwest gym owner and an East Coast manager in question? Trolling is ubiquitous on the the Internet; is it seeping like a fungus into MMA generally?