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Leonard Garcia reflects on his career

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Leonard Garcia

Leonard Garcia beat Joe Elmore via decision in the main event of Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship 1t on Friday, and retired at age 41.“Bad Boy” fought in MMA from 1999 to 2014, and in the UFC/WEC from 2007 to 2014, earning four fight of the night performance awards, including a Fight of the Ever nominee win vs. Chan Sung Jung at WEC 38 in 2010. During a recent appearance on the What the Heck podcast, Garcia reflected.

“I had been retired for two and a half years when I got the call from Bare Knuckle,” said Garcia “I was done. I was retired, but I got this opportunity and it took about a week to talk to my wife into it. The first fight was in Cancun, so that helped a lot, but it was a spiritual search. I’ve been heavily involved in church ever since I had retired and it was one of those things where I wasn’t sure if I was gonna come back or not, if she was gonna let me, I didn’t know if my job was gonna let me, I wasn’t sure how it was going to play out.

“I prayed a lot, and really, really sat down and thought about it. [BKFC owner David Feldman] offered me a three-fight deal, I presented those three fights and I said if I play my cards correctly, if I beat this first guy I know it’s for an international title which could lead me to the title within these three fights, I could be the No. 1 ranked guy. I made the deal with her, I prayed about the deal so I essentially made the deal with God as well and made the deal with the company. It all worked out that way. It all made sense to do the three fights.”

Garcia won his first BKFC bout vs. Julian Lane of “let me bang bro” viral fame, and lost the second to Jim Alers.

“That was a funny way of telling me don’t veer from the path,” said Garcia. “I thought it was crazy that Joe Elmore was calling me out when he was ranked No. 1. I felt like this was it. Everything lined up. The only problem was Joe Elmore was a scary individual. To say yes to that was like, holy crap. Is this really the path? After watching him fight and Tom Shoaff coming down to help was massive mentally. Tom has no idea what kind of impact he had but for him to spend five rounds in there with a guy like Joe and then come down here to tell me, ‘Hey, you’re ready,’ it felt like everything falling into place.

“You don’t really hear about a guy losing a fight and then fighting the No. 1 guy so that’s how I knew God had a little intervention in there. To walk away after that with the deal being made, it was like a surreal thing. I’m a man of my word and it was the best thing. After performing like that, everyone has been saying, ‘Why?’ I think that’s when you walk away, when they don’t want you to leave. You don’t want to walk away when they’re asking you to go.”

“I almost lost my eye in my second fight against Jim Alers, he got me with a knuckle. In this fight with Joe Elmore, I really wanted to prove that my chin hadn’t been compromised. With the Alers fight, I just couldn’t see anything with my eye. I couldn’t see a thing, just a red blob. My pupil is actually dilated twice the size bigger than my other eye for the rest of my life because of the damage I took in that one fight. Thank God he didn’t detach my retina.

“But Joe Elmore was the No. 1 guy for five months straight. He was crumbling people with every punch. If he touched you, you were going down. So I made a deal with my coaches in the back that I wasn’t going down one time, I’m never gonna show it if he hurts me, and I’m gonna put him down. In the first round, I don’t care what anybody says, I put him down. That was a knockdown.”

Garcia fought “The Korean Zombie” twice, winning the first in WEC via Split Decision, and losing the rematch eleven months later in the UFC. There never was a trilogy fight.

“I always thought about that and if you look at the numbers in our second fight, we were identical on punches landed and everything else,” said Garcia. “It’s always been a crazy matchup between me and him. I think our styles just blended so well together. I thought about a third fight with him for years, and of course he was climbing up the ladder and I was falling down it so it made way more sense for me, and didn’t make a lot of sense for him.

“Our paths did cross twice, we’re 1-1, and I’m comfortable with that. I think he is as well. We’re actually pretty decent friends. We have a speech difference, but his translator tells me good things. Seeing his last fight, it was saddening to me. I always want guys who had beaten me before to go higher and higher. But I thought about that when I first got into Bare Knuckle calling him out to see if we could do a third one there. But I don’t have a taste for it. I’m really happy with the way it all ended, and the results of everything.

“I’m at peace. I feel really good about the decision and, at 41 years old, the clock is working against me no matter what.”

So after 15 years, what are Garcia’s most memorable moments?

“I hate thinking about one fight being more important than the other,” said Garcia. “I would love to have a library of all of them—without the clips, without the stories, without everything—to watch the rise, the fall, the rise, the fall, the rise. And I got lucky because I rose quickly, and I fell, I rose quickly again, then I fell, and if you watch my career throughout every single organization I fought for, I either won the title, or I competed for it. I always reached the highest point of every organization I worked for.

“I think that’s the story: strive for the best. I always wanted to be the best with everything that I did. Now that I’m doing oil field automation out here in Texas, I want to be the best at that. That’s always my goal to be the best at everything I do, and teaching my kids to do that now. My focus has to be on them and seeing them tackle their goals.”

There is retirement, and there is MMA retirement. This is the latter, the last one.

“Absolutely, because the way that it happened and the way that I felt,” said Garcia. “God kept every promise to me, so I’m gonna hold my word and keep my promise to him as well. Maybe people won’t understand that but I still have all my cognitive tissue in my brain, I can still talk well, I can still see well, I feel good. So why risk that?”

H/t Mike Heck for MMA Fighting