After dropping a unanimous decision to Cody McKenzie at UFC 159 for his fifth loss in a row, Leonard Garcia knew the UFC was going to cut him.
“You can’t perform like that,” he told the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “I felt like a bad dream, like I was a step behind, like I was watching myself fight, like I had a flat tire. Something was wrong. I was definitely burnt. Somehow, someway something happened and I never got that crazy aggressive feeling that I normally get. I never got anything.”
Despite his reputation as an entertainer, Garcia was let go after the defeat. In fact, he believes the pressure to entertain actually hampered his performance.
“The pressure of that killed me for this one,” he said. “It was like, man, I have to go out there and perform. I have to, I have to, I have to. I forced myself into a dead halt is what it felt like.”
The UFC doesn’t keep many fighters who’ve suffered three straight losses, much less five. Garcia was the exception, though, likely due to his willingness to throw caution to the wind inside the cage. His aggressive style won him plenty of bonus money, but it didn’t win him as many fights as he would have liked.
“One hundred percent,” Garcia answered when asked if the bonuses helped him accept his losses. “Don’t get me wrong, the losses never got easy. My striking coach is sitting here. … This dude’s seen me crying more times than my wife, my family, everything. He’s been in the room every time after a loss. It never gets easy, not for a fighter. I hate losing. After five of those in a row, and the [Max] Holloway one was really hard, but after all that, it was definitely time for a change.”
Last week Garcia signed a three-fight deal with the Texas-based Legacy Fighting Championship. In addition to fighting in his home state, he believes performing well in the promotion could pave the road back to the UFC.
“The ultimate goal is as long as I’m at Legacy, I want to take their title,” Garcia said. “I feel like I’m coming off a big show and I feel like I’ve got to prove I still have something to give to them. By becoming champion at a smaller organization, it’s letting [the UFC] know that I’m still setting my standards pretty high. The ultimate goal is getting back to the UFC.”
Garcia is set to debut in Legacy on July 19 against Rey Trujillo. With a win, he expects to be fighting for Legacy’s featherweight title.
“They’re a great organization,” he said. “They’re working with me. This first fight is for the No. 1 contendership and then the next fight will be for the title. They’re working towards the things that I’m trying to do. They knew that I wanted to be a champion somewhere and they’re working towards that by giving me No. 1 contendership. They’re also agreeing to let go of my contract if the UFC calls.”
Which, of course, Garcia hopes will happen soon enough. In the meantime, he’s determined to make some changes and earn his way back into the sport’s biggest promotion.
“I was like, ‘OK, this is working.’ I say ‘working,’ but I was still losing these fights, so it wasn’t working,” said Garcia, reflecting on his ability to entertain even in defeat. “It took this reality check to make me sit down and realize that. I was tired of it. I’m tired of the way things were, and this is the change that I needed.”
Listen to the full interview (beginning at 1:58:07).