has a problem. To put it more precisely, he has a difficult decision to make. He has to choose between being the fighter fans have come to expect and being the fighter his coaches and teammates see glimpses of in the gym. He has to choose between wild brawls and technical displays.
Maybe, when it comes down to it, he even has to choose between entertaining and winning. The thing is that, lately, he's begun to wonder whether it's even his choice to make in the end.
"I get a lot of talk about how I'm willing to go out there and brawl," Garcia said. "The fans like it, the UFC likes it, but then everybody in the gym says, hey, when you're technical and you do things correctly, it's hard to stop you. But when we go out for the rules meeting and Dana White is talking about the Fight of the Night bonus, he stares right at me. I mean, right
at me. And all the guys in the room, you can see them, they're like, man, Leonard's on the card. He's going to go get that bonus. So it is a double-edged sword."
On one hand, it's the brawling, block-with-your-face style that makes Garcia a fan favorite, which in turn grants him some measure of job security in the UFC. On the other hand, a reckless style necessarily invites defeat, and defeat invites unemployment.
Garcia has made his money in one nail-biter after another recently – he's won the Fight of the Night bonus in three of his last four bouts, all of which went to the judges' scorecards – but all it would take is a few consecutive decisions going the other way for him to find himself on the wrong side of a UFC roster purge, and he knows it.
"Not being safe, not being careful, going out there and getting after it, all that gets you fans and stuff. It can also get you cut from the UFC. I weigh these things out in my head all the time and then I go out there and when it's time to fight, I just get in a certain mindframe and it's time to go. I kind of don't have a choice. Once a guy hits me, the other Leonard comes out. I just need to learn to control that a little bit more."
With his rematch against Chan Sung Jung
at UFC Fight Night 24
just a couple days away, you could argue that he picked the toughest possible time to try and get a grip on the brawler within.
The first time these two met it resulted in what some considered the fight of the year at WEC 48 last April. They slugged it out for fifteen minutes, Garcia got the narrow split decision nod, and then they shared a ride to the hospital together.
"We're bonded by blood and sweat," said Garcia. "There's no other way to put it. We had such a great fight together. Thirty years from now I'll have grandkids and I'll be able to put that fight on and say, 'Look at what me and this guy did.' ...But it is different to go in there and fight a guy you have this mutual respect for. Going up against a guy you already have this bond with, it's a crazy feeling."
Garcia was slated for a rematch of a different sort with Nam Phan
, but after an injury forced Phan out of the bout and "The Korean Zombie" agreed to step up on short notice, Garcia was forced to weigh his desire to use a more technical approach with his desire to give the fans the fight he knew they'd be expecting.
After the show he and Jung put on the first time, Garcia said, it was hard not to wonder how they could possibly live up to the expectations of the rematch.
"I had to put that out of my memory already. The first few days after I took [the fight] I was thinking, how are we ever going to live up the memory of the first one? What are we going to do differently in this fight that overshadows that one? Then I started thinking about it, and you know, I've improved since the first one. In the beginning, 80 percent of me wanted to go back and do the exact same thing as we did before just to give the people a show, and the other 20 percent wanted to show people how much better I've gotten since then."
And yet, what's going to happen the first time Jung connects with a solid punch? What will Garcia do when the slumbering brawler in him wakes up and lunges for the steering wheel? The truth, he admitted, is that he's not entirely sure.
"That's the pressure you deal with. But at the end of the day, you have to progress as a fighter, or else you just get left behind. Going in there and giving the fans a show is what I've always been about, and they know I can do that. This time around though, I want to showcase my talents, not just my will to fight."
There's the person you would like to be, and then there's the person you are. Whether Garcia has any say as to which one shows up in the cage on Saturday night, even he can't be sure. Like the rest of us, he'll find out soon enough.