ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Leonard Garcia understands the stakes at hand. A loser of four straight since mid-2011, Garcia's name has been on the chopping block for longer than he'd like to admit.
"I knew getting out of the fight that I was in danger of getting cut," Garcia told MMAFighting.com. "I was like, ‘Man, I can't believe the judges did that to me.' I started feeling bad, and then I heard [UFC President Dana White] and I thought about it. I've been on the end of some crazy decisions where I felt like I lost and they gave me the decision, and then I watch the fight and I'm like, ‘Man, it's kind of close. I still think the other guy won.' So when that decision happened, and that all played out, it all came back around and got me."
It didn't take White long to throw his support behind Garcia, pledging not to cut the 33-year-old at the ensuing post-fight press conference despite his tumultuous streak. Fighters have received their Zuffa walking papers for far less, but White and the Zuffa higher-ups carry a fondness for men who, in their own words, "war," and Garcia is firmly entrenched in that category.
Still, as he stood inside the center of the Octagon, awaiting the judges' scorecards and knowing that once again it would be close, but confident he had done enough to right his ship, Garcia couldn't suppress the emotions raging inside him.
"It was nerve-racking, man. I thought for sure I had that one in the bag," Garcia sighed. "I was sitting there, waiting to raise my hand, and then they say his name. It was a numbing feeling. I didn't want to take anything away from him because the judges saw it one way, so I shook his hand, walked out. The cool thing was, Dana White, Sean Shelby, Joe Silva, Reed Harris, even Dave Sholler, all of ‘em went to the back during the event to go shake my hand and tell me that was one of the best performances I'd ever given, and that made me feel good. That's a good feeling when you're acknowledged by your bosses. So the numbness kind of went away.
"It doesn't make the loss okay, because I'm still not okay with losing. Still hurts like crazy. I was in the back dressing room crying, just because I had lost. It doesn't matter if it was a close fight, if it was a big fight. You lose, you lose. It still tears you up inside as a fighter. It was rough, man. But I just prayed and got over it, good things started happening, and now the pressure is on me to perform."
Ask Garcia, and he's honest: Win or lose, he's as sick of these controversial decisions as fans are of debating them. Garcia can't quite put his finger on why this keeps happening, but regardless, he knows it's well past time for a change.
"I feel like I get into these exchanges and these scraps. I take a shot to give a shot," Garcia explained. "And even though sometimes I feel like that's exciting and it's fun to watch, and it's a good fight, I need to stray away from that and start showing my skills. Not just showing the guy who can go out there and put on a show. I don't feel like I'm going to lose any fans because of it, because even my skills sets are still entertaining. I still go out -- we were talking about it today -- I still try to knock guys out in the gym. I still try to take you down as hard as I can. I still try to grapple really hard, and I feel like it's still going to be entertaining. I just need to be more on-point."
No fighter in UFC history has lost five straight fights and kept their job intact for a sixth try. Garcia is well aware of this fact, which makes his upcoming match-up at UFC 159 against Cody McKenzie, himself a loser of three of four, a likely win-or-go-home bout.
"I feel like every fight in the UFC is that way, but this one, for sure, is," Garcia said flatly. "I feel like it doesn't matter what kind of performance I have. If I don't win, I don't want to be in the UFC. If you're not winning, why do you want to be there?"
Garcia pauses after asking the question to no one in particular. He knows fans already regard him as a man living on borrowed time, similar to the way British slugger Dan Hardy was widely panned when he received a fifth shot at redemption in 2012.
But something inside Garcia changed after UFC 155. This time around, his goal isn't to just stay in the UFC. It's simply to perform; to validate his boss' faith and put on the clinic he knows he's capable of, if only for his own pride.
"I don't want to be like Dan Hardy," said Garcia. "I want to be like Jose Aldo, I want to be like Anderson Silva. Those guy haven't lost fights. That's how I want to be like. So I'm in the gym training because I want to get to where those guys are. There's new guys coming up in the division that are real dangerous that I want to get a chance to fight, and unless I win this fight I won't get that opportunity. That's my pressure."
It won't be easy, but Garcia is ready. It's not hyperbole to call this the biggest fight of his career. The thing is, McKenzie probably feels the same way. But such is life in today's cutthroat UFC world, where roster spots are at a premium.
"I think Cody is a scrappy dude," Garcia finished. "I think he's got a really good guillotine, and I think he's good at a lot of things that people don't give him credit for. A lot of people are like, ‘All you gotta do is hit that dude in the stomach.' I tell them, ‘You get in there and hit him in the stomach.'
"Here's the thing, man. Anybody who's in the UFC has something special. And that's something. People get on the internet and they type things, and they say stuff about people -- that's why they're on the internet typing and not in the UFC. Cody, the dude throws down, man. He comes to fight every time, and he has that care-free attitude.
"He's a dangerous guy. I just feel like I'm stronger than he is, I feel like I hit harder than he does, and I feel like I have more ways to win this fight. I'm going to find my way to win. I'm not losing to Cody."