All things considered, this was never how Leonard Garcia was supposed to go out.
If there was one thing you could count on from Garcia throughout his tenure as a Zuffa fighter, it's that every time he stepped foot in the UFC Octagon or the WEC Tiny Little Blue Cage he would do his damnedest to put on a fireworks display worthy of the Hong Kong skyline on Chinese New Year. He may have been affiliated with a camp in Jackson's MMA that sometimes gets a bad rap for producing fighters who follow dull, conservative gameplans, but time and again Garcia proved himself to be a coach's nightmare and a fan's dream as he threw weeks of drilling a low/risk, high/reward strategy out the window and instead began slinging haymakers with sloppy abandon. He was the fighter all the Julian Lanes of the world dream about becoming when they lay their spikey, garishly dyed heads on their pillows at night -- all Leonard Garcia did was bang, bro.
Which is why it seemed so incongruous for Garcia's career as a UFC fighter to come to an end not with the bang of a back and forth firefight, but the whimper of a one sided, rather boring, drubbing at the hands of Cody McKenzie at UFC 159.
Heading into the fight McKenzie was a mere 2-3 in UFC competition, with his last outing consisting of an utter humbling at the hands of Chad Mendes back in July of last year. A loss to a guy like McKenzie on a Facebook prelim alone might be enough to call into question whether or not someone can realistically hang at the UFC level, but a glimpse over at Garcia's win-loss ledger erases all doubt. Garcia went 1-5 during his most recent stint in the UFC, with his lone win coming by way of a controversial split decision that many felt rightfully belonged to his opponent Nam Phan.
What's worse, Garcia's only other victory since 2008 was another razor close split decision in his now-legendary battle with the Korean Zombie Chan-Sung Jung. Despite Garcia exemplifying the type of fighter UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta loves to see go to "WAR" (caps his), there's only so long the premier mixed martial arts organization in the world can justify keeping around a guy who hasn't won a fight since 2010.
So it didn't come as much of a shock when news broke this week that Garcia had been cut from his UFC contract following the loss to McKenzie. What was mildly surprising, however, was when the longtime Team Jackson fighter revealed he has decided to take a hiatus from the Albuquerque-based super-team in hopes of reigniting his career with Urijah Faber's Team Alpha Male.
In an interview with MMAFighting.com's Shaun Al-Shatti, Garcia mentioned how he believes it will be to his benefit to train in a room full of stud wrestlers, since he attributes deficiencies in his defensive wrestling game for his career downturn. To hear Garcia tell it, getting cut by the UFC was just what he needed to rediscover his passion for MMA and he plans to work hard to earn his way back to the big show.
Garcia's work ethic in the face of adversity is certainly admirable, but the odds don't seem great he'll be able to pull of a happy ending. Don't forget we're talking about a fourteen year veteran of the sport who is just a couple months shy of his 34th birthday. There's a reason that cliche about old dogs and new tricks gets dragged out so often when we talk about aging athletes after all. Garcia might be able to pick up some valuable tips on the mats while getting smothered by talented wrestlers like Faber and Mendes, but will he be able to implement these techniques once fight time comes?
Speaking of which, if past is precedent, even if Garcia masters all the new techniques in the world inside the gym, it likely won't make a bit of difference once the cage door shuts. Anyone who has followed his career knows it's safe to bet your house, your life savings and your first born child all at once on Garcia immediately reverting to what he knows best the second he gets tagged: throwing bombs with an utter lack of concern for his personal safety that straddles the line between the heroic and the downright foolhardy.
Like so many other fighters before him, the eat four jabs to land one haymaker style that makes Garcia's fights so fun to watch may have ultimately proved his undoing. A reputation for rushing into the pocket and slinging leather can establish an otherwise unremarkable fighter's name, but more often than not the math just doesn't work out. Eventually all those shots add up, resulting in slowed reflexes, which in turn lead to even more blows finding a home on said fighter's face. It's a real vicious cycle; especially when you're a fighter like Garcia who a more technical opponent can game plan for with ease.
The results of Garcia's reckless approach speak for themselves: a mere 3 wins since 2008 - all of which were narrow split decisions - and 8 losses.
What the numbers can't quantify is all the excitement the slugger from Lubbock, Texas brought with him inside the cage. He'll never be remembered as one of the all time greats, but Leonard Garcia earned the respect of fans across the globe thanks to the reckless abandon he showed in the Octagon. In a world where so many of us never come close to living our dreams, surely that's got to be worth something, right?
The irony is, that very berserker style that made him stand out is also what led to Garcia's downfall. That's the problem with making a habit of charging head first into the fire: eventually you're going to get burned.
This piece originally appeared on WrestlingObserver.com on 5/10/13