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Leonard Garcia on His WEC Title Fight And Attracting Hispanic Fans to MMA

Leonard Garcia will fight for the World Extreme Cagefighting featherweight title on Sunday night, and in an interview on Monday night he said the opportunity to fight champion Mike Brown "excites the s**t out of me."

The 29-year-old Garcia also talked about his desire to fight nothing but the best opponents -- including former featherweight champ Urijah Faber and current bantamweight champ Miguel Torres -- and explained why he thinks MMA is about to blow up among Mexican fans. The full interview is below.

Michael David Smith: You had three lightweight fights in the UFC in 2007 and then moved down to featherweight and had two WEC fights in 2008. Was it a tough decision to leave the UFC and lose 10 pounds to fight in the WEC?
Leonard Garcia: At the time it wasn't because the way it was sold to me was by coach [Greg] Jackson. He was pretty upset that I was weighing in at 149 or 150 for my UFC fights, where the limit was 155, and he said fighting bigger guys was a problem. The way he sold it to me was, "It's not a step down in competition. You've got Urijah Faber, you've got Hiroyuki Takaya, you've got Jens Pulver. There's plenty of tough fights down there, and there's going to be tougher guys coming in."

That was the main thing for me. I wanted to fight tough fights, and I wanted to push myself. You need that as a fighter. You need somebody you're kind of afraid of to make you get better. If you don't have fear of anything you won't get better. You won't get better if you think you're good enough. And that was one of the things I was afraid of, was that moving down in weight I wouldn't have that punch, but it's been proven now that I've had some great fights in that weight class.

I've talked to a lot of fighters who rave about Greg Jackson. What is it about Greg Jackson that makes him such a good trainer?
Greg's the kind of guy who gets in there. He doesn't sit on the outskirts, and he doesn't act like he knows something when he doesn't. If he doesn't know the answer, he'll ask, and if he's got something to tell you he'll tell you. He's just a straightforward person. And here at Jackson's, we're more like a family. It's a different feel at the gym, where we're not competing against each other, we're competing for each other. Everyone listens to Greg. There's not one person who Greg tells to do something and they won't do it.

Which fighters do you work with at Jackson's gym?
Everybody. The whole team, we're all here for each other. Georges St Pierre, Keith Jardine, Rashad Evans, Joey Villasenor, that's our heavier guys. And then we have smaller guys like me and Cowboy (Donald Cerrone), Duane Ludwig, we're the lighter team. We all train together, and then every now and then the big guys will come in and work with the little guys, just try to push us. We all work together as a team, and everybody works together. We've got guys who weigh 125 and roll with Rashad Evans, who's the champion at 205.

[At this point, Garcia put down the phone and talked to someone for a moment.]

Who were you were talking to?
Cowboy. He always does that, he talks to me during every interview. Me and Cowboy, we're like family. We're like brothers for real. We do everything together. We chase girls together, anything there is to do, we're like the dynamic duo, Batman and Robin. Of course, I'm Batman and he's Robin.

Do you always call him "Cowboy"? You never call him "Donald"?
I never call him Donald. Cowboy's his name, really. We're trying to get him to put it on his credit cards, but I don't know if that'll fly.

Would you ever fight a good friend like Cowboy?
I wouldn't fight Cowboy. We always said we wouldn't. I wouldn't fight one of my friends like that. Had we met because we were fighting each other, and then became good friends, like Roger Huerta, then I could fight them. Roger and I met each other because we fought at UFC 69. Now, we're great friends. We've trained together, I've stayed at his house, he's stayed at my house. I would still fight Roger today. I'd have no problem fighting him because I met him fighting. With Cowboy, we've been friends before, so it would be hard to fight him.

Speaking of Roger, is he going to fight again, or is he going into modeling and acting?
I don't know. He's got a modeling career and an acting career. I know he's got one more fight on his contract, and I would love to fight him one more time. Just because it's a fight that I think both of us would like to have back. He'd like to see what it's like fighting me if I was in great shape [Garcia took the fight against Huerta, which Huerta won by unanimous decision, on short notice] and I would like to see what it's like to fight him if I was in great shape. If he's going to go into acting, why not let him go out on a good fight? But, of course, right now, the only thing I'm worrying about is fighting Mike Brown for the title. But that's something I'd think about afterward.

Since moving down to featherweight you're 2-0, and it took you less than three minutes, combined, to knock out your two opponents. Do you feel like you're just bigger and stronger than the other guys at 145 pounds?
Yeah, definitely. I definitely feel bigger. I've got a good height and reach advantage. There's a couple guys who might be stronger than I am, but as far as punching power and explosiveness I think I have an edge on them. This is my natural weight class and where my body reacts the best. I feel stronger at 145 than I did at 155. I don't know how that works, but that's the way it is.

Do you have any trouble making weight at 145?
No, not at all. I could have made 145 the whole time I was in the UFC. It's just that 155, in the UFC, was where the tough fights were, so that's where I wanted to be. But now the WEC is showcasing the lighter fighters, and every fight at 145 is a dangerous fight, so I'm happy and glad to be a part of it.

What kind of fight are you expecting from Mike Brown?
I think it's no secret that Mike wants to try to take me down and control me on the ground. I know he comes from a very good camp where submissions are a real big deal. I think Mike will try to push me around, try to push me against the cage, take me down and hold me there. But I think I'm one of the bigger, stronger guys, so I don't think he's going to be able to move me around, so once he figures out that's not the way it's going to go, he's going to have no choice but to stand up with me.

Have you watched much tape of Mike Brown to get ready?
Yeah, I've watched pretty much all his fights. He's good enough in stand-up to stay on his feet with anybody. He's a well rounded guy. But I think what it comes down to is I can push the pace, take it head on, and that's the only way I know how to fight. I'm hoping his muscles start to deteriorate after a few rounds and his oxygen levels will be lower than mine. I think, for sure, my conditioning will be better.

That sounds to me a lot like what Georges St. Pierre said about fighting B.J. Penn: He wanted to tire Penn out, and force him to have a lactic acid buildup in his shoulders. Is wearing out your opponent something you guys work on with Greg Jackson?
Definitely. We get worn out every day, having these techniques used on us in the gym, and as Jackson fighters we invite that pain. We want that lactic acid build-up. Most camps and most other fighters are afraid of that feeling, when they're feeling that worn-out feeling, that's when they're done. We get that feeling and that's where we get going. Coach is a big believer in that. You don't start the fight when you're fresh, you start the fight when you're getting tired.In our gym, that's when we start looking for how we're going to finish. I hope Mike got ready like that, because I did.

If you win would you expect your first title defense to come against Urijah Faber?
Yeah, definitely. There's not another fight than I wanted more than Urijah, other than if someone beat him, which Mike Brown did. I definitely know Urijah would be next for me after this fight.

Are you expecting to have the home crowd on your side in Texas?
Yes. The pressure of fighting in your home state is that they're expecting you to win. I have to win this fight. There's no other option for me but to win. Regardless of how the fight goes, It has to end with me winning. I know Mike's going to bring it. You asked me about watching his fights -- there hasn't been one fight that I've seen Mike not come after somebody. I know what I'm up against, and that pressure is what makes me fight.

I know the UFC and the WEC are trying to attract more Mexican and Mexican-American fans. How do you think they're doing reaching that audience?
I think we're doing great. I think I've done more Spanish interviews than English interviews. I'm supposed to be going to Mexico City after this fight and helping to promote the WEC down there. I think promoting us in Mexico is one of the best ideas the WEC and the UFC has ever had. If you watch boxing, many of the greatest fighters are Hispanic fighters, and they have Hispanic fans who follow them everywhere and buy every pay-per-view. I think we're doing a great job of letting Hispanic people know about our sport, and I'm glad to be a part of it. I think within the next few years, the main attraction is going to be smaller weight class fighters with a Hispanic following, just like Oscar De La Hoya.

If you win the featherweight title, the two marquee champions in the WEC will be you and Miguel Torres, both Mexican-Americans. That seems perfect for reaching the Mexican-American audience.
Exactly. I think so, too. And you know what? Me and Miguel, we're both Hispanic guys, and we're pretty close in weight. We might have a mega-fight. It would be interesting. I'm always looking for a big fight. Those are the fights I want. Like this fight with Brown is going to be huge. I'm always wondering, "How would I do against this guy? How would I do against that guy?"

For Hispanic people, to watch two guys that they know are going to go out there and fight with all their hearts like me and Miguel would, that would be great.

What weight do you think you'd fight Miguel at?
I don't know. It would probably have to be a catch weight. Maybe we'd meet at 140 or something. Me and Miguel are really good friends, I think he's coming down for this fight just to see me fight for the title. He's a furious fighter, and that's part of his Mexican heritage, and that's how I fight too. It would be crazy for us to mix it up.

He's such a well-rounded fighter, he can do so many different things. I'm sure you and Greg would have an interesting time trying to come up with a game plan for him.
Yeah, he's so well rounded, it would be tough. The way I see it, I just want the greatest fights out there. Pound-for-pound, he's one of the greatest fighters out there, and that's the kind of fights I like.

It sounds like what motivates you is the challenge of finding the toughest opponents.
For sure. I'm extremely competitive. Like I said, me and Cowboy, we're at each other's throats daily with competitions. Even things like, we bought a hunting bow the other day and we're shooting apples, trying to talk people into putting the apples on their heads. Both of us are driven the same way. We want to be better than everybody at everything. I just love the thought of tough fights. I like that feeling. I hate going into easy fights. I fought Allen Berubie in the UFC and it was hard for me to get up and train for that fight because I knew I had better skills than him, and it didn't excite me.

Mike Brown excites the s**t out of me. He's such a tough fighter, he's a great athlete, he comes after people. There's nothing scarier than a guy who's going to come after you. So to come in a gym, and prepare for a guy like that, is what does it for me every day.

What would it mean to you to have that belt around your waist on Sunday night?
For me, just to have the opportunity to fight for it is a dream come true. To actually have that belt would be something hard to put into words. I've always said I'm not going to be that guy who cries on TV, but even when I talk about it and think about it, I get choked up. This is something I'm looking forward to.

SEE ALSO: Mike Brown discusses the Garcia fight.