Leonard Garcia knew what was at stake when he strode into the Octagon to battle Cody McKenzie at UFC 159. A loser of four straight, Garcia spoke matter-of-factly in the days before the fight when confronted with the fact that his job would be on the line.
He just couldn't have predicted the outcome.
"That was the worst possible thing that could've happened," Garcia told MMAFighting.com of his listless decision loss to McKenzie.
"It was one of those things where, the best way to explain it, I felt like I had a flat tire. I felt like I couldn't get going. I never found any kind of stride, everything was forced. I felt like I was searching for everything. It was like I had an adrenaline dump or something. I don't know. From the minute where he first started, it felt like everything was in slow motion. I could see everything he was doing before he could do it, but I just couldn't stop it, almost like a bad dream where you're punching somebody as hard as you can but they don't feel it."
Garcia was officially cut from the UFC roster on Wednesday, just two weeks after UFC 159. No one who follows the sport was surprised, least of all Garcia.
He had a few lingering injuries prior to the fight, a broken toe and a broken knuckle among them, but Garcia won't blame his release on anything but his poor performance.
"It was one of those decisions that I kind of helped make for them," Garcia said.
"I put so much pressure on myself. I made it so this was a fight I had to win. I had to go out and do this, and thinking about that before the fight, that's something I never do.
"I just told [UFC officials], ‘Man, this is something I probably need right now. I need a good reality check. I need something to where I don't come in and have these nights anymore.'"
Now the world is wide open for Garcia, who at 33 years old, considers himself to have more than a few good years left. It's a feeling Garcia hasn't felt in a long time, and it's led him to make several significant changes in his life.
"I need to go back to a small show and realize how good I had it, and really, really want it," said Garcia. "That's something I think I had lost, because now I have it. Now I'm looking for fights. Now I'm calling different people to train.
"I'm going to go out to Team Alpha Male for a little while. My cousin Duane Ludwig is out there, and I talked it over with Greg (Jackson). Greg said, ‘Yeah, the problem is guys that can take you down and hold you down.' And now I'm going to go to a whole team of guys who are really, really good at that."
Garcia has been a mainstay at Jackson's MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico for most of his career, but after struggling through the last few years, he considers the move out to California long overdue.
"Just being the new guy in the room is going to help me a lot, because it's something different. It's a style I've never seen," Garcia said. "Their style is unfamiliar to me. I don't know all their tricks like I do at Jackson's. Like, we know each other so well at Jackson's, and I think that's caused me to become flat.
"I talked it over with both camps and they're both okay with it. I feel like this is a move that should've been a long time ago, but it takes situations like this to make it happen."
Garcia's ultimate goal is to return to the UFC fold, and he isn't wasting any time in pursuing that goal. He's targeting a comeback fight in July and is currently fielding offers from a variety of second tier promotions.
"The good offers have come from World Series of Fighting," Garcia revealed. "I believe Bellator made an offer, and I haven't asked to hear it yet because my intentions are to come back to the UFC. I feel if I go to Bellator, I'll never come back. That's one of things where I'm not sure that I'm ready to hear an offer from them."
Garcia's hesitance to sign with Bellator is the direct result of the promotion's current legal battle with former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, who saw a potentially lucrative payday at UFC 159 slip through his fingers while Viacom lawyers drag the case to the court system.
However, that isn't Garcia's only reason.
"I've also read some stories about a champion there that was promised so much money and was forced to fight for less," Garcia said, referring to the situation of former Bellator bantamweight champion Zach Makovsky.
"At the moment those are the stories that I'm hearing, and you can't fight for a company like that. You just can't do it. They'll hold you back. If it's true, they'll hold you back. But if it's not true, if I find out different, then I'll openly talk to them and see what they can offer."
From the UFC to the WEC, and back to the UFC, Garcia spent seven years under the Zuffa umbrella, so he acknowledges that it'll be a bit strange fighting for someone else. Nonetheless, between his six ‘Fight of the Night' bonuses and 17 overall appearances, Garcia exits with plenty of fond memories. Though one, in particular, stands above the rest.
"The Korean Zombie was probably one of the best fights I've ever been in. I had seen him fight before and I wanted that fight from day one," Garcia said, referencing his WEC 48 ‘Fight of the Year' classic.
"I remember we both went to the hospital together in the same ambulance. We're both all bandaged up and laughing and smiling. Our language barrier was so messed up. People don't see that. People see us out there killing each other. They don't understand that this is a sport to us, and that when two guys really go after each other and then have camaraderie with each other on the way to the hospital, that's the best feeling. That was probably one of the best moments that I've had.
"I remember we drove into hospital and they unloaded both of us off the gurney. They said, ‘Man, were these two in a car accident?' We were like, ‘No, we fought each other.' The nurses didn't understand. They were like, ‘There is no way there was this much damage done.' So we're in there, just laughing and giggling."