Gabi Garcia will enter the RIZIN ring for the fourth time in 12 months against 52-year-old veteran Shinobu Kandori on Dec. 31, and she admits it’s not the type of opponent she was hoping for.
Garcia, who turned 31 years old in November, is the most victorious woman in jiu-jitsu history, and Kandori, who was a star in Japan even before the Brazilian was born, will be competing for the first time since 2000. Garcia is dozens of pounds heavier than her opponent, and was surprised when RIZIN informed her of the match-up.
"I found out about the fight moments before the press conference," Garcia told MMA Fighting. "I was ready for the press conference when my boss called me and explained the reason why he wanted to do this fight, and I talked to my manager about it. I mean, I said yes because I understand my boss’ side, I believe in what he’s doing because he’s a great promoter, and I’m an employee. I will enter the ring to fight whoever they put in front of me."
"I was in a room and she was in a separate room," the Brazilian continued. "They announced me, I entered the press conference and then they announced her. When I saw her, I was like ‘oh my…’ At the press conference, someone asked her if she was going to train hard, and she said she wouldn’t because she can rely on the Japanese technology. I didn’t understand anything [laughs]. Japan is really different. But I don’t pick opponents."
Garcia wasn’t interested in fighting Kandori, but says that RIZIN CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara convinced her to take fight.
"When I told him I didn’t want this fight, that it’s not the type of fight I wanted for me right now, he explained her history in the sport, that she challenged me," Garcia said. "She was the only Japanese that wanted to fight me. She fought men in the past, she has a history in judo, and she wanted to fight me. (Sakakibara) went to her gym to watch her train, too. In his head, this fight is like Bob Sapp against ‘Minotauro’ (Nogueira). It’s the concept of the Japanese show.
"It’s good for the market. I was shocked at how excited Japanese fans are for this fight. (Sakakibara) said ‘Gabi, this fight will be good for your name in Japan, good for us, and good for her.’ And now I have the obligation to win [laughs]. The last time I underestimated an opponent I lost, so I will never do that. I respect her history. I had losses to smaller girls in jiu-jitsu in the past, so I respect everyone."
The immediate reaction online wasn’t that good, though. Garcia racked up multiple world titles in jiu-jitsu and submission tournaments for years, but some openweight gold medals were followed by criticism that she only won because of her size advantage. A year into her MMA career, Garcia wants to change this scenario.
"I’ve received some criticism online, people saying there are heavier girls that want to fight me," Garcia said. "I’ve seen seven heavier girls who want to fight me. There’s a kickboxing champion at Blackzilians who is taller and heavier than me, and she called me out. There’s a Brazilian girl, too. I’m an employee and I’ll fight anyone. I can turn down a fight, but this fight is important here in Japan. My opponent is really popular, and this fight is already huge here. And for those who want me in a bigger challenge, just ask Rizin. I want bigger girls too, but I believe this will come with time. This is my fourth MMA fight. And I don’t even know what will happen in the fight. I can’t underestimate anyone."
"I didn’t want to fight a smaller girl, of course, because MMA is different," she continued. "I sparred with Tito (Ortiz) last week and he beat me up a lot, I pretty much survived there, but I was able to land a few punches. He said ‘Gabi, you’re really strong.’ I always trained with men. I’m strong. I don’t want to fight a smaller girl so people say I only win because I’m fighting smaller girls, because I’m stronger. I’ve been through that a lot in jiu-jitsu, and MMA is different. But that’s how the Japanese market works, so I took the fight. We’ll see what happens next. It was a surprise for me as well."
Garcia holds a 3-0 MMA record with three first-round finishes. The year-end card is a tradition in Japan, but the jiu-jitsu ace was hoping to only return to action in 2017.
"I didn’t really want to fight at the end of the year, but (Sakakibara) wanted, so I’m happy because it’s a huge event. It’s already sold out," she said. "I broke a finger in my last fight, I have some other small injuries, and wanted to get some rest and visit my family in Brazil. But my fight did big ratings in Japan, 30 times more than Mirko (Cro Cop’s) and Kron (Gracie’s) fights. It was huge online.
"I left the ring and Sakakibara called me in the VIP area, where he was with some sponsors, and one of them asked me if I was going to fight at the end of the year. I didn’t even have time to answer, Sakakibara said I was going to fight [laughs]. I canceled my flight to Brazil and returned to California."
Garcia defeated Destanie Yarbrough in her last bout in September, but claims that she wasn’t as heavy as it was announced. According to the Brazilian, she weighed in at 224 pounds for the bout, and Yarbrough was 20 pounds heavier. However, Garcia says, they mixed the weigh-in results.
Against Kandori, Garcia says she can’t be 15 pounds heavier than her opponent. According to Garcia, she currently weights 213.8 pounds and Kandori walks around 187.3 pounds. Garcia’s plans is to weigh in at 198.4 the day before the fight, and she will have Invicta FC featherweight champion Cris Cyborg by her side on the week of the fight, helping her cut weight, and corner her in the fight.
"The weight difference won’t be that big in this fight," Garcia said. "I mean, it will obviously be bigger, but I will step in at my minimum in this fight."