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Gabi Garcia trains with light heavyweights, and it’s as tough as sparring with Cris Cyborg

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Gabi Garcia will be back in action Sunday in Japan, fighting at Rizin Fighting Federation’s fifth show, and had a strong training camp for her openweight bout with Destanie Yarbrough at the Saitama Super Arena.

One of the biggest winners in jiu-jitsu history, Garcia made her transition to mixed martial arts last December, and enters her third MMA fight followed by a pair of stoppage victories. Looking back at her first experiences in a ring, Garcia admits that she expected bad performances even though she was confident in victories.

"Being realistic here, people had high expectations for my MMA debut, but I didn’t expect a good performance at all," Garcia told MMA Fighting. "I didn’t expect a good MMA fight. I didn’t go through an amateur fight or a small promotion like any other girl in the United States. I went straight to the big leagues. I was so excited I forgot about everything. I got knocked down 11 seconds into the first round. But I’m used to getting punched in the face now."

To get used to punches in the face, something she didn’t need to deal with during her successful career on the mats, Garcia moved full time to California to develop her striking. And one call from Cris Cyborg, one of the best female fighters in MMA history, started to change her routine.

Cyborg’s last two fights, first-round TKO wins over Daria Ibragimova and Leslie Smith, took place weeks after Garcia’s fights at Rizin, and the Invicta FC champion called the grappling wizard to visit her gym one day. Garcia did it, and realized that training with the featherweight champion was harder than training with 205-pound men.

"I was already a fan of hers even before I decided to fight MMA," Garcia said. "When I got to the U.S., Cris called me and said that we were both fighting around the same day, and introduced me to her coach and called me to train together one day. She has her sparring partners at her weight and I have mine, of course, but we train together sometimes. She’s surreal. She’s a monster."

"When I throw a jab and the guy responds, I get punched hard. When I throw a jab at Cris, she fires back with a jab, two uppercuts and kicks," she continued. "She hits as hard as a man. I hit her twice and she comes back with 10 punches [laughs], and I don’t see where they are coming from. Cris is so fast. She hits you five times, and the last one is to drop you.

"Her striking, the way he does her best every day. She’s cutting weight, not eating well, and still goes to the gym every day to work hard and takes me off the ground [laughs]. She’s the only girl that ever did that. There’s no woman in this world that can beat her. Cris is the best fighter in the world."

Garcia fights Sunday in Japan, and Cyborg will be back in action a day before in Brasilia, Brazil, facing Lina Lansberg in the main event of UFC Fight Night 95. For her fight with Yarbrough at Rizin, Garcia had the help of UFC superstar Anderson Silva and Glory’s Raymond Daniels, among others.

"I spar with men who compete at Glory and in MMA, and I’m getting more comfortable now," Garcia said. "I spar twice a week. I train with Raymond Daniels, one of the best at Glory, and some UFC light heavyweights. I don’t spar with Anderson Silva, but he helps me a lot saying what I’m doing wrong, giving me some advice."

Garcia won’t have to cut weight for her third MMA bout. In her debut, last December, the Brazilian had to make 205 pounds to face Lei’d Tapa. Four months later, she returned to the ring to take on Anna Maliukova in an openweight fight. But even though her next fight is also an openweight bout, Garcia expects to be 23 pounds lighter than her opponent.

"I’m staying around 207 pounds to fight at light heavyweight if they want," Garcia said. "I want to fight for a belt one day. I think it’s important, so I’ll be around this weight all the time. I can fight at openweight or 205, but this fight will be at openweight because she weighs 230 pounds. But that’s not a problem. I prefer to be lighter to make me faster and with a better footwork.

"It’s hard for me to stay around 205 because I’m big, but I’m managing to control it. If I’m not injured, I’m training. If I don’t train, I think I’m getting fat again. I have a tendency to put on weight so I can’t lose rhythm."

Yarbrough is a former football player, and Garcia is aware of her abilities in the cage. In April, Yarbrough successfully debuted in the sport with a quick TKO win over Crystal Parson, opening a cut in her opponent’s forehead and forcing a stoppage, but the Brazilian hasn’t focused so much in what she brings to the table.

"I can’t worry about what she’s going to do against me," Garcia said. "My coaches watched her fight and came up with a good game plan. I have to worry about what I’m going to do, and I’m confident. I won’t say I’m confident standing because it took me 20 years to accomplish everything I’ve accomplished in jiu-jitsu, so I can’t go in there wanting to stand and bang. Everything I do, it’s to use my jiu-jitsu."

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