Two UFC featherweights have a date with destiny this Saturday night (October 8, 2011) in the opening bout of the UFC 136 main card as Ultimate Fighter season 12 veteran Nam Phan takes on Leonard "Bad Boy" Garcia in a bout with some serious unfinished business.
Garcia defeated Phan on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 12 finale in what many considered the biggest robbery of 2010. In fact, UFC President Dana White felt so strongly that he made sure to award Phan his win bonus afterwards.
Phan enters this bout with his back against the wall. Counting the robbery against Garcia, he's got an 0-2 record in the UFC although both of his losses have been very exciting affairs. He knows he needs a victory on Saturday not if he wishes to remain employed with the promotion.
Garcia, while always putting on terrific fights, has fallen out of favor with many fans because of the fact that the judges constantly give him close decisions due to his crazy aggressive fighting style. He's hoping to sway the fans with a more dominant showing on Saturday night.
Will revenge be sweet for Phan? Can Garcia finally win in noncontroversial fashion? Who will rise to the occasion with everything on the line this weekend?
Record: 16-9 overall, 0-2 in the UFC
Key Wins: Hideki Kadowaki (Sengoku 7)
How he got here: Believe it or not, Nam Phan has been fighting professionally for almost exactly 10 years now. While he had a background in karate, what truly brought him into the sport of mixed martial arts was Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Throughouts Phan's career, he's had a history of coming up just short in the big fights. His first loss was to eventual WEC lightweight champion "Razor" Rob McCullough via unanimous decision and he would drop his WEC debut with a split decision. After seven straight victories on the local circuit, he would again get an opportunity against top competition, losing in a Strikeforce lightweight title shot to Josh Thomson and then getting smashed "JZ" Cavalcante in consecutive bouts.
He would again build himself up and come up short against Billy Evangelista and then top-ranked Japanese featherweight Michihiro Omigawa before earning a spot on season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF). On the show, Phan would defeat Spencer Paige and Cody McKenzie before coming up just short against Michael Johnson in the semifinals.
In his UFC debut, Phan solidly outstruck Leonard Garcia on the TUF 12 finale but was the victim of some horrific judging as two of the judges sided with "Bad Boy" in a split decision. Phan most recently took on former WEC featherweight champion Mike Brown and rebounded from a poor first round to make it a tough fight, again losing a decision. He stepped in for an injured Josh Grispi at UFC 136 and the rematch with Garcia was booked when Matt Grice also got injured.
How he gets it done: During an appearance on The Verbal Submission last night, Phan described fighting Garcia as, "A bomb with a 15 minute timer that you have to finish because once that timer runs out, he's probably going to be awarded the decision."
Obviously, judges get swayed by Garcia's aggressive albeit highly inaccurate striking style. Phan will need to actually do what he did the last time out, although perhaps with a little more authority. Phan has a strong attack in the stand-up department in which he mixes in head strikes and body blows very well. He has some of the best body punches of any featherweight in the UFC. If Garcia has his hands up, he needs to drop for that liver shot repeatedly.
If Phan truly wants to avoid the judges at all costs, the best plan of action would be to utilize his submission game. Phan is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and the only two times Garcia has been stopped in his career have come by way of submission. If the 10 year veteran huts Garcia in the striking department, he needs to pounce, perhaps taking him down or at least attacking his neck with a guillotine or something similar.
Garcia is primarily a puncher so mixing things up, being more accurate and hoping the judges have wisened up will be Phan's key to victory.
Record: 15-7-1 overall, 2-3 in the UFC
How he got here: Leonard Garcia got off to a strong start in his professional career, going 8-1 and winning every fight by stoppage before taking a three year hiatus from the sport. He returned in 2006 with another submission victory and would step in on short notice against then UFC poster boy Roger Huerta. Garcia lost a lopsided decision and would be the fighter on the receiving end of Huerta's Sports Illustrated cover which was a pretty big deal at the time.
After going 1-2 in the UFC lightweight division, Garcia dropped down to featherweight to compete in the WEC. He made a very strong impact at first, knocking out future Dream champion Hiroyuki Takaya and former UFC lightweight champ Jens Pulver in less than three minutes combined to earn a title shot against then-champ Mike Brown.
Against Brown, Garcia would be hurt with strikes before succumbing to an arm triangle choke from the titleholder.
Since that loss, "Bad Boy" has had a rough go of things. He's gone 3-3-1 and all his victories have come by way of split decisions that easily could have (and probably should have) been ruled against him. He'll likely have one last shot to prove he can win convincingly against Phan this Saturday night.
How he gets it done: Garcia has a brawling "rock 'em, sock 'em" style that he has truly embraced in his past five fights or so. Say what you want about it, but it brings home the bacon as "Bad Boy" has netted a "Fight of the Night" bonus three separate times in the last 18 months.
If Garcia is going to be victorious on fight night, he'll need to perhaps be even more aggressive than before. He's been known to just wing haymakers for three straight rounds, but perhaps he could mix in some leg, body and head kicks which he absolutely has in his arsenal and potentially throw in some jabs as well. If he just throws the home run shot, Phan will be able to see it coming nearly every time.
Look for Garcia to really get in Phan's face with forward aggression, throwing big blows at will while likely ignoring his defense. If he wants to get a convincing victory that will turn the fans in his favor, he not only has to be the more active fighter, but he'll also have to actually connect with his strikes, so getting inside is a must.
If he can perhaps get Phan to abandon his gameplan and brawl with him, that would be the best possible outcome.
Fight "X-Factor:" The "X-Factor" for this bout has to be the fact that everyone thinks Phan won the first time they fought. It will be in the back of Phan's mind, eating at him and it will likely be in the back of Garcia's mind, not wanting to get booed by another decision victory.
Both men will likely want to be more convincing in their performance this time around, so expect to see some slight changes in preparation and the gameplan coming in. It never looks like it, but Garcia has Greg Jackson in his corner and perhaps they've been working on something that could completely undermine Phan's strategy of attack. This bout could hinge on whether either 10+ year veteran brings anything new to the table.
Bottom Line: Say what you want about Leonard Garcia winning cheap decisions, but he brings it every time out and every one of his fights is exciting. His matches against George Roop, the Korean Zombie and Phan all brought the house down and there's no doubt that the goal is to bring in another "Fight of the Night" bonus, whether he wins or loses. Phan is motivated by revenge and the fact that he really wants to get that significant victory on his record he feels he deserved from the last time out. Both men also likely have their backs against the wall, so hopefully they will leave it all in the cage and the fans will be better for it. This was a very smart decision to promote this bout to the main card after the Dave Herman fiasco. While the relevance in the division is unsubstantial, this should be a lot of funto watch.
Who will come out on top at UFC 136? Tell us your predictions in the comments below!