Two fights, two first round stoppages and two huge post-fight bonuses.
Pablo Garza's UFC career could not have started any better than that. Who could forget his thunderous knee against Fredson Paixiao at The Ultimate Fighter season 12 finale or his flying triangle in the opening fight of UFC 129?
When you think of some of the most exciting finishers in the UFC today, you likely wouldn't be searching for them in the far reaches of the United States in Fargo, North Dakota, but Garza, who trains out of the Academy of Combat Arts, is looking to change all that.
Now after two highlight reel finishes, "The Scarecrow" is searching for a victory to legitimize his status as one of the most promising featherweights in the division when he squares off against budding contender Dustin Poirier this Saturday (November 12, 2011) night during the UFC on FOX: "Velasquez vs. Dos Santos" preliminary card.
Garza's life has drastically changed after those two flashy first round finishes and he spoke to MMAmania.com about how close he once came to quitting the sport, how the post-fight bonuses affected his training and visualizing success against Poirier in this exclusive interview.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've had two fights while competing for the UFC and both of them were some of the most insane finishes of the year. Is there any pressure to almost try and top yourself?
Pablo Garza: With the way I finished my last two fights, people want to think that I'm going to go out there and do something insanely crazy and all that stuff. I'm just gonna go out there and try to win the fight, you know what I mean? If I do something spectacular in the process, that's bonus points but I don't purposely go out there and think like, "Alright, maybe this time I'll try like a back flip or something."
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You're fighting on this UFC on FOX card but are you disappointed at all that Dana White said that even if the main event only lasts 10 seconds that they won't be showing any undercard fights on the main network telecast?
Pablo Garza: Well I actually didn't hear about that at all. I guess I've just been really busy training. I haven't really been looking at the news too much other than I do know that they announced they're gonna show my fight on FOX Deportes. So at least I've got that going for me.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Going into this fight with Poirier, he's a similarly well-rounded fighter like yourself. Are there any major differences that you see in your fighting styles? He's also a big lightweight who dropped down to featherweight.
Pablo Garza: I don't know about any differences but he's more aggressive than I am I think but then, I think I read an interview where he said I was the aggressive one which is kinda funny. He's a really good fighter, a really tough fighter. He comes not just to fight but to win. He works hard for the finish and it should be a really exciting fight in my opinion.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know that you're one of the tallest and lankiest fighters in the featherweight division and in your last fight with Yves Jabouin, he was able to target your legs pretty badly with leg kicks. Is that a concern at all coming into this fight or was it more of a special case because Jabouin has such strong kicking attacks?
Pablo Garza: Well Jabouin has a really good kicking ability. He's a former Canadian Muay Thai or kickboxing champion but the leg kicks, we worked on that. It was more because I was just trying to counter more off of him. We worked on that a lot in training and that won't happen again.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Poirier, he came out of nowhere at UFC 125 accepting a fight on late notice and he exploded up the ranks when he beat Josh Grispi who was the number one contender at the time. You're kind of in a similar situation. You've had some great fights but you're not up very high in the rankings. Do you feel like if you beat him you can get right up there in the mix?
Pablo Garza: Yeah, of course. He's ranked pretty high up there and he's definitely a contender in the 145 pound weight class. A lot of people don't consider him a contender yet but I definitely do. He's a really tough guy. If I beat him, I definitely think I'm gonna open some more eyes and maybe people will actually start believing I'm legit in the UFC and I'm a legit 145 pound fighter.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've got a couple questions here about how UFC 129 affected you. The crowd at UFC 129 was insane, I'm sure it was an experience that you'll never forget. Do you feel like the fact that you went out and there and performed under such a high pressure situation with so many people watching really prepared you for this fight?
Pablo Garza: Yeah and we've been doing a lot of mental preparation for this fight as well. Me and my strength and conditioning coach, Zack Cahill, we've been doing a lot of imagery stuff, a lot of mental awareness stuff. I've been preparing myself for what's gonna happen, what I'm gonna see and what I'm gonna go through.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Yeah, I actually understand you're a big believer in sports psychology, preparing your mind, I've read about that in a couple of your interviews. Can you talk to me about what specifically you do in preparing your mind? Do you go through all the difference outcomes in your head, both good and bad to prepare yourself for the worst and best case scenario? I'd love to hear more about it.
Pablo Garza: Yeah, most definitely. I try to look at myself in every scenario of the fight that I can. I think about what I want to do, what I want the outcome of the fight to be. I picture the crowd, how many people are gonna be there, the area, the arena, how loud it's gonna be, my coaches yelling at me to throw a punch or a kick, just a lot of mental imagery stuff. I just want to see everything before it happens and then make something happen in your head to make it happen in real life.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I'm a big fan of that. One more question about UFC 129. I heard a recent interview that you put a down payment on a house with your bonus money from "Submission of the Night" at the event. I know you had that crazy commute to get to your training every day, having to drive over an hour each way every day. With this new house, are you closer so it's not as killer of a commute to get to training every day?
Pablo Garza: Yeah, I actually bought a house where I train in Fargo, North Dakota. That's where my gym is. Before that, I lived in Grand Forks which was 75 miles away so it was a 150 mile round trip every day that I had to do. Yeah, with that bonus, it definitely made it pay off by buying a house here in Fargo so now it's only about a 10 minute drive to practice instead of an hour and 15 or hour and a half drive.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): That's life changing for you then because that adds at least and extra two hours that you be working on other things instead of driving.
Pablo Garza: Yeah, yeah, it's great. I'm here all the time now. I don't have to live with the stress of, "Oh man, the roads are gonna be bad," like in the winter I'd have to leave like five hours earlier just so I could make it to practice and not get stuck. Now I can just do it and be at the gym all day now.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I actually heard that a little over a year ago that you were actually considering quitting MMA altogether. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that, what led into it and what ended up helping you decide to stick with it.
Pablo Garza: I was just getting into a lot of financial debt. I wasn't making payments on my student loans, I wasn't making payments on bills that I had. I was working but basically the money I was making from work was to pay rent and eat food and it was getting bad. I just couldn't pay any bills and the debt was mounting up and I was about to quit. I had to go find a full-time job and my coach told me, he kind of convinced me not to and he told me to give it one more year and if in one year nothing happened, then he would let me quit and I could go about it my own way.
Within that year I started taking just a bunch of fights. There was a span where I took like 4-5 fights, one every month or every other month I think it was and I won them all and I ended up trying out for The Ultimate Fighter, got on the show and I ended up losing to Michael Johnson and right after that I got the WEC fight and then right after that I got to fight Fredson Paixao at the Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale which was kinda ironic that it was the show I tried to get on and I fought on the finale and then right after that I had the Yves [Jabouin] fight so all that happened within like a year or so, a little over a year. I'm glad that I ended up sticking it out and my coach convinced me to keep going at it.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): So those fight night bonuses were a tremendous blessing and relief for you.
Pablo Garza: Yeah, definitely. A lot of people think I probably splurged and bought all this stuff but I got out of debt with it and then once I got out of debt I bought a house and then got rid of my old beat up car and have a decent car now.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've been visualizing success so much in your head since this fight was announced with your sports psychology, how do you see yourself winning, at least in your head if it was a perfect scenario?
Pablo Garza: I kind of picture it in all different ways, submission, striking, from an armbar to a choke to an elbow to a kick. The main thing as I imagine it and think about it, the main thing is that I see myself coming out on top.
Pablo would like to thank The Academy of Combat Arts, his coach Dylon Spicer and Joe Trotierre and Minnesota Martial Arts Academy and all those guys that help him training and helped him get to where he is today. You can follow Garza on twitter @PabloGarzaMMA.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Do you believe Garza can leap into contender status with a victory on Saturday night? Does he have another wild and crazy finish in his bag of tricks?