Pablo Garza sure knows how to make an entrance.
The lanky featherweight made a statement in his UFC debut at the Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 12 Finale, the first 145-pound fight in UFC history. When grappling expert Fredson Paixão shot in for a takedown, Garza rose up with a ferocious knee that connected with a sickening "thwack" that earned "The Scarecrow" a $30,000 knockout of the night bonus.
Garza returns to the Octagon this Saturday night, April 30, 2011, against flashy Canadian striker Yves Jabouin at UFC 129 in front of 55,000 rabid fans as well as millions of viewers around the world.
The North Dakota native likes his odds.
"Wherever the fight goes, I'll be comfortable. Whether it's stand-up, clinch or grappling, I feel like I can do everything and my record shows that I can do everything. Yves is a really good striker. He's really dynamic. He threw everything at [Mark] Hominick. He threw spinning backfists, spinning heel kicks. He threw a couple spinning elbows and he not only did that against Hominick but he's done that before in his previous fights. I do respect him as a striker and a fighter so it's going to be an exciting fight."
Garza took a unique path to becoming a UFC fighter and is still new to the sport.
While most MMA fighters have a significant base in some form of martial art before they test the waters in mixed martial arts, Garza entered the sport with a clean slate.
"I never wrestled in high school or college or did any kind of martial arts as a kid or anything like that. I ended up about four and a half years ago getting interested in boxing so I went to a boxing gym and after about a month or so of boxing, I met some guys that did MMA and I ended up going with them to a class that they took and I started doing jiu jitsu and Muay Thai. I really liked it a lot and it kind of opened everything up more. I just stuck with it and about six months after training, I had my first fight."
"The Scarecrow" was so eager to test himself that he actually skipped being an amateur fighter altogether, instead electing to go straight to the pros.
"I actually tried doing amateur boxing but I could never get a fight. After a couple times of not getting a fight I just decided I'd have at it and go straight into pros. I talked to some promoters and they gave me a chance and I went in and won my first fight in a minute and a half and won my second fight in like 30 seconds. I kept racking them up that way and I never had any amateur record or anything like that."
The native of North Dakota is proud of where he came from. Training is scarce but Garza believes that his difficult daily commute has only strengthened his resolve to become a better fighter.
"I live 75 miles away from Fargo and I have to travel 150 miles every day just to go train. A lot of people don't realize that. I travel a LOT. I put a lot of miles on my vehicle traveling back and forth to practice. In the winter, North Dakota's known for two things: having really, really bad winters and then having bad floods after winter. Traveling that distance in the winter or in a blizzard with really bad road conditions, it kinda strengthens you mentally. Right now, there's a lot of flooding going on so the interstates that I take to practice are closed. There's detours that I have to take and there's nothing but backwoods and wheat fields. It turns a 75 mile trip to about 90 miles. I go through a lot of crap just to get to practice and training."
Garza actually got his first crack at MMA stardom through The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) season 12 but he was fighting out of his weight class and ran into the buzzsaw that was finalist Michael Johnson in the elimination round to get into the house.
"Michael Johnson made it to the Finale but I believe I gave him a pretty good fight. I had a pretty tight kimura that I should have finished in the first round but I just couldn't finish it. What a lot of people also don't realize is that I went up a weight class to compete on The Ultimate Fighter at 155. I felt like going up and fighting against Michael Johnson the way I did, I felt like I showed them I can compete and that I can especially compete at my own weight class of 145 so I'm glad they gave me a second chance on that."
While Garza didn't make the cut for TUF, he certainly made an impression on the UFC brass. After winning two fights back home, "The Scarecrow" got the call to step up and fight Chinese standout Zhang Tie Quan at WEC 51 on just five days notice. Despite having fought 18 days earlier, he stepped up and took on "The Mongolian Wolf" outside of his weight class again. Garza would go on to suffer the only loss of his career but the UFC typically rewards those who do them a favor and it wasn't long before they came calling again.
"The UFC took care of me," said Garza gratefully. "They called me back. I was worried that I wasn't gonna get a call back because my performance wasn't good. I was disappointed in myself. When they called me up to fight Paixão, they gave me three months notice and I went through a really good training camp. I really wanted to show them what I could do. I felt I could have shown more on The Ultimate Fighter and in the Tie Quan fight so when they gave me that opportunity, I made sure to capitalize on it."
Boy did he.
At 6'1'', Garza is one of the tallest featherweights in the world. He was mostly known as a ground fighter before the insane Paixão knockout and he took a lot away from his highlight-reel finish.
"It kinda gives me motivation. It let me realize that I have that knockout power. It definitely makes me confident in my stand-up even more than I already was. I was really excited when it happened just like anybody else would be. I paid off a lot of bills with that bonus."
Before I let him go, Pablo wanted to give a quick shout out to his sponsors and his gym.
"I'd like to give a shout out to Revgear for sponsoring me. This is the first time they sponsored me and I just wanted to make sure to show them how good their investment was. Shout out to Hayabusa and Red Pepper. Red Pepper is a local restaurant that's been sponsoring me since way before the UFC so they deserve it. My gym in Fargo is the Academy of Combat Arts. "
For the full audio of Pablo's interview including his UFC 129 main card breakdown, click here.
Above photo via All Event Photography