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Bad Boy for life: A conversation with WEC 39 headliner Leonard Garcia

WEC 39: "Brown vs. Garcia" is set to go off from the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas, tonight live on the Versus network beginning at 9:30 p.m. ET.

Featherweight champion Mike Thomas Brown will defend his title for the first time since knocking off superstar Urijah Faber back in November. He’ll face the heavy-handed Greg Jackson trainee, Leonard "Bad Boy" Garcia in the night's main event.

Garcia made a name for himself at UFC 69 when he went back and forth for three rounds with Roger Huerta in a brawl that was awarded "Fight of the Year" by the promotion. Garcia lost the decision that night, but certainly left his mark as a scrappy and talented fighter.

Feeling a little too small to compete with the endlessly talented roster of fighters in the UFC’s lightweight division, he made the move to the Zuffa-owned WEC in order fight at his more natural weight of 145 pounds.

That decision to this point has worked out great for the Lubbock, Texas native. In his two fights under the WEC banner, he’s put down top ten fighters Hiroyuki Takaya at WEC 32 and Jens "Lil’ Evil" Pulver at WEC 36 - both by first round knockout.

Garcia has undoubtedly earned his spot as the number one contender and his shot at the division crown. But as he explains, he couldn't have done it without the support of one of the best training camps in all of mixed martial arts.

"We have a pretty good team out here. Greg Jackson is my coach and trainer. We train at Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It's the same camp as GSP, Nate Marquardt, Rashad Evans, Keith Jardine, myself, "Cowboy" Cerrone, Damacio Page and Dwayne Ludwig. I’m physically really ready. It’s just the fact that you’re fighting for a title. It’s kind of a bitter sweet thing. It’s really good, but then you get really nervous too. It’s working out good though. I’m training really hard. I have a really good camp. Now I am just focusing on getting my weight down and I think it is going to be a good night for me."

WEC 39 marks the first trip to the "Lone Star State" for the Zuffa-owned promotion, and Garcia couldn't be happier. While Corpus Christi is not exactly right around the corner from Lubbock, any Texan worth his weight in spurs will tell you it's all the same.

"I live here. Me and 'Cowboy' Cerrone are renting a house down here. We rent it all year round but we have a really good relationship with the landlord lady and we kind of have it as a camp house. When people come in from out of town they all stay here. It’s a good place to have and the rent is cheap so it works out perfect when we have to be here three to four months at a time. My little brother moved down here also. He had his first fight and he came down here and ended up moving all his furniture down. It’s a lot better because I get to keep an eye on him, make sure he's doing right. My youngest brother, he actually stayed back. He has a management position at his job and he just likes to watch us fight. He's not really interested in becoming a fighter so he stays home and helps pay the rent on the house that we all own together down there. So he is there in a three bedroom house all alone. But he's got a girlfriend now, so it’s all good."

While at first glance, the "Bad Boy" moniker that Garcia embraces would appear to come from his bad intentions inside the cage, but it actually stems from a popular logo that was an early sponsor for UFC fighters that Garcia watched as he cut his teeth in the early days of the sport.

"Back in the early 90’s when I started fighting, all the UFC guys used to wear BADBOY shorts. You know, it had the eyes and some how, some way when I was like 16 or 17, I just graduated from high school and I got a BADBOY tattoo. You know the little eyes, the little mouth, and the same logo as on the shorts. I got it on my arm. I just liked the logo man. They have since offered [me a sponsorship] but I have been with TAPOUT for so long. It's kind of one of those things where I try to be really loyal. It would be cool to be sponsored by BADBOY, but my loyalty lies with TAPOUT. Those two are kind of like UFC and Affliction, they are at each other’s throats. There is no way BADBOY would allow TAPOUT or TAPOUT would allow BADBOY to logo their stuff on them."

That sort of competitive fire resonates with the 29-year-old Garcia, who is no stranger to sports. Aside from playing high school football, Leonard of course was a lightweight scrapper in the UFC 155-pound division in the not-too-distant past. All for the sake of competition, says Garcia.

"For me it is the competitive part of it. You know, you get ready as a team. You do everything together up until that point. Even the walk up the tunnel is a team thing. But when the bell rings it’s you and him. There is no other sport that is that competitive. It’s a one-on-one deal. There is no one else that is going to be able to help you out. It’s just you, and you have to rely on everything you've done with your team to come out as a winner, but in the end it is all up to you. So that is what I love about it, just the fact there is no one to blame but yourself. I think that is the best way because I used to played football throughout high school growing up and there would be times when we would lose a game and I played really well but somebody else would do really bad and I would think to myself 'Man if he would have done his job we would have won' and that would eat me up. Now it is just up to me so it doesn’t eat me up unless I lose."

And losing in front of his hometown crowd is not an option. Still, Garcia recognizes the very real threat in front of him. Being able to dethrone former featherweight kingpin Urijah Faber seemed like an impossible task, until Mike Thomas Brown brushed off the hype and answered a flashy elbow with a crushing right.

"Mike Brown is a really strong wrestler, decent stand-up. He's well rounded. He is pretty much the toughest opponent I have faced in my whole life. Coming into the fight I just want to make things harder for him. He is comfortable wrestling. I want to make the wrestling tough for him. I want to try to out-wrestle him, move away from him, keep him off his game and make him uncomfortable. So if he wants to wrestle, I want to make it the hardest wrestling match he's ever been in. Of course my go-to thing is striking. I love kickboxing. Without giving up too much of the game plan I definitely want to try and out wrestle him. Everybody knows when we start the fight we start out on our feet so I’m hoping to get a kickboxing match out of him also."

Like Roger Huerta, who Leonard became close friends with following their fight at UFC 69, Garcia has nothing but respect for Brown and could see them becoming friends outside of the cage - even if they have to destroy each other inside it.

"Under different circumstances, if we trained at the same camp, I think me and Mike would be one of the closer guys. We would probably be great friends. He would be one of the top guys on my list to call over and hang out with. He is a really good guy. The thing is, we are in the business of fighting and we have to fight each other, it's already slotted. We're going to be friends after the fight, there's no bad blood between us. But we are definitely going to come after each other. He has something that I want and he wants to keep what he has. It's a great sport that we can be friends and have camaraderie like this and still go in there and try to rip each other’s heads off."

And it all goes down tonight. Remember, will provide live coverage of the action beginning with the 9:30 p.m. telecast on Versus as well as up-to-the-minute quick results of the entire undercard. For our complete WEC 39 archive click here.

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