When considering the list for Comeback Fighter of the Year for 2013, it would be hard not to include former UFC featherweight Leonard Garcia.
Following his release from the promotion in April, Garcia rebounded off a five-fight losing streak by winning three fights in a row for Legacy FC, capturing the promotion’s 145-pound title in the process.
Looking back, Garcia told MMAWeekly.com that being released from the UFC was like a wake-up call and forced him to re-evaluate his career and where it was headed.
“I used to be comfortable with a great performance and that was my main goal was to go out there and perform well,” he said. “It got to the point to where losing was a numb feeling, like nothing hurt anymore, and it really didn’t bother me as long as I was hanging in there to the last bell – that explains all the decisions.
“After being cut, I realized that winning is the most important thing. As a fighter, if you don’t want to be the best, you shouldn’t be fighting.”
For Garcia’s (18-11-1) first title defense and first fight of 2014, he will be facing longtime bantamweight Shane Howell (13-7), who will be moving up to 145 pounds for his Legacy debut on March 29 in Tulsa, Okla.
“I think he’s a super-scrappy kid, and in the fights I’ve seen of him, he just keeps coming,”
said Garcia of Howell. “The good thing is that is my kind of fight.”
Even though Garcia likes what he’s seen in his opponent so far, he thinks Howell’s game plan could be different come Friday, March 21.
“It’s one of those things that if you’re going to go the drawing board to put together a game plan to beat me, it wouldn’t be to just go in there and hard-nose fight with me, because that’s my kind of fight, so I am expecting some changes in (Howell),” said Garcia.
“I’m sure he’s going to try to use his wrestling and try some jiu-jitsu, but I’ve worked really hard on my wrestling and got another stripe on my brown belt (in jiu-jitsu), so I feel real confident and can be better than him at every point.”
Now that he’s gotten his career back on track, Garcia is looking to step things up this year and make an even bigger impression in 2014.
“I’ve completed one of my short-term goals in becoming the Legacy champion, and now my goal is to become the best Legacy champion they’ve ever had,” he said. “I want to be known as a dominant champion and one of the greatest guys who fought in Legacy and held a title.
“Of course the long-term goal is to get back into the UFC. So I have goals set for this year and with each opponent I’m trying to get better and better every time.”