by Jeff Cain – MMAWeekly.com
Mike Brown rose to the top of the featherweight
division by landing in World Extreme Cagefighting on a six-fight win streak then
defeating veteran Jeff Curran and finishing top-ranked Urijah Faber by
technical knockout to obtain the WEC featherweight title. He’ll put his belt
on the line for the first time, against Leonard Garcia, at WEC 39 on March 1
from the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi, Texas.
Garcia has put on an impressive display since dropping from
the lightweight division to the 145-pound weight class. He’s 2-0 since
making the change with knockout victories over Hiroyuki Takaya and former UFC
lightweight titleholder Jens Pulver.
On paper this bout appears to be the classic stylistic match-up
of striker versus grappler, but it’s much more complicated than that.
Based on recent performances, Garcia has shown to have
one-punch knockout power in his hands and is most comfortable when
slugging it out with his opponents. He only has three knockout victories
on his resume, but two of them have come in his last two outings. The
lack of knockout wins can be attributed to fighting out of his weight
class in the lightweight division. Keeping the action on the feet
against Brown is exactly what Garcia will look to do.
Brown isn’t known for his striking, but is a
well-rounded fighter with four knockouts on his record including his counter
punch and ground and pound attack that finished Faber in the opening round of
their WEC 36 main event. While Brown’s stand up isn’t his strongest
attribute, he doesn’t mind exchanging, but with Garcia, that’s a dangerous game
Brown has the advantage on the ground with his superior
wrestling, but he considers himself a better submission specialist.
Of his 20 wins, 11 have come by way of submission. He trains at American
Top Team, which boasts more Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belts under one roof
than any other camp in North America.
Garcia may be most comfortable on his feet, but
he’s well groomed in the art of grappling and submissions as well. Nine
of his 12 wins were finished on the ground with him forcing his opponents to tap
out or go to sleep. While they both have confidence in their submissions,
it’s the wrestling game where Brown has a clear advantage over Garcia on
As in most fights, who controls the pace and where the
action takes place usually emerges as the winner. This match-up is no
Brown has more experience and is the more calculating
combatant between the two. Garcia likes to move forward and throw bombs,
while Brown is a more reserved striker with good takedowns. Brown should
be able to dictate the rhythm of the bout with his counter-punching
and threat of getting the fight to the mat. Garcia’s aggressive style
could play against him, especially if he tries to force the issue in
Expect to see Brown draw from his experience and well-rounded
skill set to use his strikes to set up takedowns while Garcia attempts to
stay on the outside utilizing his jab and reach advantage to create space.
But Brown has the edge in ring control due to having a more diverse
arsenal of offense.
With both of them having competed in the Ultimate Fighting
Championship as lightweights and now fighting in their proper weight class,
conditioning shouldn’t be a factor. Brown’s conditioning has never
been in question his entire career. Garcia’s conditioning was tested in
his UFC 69 bout with Roger Huerta. The pace was furious and went the
full three rounds. He may not have been as fresh in the final
round as he was in the first, but Garcia’s conditioning wasn’t an issue then,
and it shouldn’t be an issue this weekend.
Having said that, the bout is a scheduled five-round
fight. If Brown can implement a game plan of taking Garcia down
and working his strikes from the top position, Garcia’s conditioning could
fade in the championship rounds. Garcia won’t outwork Brown, so
if conditioning becomes a variable in the equation, it tilts to side of
the American Top Team trained Brown.
There’s a lot of pressure on both of them. For Brown,
it’s his first title defense. For Garcia, it’s the biggest fight of his
career in front of a hometown audience littered with friends and family.
Being the newly crowned titleholder, Brown may feel the need
to have an "exciting" fight rather than minimizing the chances of
Garcia to win by standing and banging it out. Garcia is headlining a
fight card in his home state and that can add steam to the pressure cooker
and/or be a distraction.
Garcia and Brown train at two of the most prestigious
training camps in the world: Team Jackson’s and American Top Team, respectively.
They say you’re only as good as your training partners and although each comes
from a super camp, Brown has the higher level training partners in and around
his weight class than Garcia has access to.
Brown regularly spars and grapples with Yves Edwards, Gesias
"JZ" Calvancante, Jorge Masvidal, and Micah and Cole Miller, among
others. Greg Jackson has an incredible stable of fighters, but his camp
doesn’t have as many experienced and highly regarded lightweight and
featherweight fighters as American Top Team.
Garcia needs to use his reach to keep Brown at the end of
his punches and the fight at a distance to be most effective. He doesn’t
want to find himself on his back with Brown in the top position
implementing his will. The more the fight looks like a brawl, the better
it is for Garcia. He needs to be aggressive, but not overly aggressive.
Brown has to be careful in the exchanges and dictate the
pace. Garcia is aggressive and Brown should make him pay for moving
straight forward and frustrate him with counter-strikes. But most
important for Brown, he needs to fight intelligently and not get drawn into a
slugfest with Garcia. His road to victory is paved by getting Garcia to
the ground and frustrating the Greg Jackson trained fighter into over-committing
on his feet, leaving himself open to counter-strikes and takedowns.