Garcia, Pulver Promise Shootout

By Chris Yucus Aug 29, 2008
Leonard Garcia's upcoming fight with former UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver at WEC 36 on Sept. 10 in Hollywood, Fla., serves as a return to competition that only a few months ago he thought might never happen.

In late March, Garcia was implicated by a criminal informant as being part of a narcotics ring in Texas. Facing federal charges, his promising fight career was suddenly in jeopardy of being terminated permanently. The prospect of spending several years in prison hovered above him.

“At one point in time, I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to fight again,” says Garcia, who was eventually cleared of all federal charges. He believes he will face no jail time for a pending state obstruction of justice charge and maintains his legal problems stem from “hanging out with the wrong crowd.”

Having his future as a mixed martial artist cast in doubt provided Garcia (11-3) with motivation from which to draw while training for his latest bout, a fight with Pulver that seems certain to have title implications in the WEC featherweight division.

“I think about it when I’m tired, if I don’t want to train, if I feel sore, anything,” he says. “Mentally, I say to myself, ‘Think about suffering right now, or think about what you would have done if you were sitting in jail.’”

For Pulver (22-9-1), a nine-year veteran of the sport and the first-ever UFC lightweight champion, motivation for the fight stems from a desire to prove himself as more than simply relevant in MMA’s changing landscape. He hopes a victory over Garcia will earn him another shot at the featherweight belt after he dropped his first bid against reigning titleholder Urijah Faber by decision in June. The though of wrapping another title around his waist drives Pulver at this stage of his career.

“It would be the biggest thing for me; all those other things are in the past,” Pulver says. “When I won [the UFC lightweight title], don’t get me wrong, it was great, but winning [a title in the WEC’s featherweight division] now would go to show everyone else that I’m still competitive, that I’m still one of the best. It would be bigger than any other time in my career.”

Training for this fight opened a door to the past for Pulver, who once again relied heavily upon the tutelage of his longtime coach, Pat Miletich (Pictures), something he strayed from in recent years. Pulver says training under Miletich’s direct supervision keeps his fight preparation focused and has reacquainted him with being a student of the sport.

“He has a workout; he has things to do, and I don’t have to think, ‘I could go in there and do this, or I could do that,’” Pulver says. “Really, I can just start learning again. It’s just like old times.”

Garcia’s preparation also has him revisiting the past, as he trained in Minnesota with former opponent Roger Huerta (Pictures). Garcia’s battle with Huerta, a unanimous decision loss at UFC 69 in April 2007, was considered a “Fight of the Year” candidate by many. Garcia admits training with “El Matador” brought back feelings from their epic encounter, a match made famous not only for the relentless action inside the Octagon but also a photograph taken of Huerta unleashing a front kick on Garcia that graced the cover of Sports Illustrated.

“Everybody said [watching us train together] was like watching our fight all over again, except this time more technical,” Garcia says. “We were basically just going at it. I feel like I gained a lot of steps since our last fight.”

Garcia -- who has trained at the Jackson’s Submission Fighting camp in Albuquerque, N.M., and in Vail, Colo., for high-altitude work -- claims Pulver’s legendary status does not leave him awed, even though he has wanted to fight “Little Evil” as a featherweight for quite some time.

“He’s just like anybody else,” Garcia says. “Basically, any fight you come into in the WEC or UFC, there’s always going to be people who are saying, ‘This guy did this, or this guy did that.’ My attitude towards every fight, unless I’ve fought the guy before, is he’s never done it against me.”

Styles make fights, and, on paper, the matchup between Garcia and Pulver appears as volatile as they come. Both fighters know a victory could serve as a direct path to Faber and a shot at his WEC crown.

While Pulver maintains his rededication to training under Miletich helps make him a more technical fighter and less reliant on winning matches in a slugfest, do not be surprised if some seriously heavy leather starts flying between him and Garcia.

“The thing about Jens is he comes forward,” Garcia says. “For me, the dogfights, the fight where someone is going to push you, it’s the perfect matchup, not only for me but for the fans, as well.”

“I’m trying to get better technically, catch up with the sport and not be so one-dimensional,” says Pulver, a moment before his hot-blooded “Little Evil” alter ego surfaces to qualify the statement. “I like power; I like throwing punches. Basically, I like playing with knives: I’m going to get cut, but I’m going to cut somebody. I love to shoot it out with the hands.”
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