Viewpoint: Memorable Journeys

By Tristen Critchfield May 13, 2013
A five-fight losing streak resulted in a pink slip for Leonard Garcia. | Dave Mandel/

Approximately three years ago, Shane Carwin and Leonard Garcia were at the peaks of their respective powers.

Carwin captured the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s interim heavyweight title with a first-round knockout of Frank Mir at UFC 111 on March 27, 2010. A little more than three months later, he came within a matter of seconds of stopping Brock Lesnar at UFC 116 in a blockbuster bout that showcased the all-too-brief “bigger is better” era in the heavyweight division.

Meanwhile, Garcia compiled a 2-1-1 mark in 2010, including a memorable slugfest with Chan Sung Jung at WEC 48 that will most likely be referenced any time his name comes up in MMA discussion for the foreseeable future. Many thought the “Bad Boy” was fortunate to get the nod from the cageside judges on that night -- and even more so against Nam Phan in December of that year -- but the ability to elicit mass scorecard confusion was always part of Garcia’s charm.

This past week, both Carwin and Garcia bid farewell to their longtime Zuffa employers. Carwin announced his retirement on Tuesday, his career cut short due to crippling back and knee injuries.


Carwin never quit his day job.
“Officially retired,” Carwin wrote on Twitter. “Thank you to my family, friends and fans! Dream big. God bless.”

Carwin figures to be content with life away from fighting. The 38-year-old has maintained a full-time job as an engineer throughout his MMA career, so it is not as if he will be forced into a comeback due to financial issues. When the man with the massive hands and lights-out punching power says goodbye, he means it.

Meanwhile, Garcia was released by the UFC after a five-bout skid, as his mysterious pull over the judges seemingly expired after the fortuitous triumph over Phan.

“Thanks to all my friends, this is a great reality check,” Garcia tweeted. “Time to get back on the grind. With God all things are possible; hard work will pay off.”

Unlike Carwin, Garcia’s grind will continue inside the cage, as he signed a three-fight deal with the Texas-based Legacy Fighting Championship promotion shortly after his release. The perpetually optimistic Texas native will spend some time away from his longtime training home, Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts, to learn some new skills at Team Alpha Male in California.

In terms of sheer size, Carwin and Garcia are on opposite ends of the spectrum, but both men will be fondly remembered for what they did in their primes. Heavyweights with knockout power always have a certain allure, and Carwin had it in spades. None of his 12 professional victories went past the opening frame, and only two lasted longer than two minutes.

Carwin would step into the Octagon just once more after his near-miss against Lesnar, enduring a battering for three valiant rounds in a unanimous decision loss to Junior dos Santos at UFC 131. Since then, his most recent form of competition as a UFC employee came when he defeated Roy Nelson in a track and field coaches challenge on Season 16 of “The Ultimate Fighter.”

The Coloradoan was also linked to steroids by a federal prosecutor in 2010, an issue he never really addressed, although it is worth noting that Carwin never failed a drug test in the UFC. In the end, Carwin never needed MMA all that much, but even with a late start, he did pretty well in the sport without ever leaving his day job. Most fighters jump at the opportunity to focus on training full-time; Carwin came and went on his own terms and won a belt in the process. That makes him unique by most professional athlete’s standards.

Without fighting, Garcia’s path might be considerably different than it is now. His “Bad Boy” moniker is well-earned, with ties to an alleged cocaine ring leading to his arrest and temporarily stalling his career in 2008. Before that, he was stabbed outside a Taco Cabana in Plainview, Texas, essentially ending his hopes of a football career at Texas Tech University. Those are harrowing tales, but the more Garcia trained and fought consistently, the more he stayed on the straight and narrow.

At his best, Garcia was known for wild brawls that made the “Just Bleed” crowd feel warm and fuzzy inside. He shared a Sports Illustrated cover with Roger Huerta, pocketed plenty of post-fight bonuses and developed a passionate following for his all-out style. Garcia’s win-loss record may have suffered in recent years, but he left his own indelible mark on the sport nonetheless.

At first glance, Carwin and Garcia could not appear to be more different, in size, demeanor and accomplishments. However, both, at one time or another, evoked plenty of passion from fans of the sport, and their exit stage left from the UFC last week generated a wide range of reactions worthy of their memorable tenures.

Carwin no longer needs MMA; Garcia still does. Somehow, both choices just seem right.
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