There you are settled into your nice cozy bar stool or recliner, beer in hand, awaiting the judges’ decision to a bloody brawl. Here comes Bruce Buffer to deliver what you feel is a fairly one sided decision. Although you have become accustomed to the questionable judging criteria in MMA, you are confident that a one-sided drubbing will be decided correctly.
And then, the progression of events, though sudden, unfolds in a way similar to a car crash. Your brain understands the words "Split decision", Buffer points to the wrong fighter, or at least the guy you saw get picked apart for the majority of the fight, and you spend the next few minutes wondering how he won two rounds in anyone’s mind. In a state of wonderment, you pick up a calculator to attempt to calculate the probability that the only two people in the world to see the fight incorrectly were also involved in the fight’s outcome. Realizing that probability is not your strong point, you set the calculator down and listen to Joe Rogan interview the wrong fighter.
Leonard Garcia is the wrong fighter, or at least he has been in this scenario more times than he cares to recount. He is now the guy with split decision victories after a fight of the year performance over "Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung and a stand-up war with Nam Phan.
There is a feeling a fighter has in his gut before Buffer enters the cage and announces the winner. The feeling that no one can take away the victory he just earned. Jung and Phan had the very same feeling standing opposite Leonard Garcia. In victory, Garcia felt defeat. Victorious, but well aware that his opponents were robbed, Garcia issued a rematch invitation to both men in which they would eventually exact their revenge and regain the victory everyone not on the commission’s payroll, including Leonard, felt they initially deserved.
Garcia’s record does not, at least to the logical mind, compute. He began his career as a submission machine ripping any limbs or choking any neck that got in his way. With no place for decisions in his game, he had mounted a 9-1 record. Throughout this streak, Leonard had only heard the end of the third round once. In fact, a Leonard Garcia fight averaged less than a full round. His victories were nothing if not decisive.
When Garcia finally put his talents into sparring sessions with Greg Jackson in Albuquerque, New Mexico, his partners would note two things: 1) He can take a punch like a middleweight. 2) He hits with more power than any natural featherweight should be able to.
Of course he could take a punch. Growing up, he helped his father break horses in Plainview, Texas. Few other professions allow you to develop such a pain threshold. However, being told he hit like a middleweight made submission fighting seem boring. All of a sudden, he was Leonard "Bad Boy" Garcia.
It was here that Garcia became the wrong fighter. Since the drive for knockouts took over his game plan, split decisions became the norm. Where the third round was rare for Garcia, now it is commonplace. His bouts average just under 12 minutes.
Garcia has since put a fair amount of thought into how to not be the wrong fighter. Constantly walking forward throwing haymakers, though it maintains Octagon control throughout, does not translate into satisfying victories. Even at 33, he decided to go back to the drawing board for his upcoming fight with Max Holloway (a late fill-in for the injured Cody McKenzie). He took striking classes at Jackson’s MMA in an effort to compromise the flailing haymakers for measured combinations.
The change in game plan was noticeable and welcome for a fighter looking to rebound from three losses in a row. At the end of the fight, for the first time in a long time, Garcia was the right fighter. He was the fighter standing there with his gut telling him he just won. He was the fighter you expected to see have his hand raised after Buffer finished. But, as MMA judges often do, they saw the fight the wrong way and awarded it to Holloway via split decision. Now, in defeat, Garcia felt victorious. After putting forth the best fight of his career, Garcia wondered about his future in the UFC with another split decision and yet another loss.
Dan Hardy is the last fighter that survived Dana White’s chopping block after four consecutive defeats; surviving solely due to his exciting fighting style. Defeated, Garcia had never felt happier after a performance in the cage because Dana and a slew of other UFC brass sought out Garcia to commend him on a fantastic performance. He would keep his job because of how enjoyable it is to watch him do battle. He would get a shot at redemption. Dan Hardy did not drop a fifth. Garcia does not look to test those waters.
Having the heaviest of the heavyweights of UFC personnel congratulate him on their own time, especially after a fourth consecutive loss, has Garcia motivated like never before. Garcia has a game plan for the future. In the next year, the UFC is looking to invade Mexico using their newly crowned Mexican heavyweight champion, Cain Velazquez. With a revitalized energy, a renewed sense of confidence, and the knowledge that his career does have an expiration date, Garcia can think of no better way to rejuvenate his career than to fight on the inaugural show in Mexico. He needs these next fights to go his way in order to realize his dream of fighting in front of his grandfather south of the border.
With five split decisions and one split draw on Garcia’s resume, there is no more room for split endings. Split endings mean nothing is conclusive. He did not conclusively win or lose. Knockouts and tapouts are as final as it comes in MMA and he’ll be looking for his fair share of each. With Greg Jackson calling the shots and fighters in his own camp demanding to see more Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from Garcia, look for him to stop the losing streak and begin a run.
As the recipient of six fight of the night bonuses, Garcia appreciates the extra money , but knockout or submission of the night offers the same incentive... and don’t take fifteen minutes to earn.
Forget the right or wrong fighter. Forget Bruce Buffer and the three judges. Going forward, there will not be much need for them. Garcia plans on leaving decisions to his opponent and the referee. His opponent can decide to tap or the referee can decide to pull him off.