Alex Garcia’s last win, a July 2015 unanimous decision victory over Mike Swick, was a long time coming.
After tearing the ACL and meniscus in his right knee in a close decision loss to Neil Magny in August of 2014, the 28-year-old was sidelined for almost a year as he underwent knee surgery and a lengthy rehabilitation process.
Knee injuries have ended many athletes’ careers. But that was never an option for Garcia, who fights Sean Strickland this Sunday at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“It (quitting MMA) never crossed my mind, I always know what I want,” he said. “I’m a guy that when I put my mind to something there’s nothing (that is) gonna stop me. That never crossed my mind, not even for a second. I know my values, I know who I am and I know how hard I worked for stuff, so this won’t slow me down at all.”
And while a win over longtime UFC veteran Swick is the biggest of Garcia’s career, he wasn’t entirely satisfied.
“It feels good to get the W, but I wasn’t very happy with my performance that night. I know I can do more than what I did in that fight so I was happy for the win but I wasn’t happy with my performance.”
An explosive striker, Garcia, who has five wins by knockout and five wins by submission, wanted a finish.
“Yeah, I was always looking for the finish. Knockout or submission, either way, as long as I get out there, make a statement and finish my opponent. That’s what I work hard for.”
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The native of Santiago in the Dominican Republic now lives in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and fights out of the city’s famed Tristar gym. Tristar is home to former UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and current number one 170-pound contender Rory MacDonald, as well as a host of talent across other weight divisions.
While the philosophy that sparring sessions should be light is gaining some traction in MMA, it hasn’t caught on at Tristar.
“We do spar hard,” Garcia said. “Fighting is easy compared to what we do out here. We train hard, so we go full power and full gear every time we spar.”
There’s certainly no shortage of tough sparring partners for Garcia at Tristar. But what about the down sides? Is it hard to get the attention you need from your coaches with so many big fish in the one pond? Garcia says no.
“We have very good energy in Tristar. There’s not a lot of down side (to training there). We help each other to be better at what we do, we coach each other, we help each other and we push each other to a different level every single day at Tristar. There’s not much down side, because we all have unique personalities and we have a very a good sense of humor at the gym every day.”
This Sunday, Garcia will come equipped with a game plan developed by Tristar’s cerebral coaches Firas Zahabi and Conrad Pla.
“We study my opponent and then we see how we can beat him in all different areas. And then from there, we just work (specifically) in that area.”
In Sean Strickland, Garcia faces a dangerous finisher with a host of wins by KO and submission. The 24-year-old has been a professional fighter since the age of 16, and owns a 3-1 record in the UFC.
At 6’1 with a 76-inch reach, Strickland has the height and reach advantage over Garcia, who stands at 5’9 with a 72-inch reach. But that’s familiar territory for “The Dominican Nightmare,” who’s made a career out of beating taller fighters. Garcia has nothing but praise for his opponent.
“I don’t think he has a weakness; he’s a very explosive and strong guy, but I trained hard enough to beat the best Sean Strickland. I feel ready mentally and physically; I’ve just gotta work my hardest to beat him at his strongest.”
Respect seems to be Garcia’s default setting, as long as his opponent extends him the same. But while it’s not Garcia’s nature to start a war of words to promote a fight, he won’t back down from one either.
“I don’t trash talk to anybody, but if somebody wants to go that way I can definitely go that way. I respect every human being on the planet. I won’t start trash talking, but if somebody trash talks me I will definitely answer back because I respect myself. If somebody tries to put me down, I won’t let someone put me down, either with trash talking or by fighting physically.”
While there’s been no verbal warfare this time, Garcia believes it’s the calm before the storm on Sunday.
“It’s gonna be a total war. I’m ready for war every round it goes. It could go first round, second round or third round, but I’m hungry to have a war every single round.”