After racking up nine straight wins in the regional circuit, Pablo Garza suffered the first loss of his career under the bright lights of the WEC. Determined that he belonged in the big show, “The Scarecrow” made his way to Las Vegas to try out for The Ultimate Fighter 12, but failed to make it into the house when eventual finalist Michael Johnson knocked him out of the competition in the qualifying round.
Garza walked away from the show determined to improve. He was given another shot to prove that he belonged in the Octagon at the TUF 12 finale and he took the opportunity and ran with it as he knocked out Fredson Paxiao 51 seconds into the opening frame with a picture-perfect, $30,000 Knockout of the Night garnering flying knee.
Riding the momentum of his impressive UFC debut in December, the 27-year-old Fargo, North Dakota native wanted to make another statement in his follow-up fight last weekend at UFC 129 in Toronto against Yves Jabouin. It took him just 4:31 to silence the Canadian crowd and earn himself another performance bonus — this time for Submission of the Night and to the tune of $129, 000.
We spoke to Garza yesterday and touched on a number of topics including his win over Jabouin Saturday night, what he plans to do with his latest bonus and what his family thinks about his career path.
Check out the what the fast-rising featherweight had to say below.
Have you had to pinch yourself to make sure you weren’t dreaming since notching your impressive win and won a record-setting $129,000 Submission of the Night bonus you received from the UFC Saturday night?
“It feels good. My mind can’t comprehend what I just did and what will probably happen in the future for me.”
What was your reaction when Dana White informed you how much you would be getting for your slick flying triangle submission over Yves Jabouin?
“It sounded awesome and to tell you the truth it still hasn’t even set in. Just last night I was replaying it in my mind and I was like, ‘Geez, I can’t believe what I just did. It’s surreal to me still.”
Was it unnerving realizing that you were facing a Canadian in Canada in front of a partisan crowd of more than 55,000 people?
“I expected the crowd to be against me. I prepared myself for that. It was basically his hometown. He’s from Montreal. It’s close by. I came in knowing that I was going to get boeed, but I wasn’t going to let it bother me. What actually surprised me is that when I came out of the Octagon and was walking backstage, people were actually cheering for me, like ‘Yeah Pablo! Let’s go! Let’s go!’ and stuff like that, so it kind of added to the motivation.”
Your transition to the triangle seemed flawless. Is that a move you work on a lot in the gym?
“I wouldn’t say I work on my flying triangle a lot, but I have done it before. That wasn’t the first time I’ve done it. I’ve actually done them in jiu-jitsu tournaments and it’s a lot easier doing them in the gi. That move is a move that after jiu-jitsu class me and my training partners will just hang out and work on cool moves like that just for the hell of it. I started just messing around with it and I started getting a little better with it and doing it in jiu-jitsu tournaments, but this was the first time I ever did it in a fight.”
What rank are you in BJJ?
“I’m only a blue belt in jiu-jitsu, but I think I’m a little bit better than that. I don’t know. I’ve only been training jiu-jitsu for about two-and-a-half years or so. I’ve just recently started, maybe two months ago training really hard in the gi. Before that I was doing a lot of no-gi stuff and wrestling.”
I think too much attention is paid to belt rank and not enough is paid to experience or skill level. Jason MacDonald, who also fought and scored an impressive submission win and whose ground game is very underrated isn’t ranked because he doesn’t train in the gi. Is that why you’re only a blue when your skill level and experience is much higher, because you haven’t trained with the gi as much?
“The gi definitely helps a lot. At first I was like, ‘Why do I need a gi if I fight and we don’t wear them?’ but it’s all part of being a martial artist. There are benefits of training in a gi that correlate into fighting that you won’t be able to see until you try it.”
You fought and picked up your first loss under the WEC banner and were let go by the promotion so you decided to go another route and try out for The Ultimate Fighter but missed out on your opportunity to get into the house after you lost to eventual finalist Michael Johnson. Would you do it over again if given the opportunity?
“Getting on the show and then fighting Michael Johnson and losing to him, I definitely used that as a learning experience. It definitely motivated me to train harder. I don’t regret it. If anything it pushed me to get better. I used that stumbling block or that loss as motivation to get better. I really can’t say whether or not I would do it again because I never go to experience being in the house like my training partner Dane Sayers. He got into the house. I can’t say I would do it a thousand times over because I didn’t get into the house, but going the way I went about things as far as how the road led me back to the UFC, I’m glad and I feel blessed that things worked out the way they did.”
Have you had the chance to think about a possible opponent you’d like to face next? Not that you have a say in it, but sometimes fighters create a buzz from calling out another fighter and the UFC takes a closer look at the possibility.
“Honestly, there’s nobody I have in mind right now. I haven’t even thought about it. After I fight, I don’t even want to think about fighting. I don’t even want to do anything this week or next week but totally relax. My goal in the UFC isn’t, ‘Oh, I want to fight this guy,’ or ‘Oh, I want to fight that guy.’ My goal is to stay in the UFC. For most fighters, the goal is to get to the UFC, but the hard part isn’t getting there. It’s staying there once you make it because the competition is so high. That’s my goal. My goal is to stay in the UFC and keep my job.”
This latest bonus makes two in a row for you since you picked up one for Knockout of the Night for your flying-knee KO of Fredson Paixão at the TUF 12 finale. Have you treated yourself to anything with your winnings?
“I’m going to put the money aside for now until I can talk to some financial advisors. I want to be really smart with my money. Most guys when they get to the UFC, they say their goal is to become champion. I always told myself that if I ever got to the UFC and made enough money to pay off my college loans, I was definitely going to do that. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to pay back my college loans and save, invest the rest and be smart about it.”
Where did you go to school?
“I graduated from the University of North Dakota with an exercise science and personal fitness training degree.”
Do you work in the field you studied?
“Yeah. I work at the university teaching classes from Monday to Thursday.”
How has the reaction been from your students who are MMA and UFC fans?
“They’re really proud. They’re really cool. A lot of the students didn’t know what MMA and UFC was. Now they’re fans and watch it. They think I’m a really cool teacher and they’re proud for me.”
Do you integrate any of your MMA training methodologies into your lessons?
“No. I only train muay thai and kickboxing classes, so I guess I do share some of my stand-up training.”
Oh, Okay. When you said you teach at the university, I thought you might have taught kinesiology or something like that.
“No. I’d have to be a teachers assistant or something to do that. I would never have enough time to do that with training.”
Is your family supportive of what you do?
“My fiancee is really supportive and proud. She really encourages me to do well and just all around supports me. She watches my fights. As for my mom and dad, they honestly don’t understand what it is I do. A couple weeks ago I tried to explain to her what I do and I tried explaining my flying-knee win was the first knockout at 145 in the UFC and how important it was and what it meant to me. Her reaction was like, ‘Well, as long as it makes you happy.’ She has no clue what the UFC is. My mom’s old school. She’s like, ‘As long as you like your job, I’m happy for you.’”
My grandma is like that. She still thinks I cover pro wrestling for a living.
“Yeah, my mom thinks I’m a wrestler. She’ll ask me, ‘So do you wrestle or do you box?’ She tries to explain it to a friend and it’s pretty funny hearing her try.”
I know that one of your main sponsors is Rev Gear, which is who we set this interview up with. How important are good sponsors to up-and-coming fighters like yourself?
“I’m just really glad that a company like Rev Gear took the time to invest in me and believe in me. I come from pretty meager beginnings and my family has worked hard for everything we had, yet we were at the lower end of the [economic] scale. I’ve never had a lot of money. I like Rev Gear a lot because they aren’t a huge faceless corporation like some of the other bigger clothing sponsors. They’re a perfect fit for me. They really look after me and we have a great relationship. I’m glad that they believed in me and that I showed them that their investment in me is really beneficial for them.”