Steve Garcia didn’t go too crazy with his first UFC performance bonus. A treadmill, a Dallas Cowboys game, the rest in the bank – you know, the stuff a mature family man will do.
That doesn’t mean his October win over Chase Hooper wasn’t cause for celebration, because it was, especially for a 30-year-old who believes that it was the fight that let UFC fans know who the “Mean Machine” is.
“I finally feel that for the first time I actually got to show the power in my hands, my striking ability and, regardless of the name, that I'm not really scared to do what I need to do. So I felt like it was like UFC-caliber and what the fans want to see, and I'm happy that I was able to display that.”
Approaching his 10th year as a pro, Garcia has been on the verge of a breakthrough effort like the one he turned in last fall. He won on Dana White’s Contender Series in 2019, but missed weight for the bantamweight bout, so he didn’t get a contract. After an LFA win in early 2020, he got brought to the UFC for a lightweight bout against Luis Pena, lost that one, but in his return in 2021, he stopped Charlie Ontiveros in the second round.
So far, so good, but after a June defeat at the hands of Maheshate in Singapore left him at 1-2 in the Octagon, he thought that his time in the big show might be over for the time being.
“I was like, I just lost my job,” recalled Garcia. “They're going to cut me.”
Garcia’s manager, Jason House, talked him off the ledge and told him to sit tight. Garcia did, and sent House back to the UFC with one request:
“Give me more fight,” said Garcia. “I promise you won't be disappointed. and I'm going to show you why I still belong here.”
“Stevie, you give me your word?” asked House.
“Absolutely. I'm a man of my word.”
Soon, House returned with good news.
“All right, I got one more. But this is the last one on the contract, so you’ve got to make it count.”
That one fight, the last one on the contract, was against Hooper, the highly-regarded youngster with the deadly ground game who was coming off a stoppage of Felipe Colares five months earlier.
Garcia wasn’t about to lose.
“I had nothing to lose and I wasn't going to take a backwards step. I was going to go forward. I prefer to prove everybody that believes in me right than to prove everybody that doesn't believe in me wrong. And so, for me, there were only a select few people that really believed in me to beat Chase.”
All that mattered was the man with the gloves on, though, and Garcia delivered a sharp striking effort in which he looked like he was landing everything he threw. Ninety-two seconds into the fight, it was over. The underdog bit back.
“I did have a chip on my shoulder as far as that goes, but, to be honest, I prefer to be the underdog every single time,” Garcia said. “It's not that I can't handle the pressure, but there's definitely more pressure when you are the favorite to beat somebody, because there's expectations before it even happens. Going out there and proving yourself is way better to me and easier for me to do than to live up to someone's expectations.”
There will be expectations, now, though. Garcia, back at his optimal weight of 145, made a statement against Hooper. On Saturday, he’s in Miami to battle Shayilan Nuerdanbieke on the UFC 287 card, his first fight in front of a non-APEX United States crowd since the Pena bout in 2020. And while he makes it a point to note his perfect record in the APEX, he’s looking forward to seeing what energy the Florida fans bring him this weekend.
“I'm actually undefeated in the APEX, so I like it there, but, to be honest, who doesn't love a crowd?” he laughs. “The crowd's awesome. But the best thing about it for me, being a fighter, is the caliber of fighters that are on this card. The magnitude of the card, because of everyone that's on it, makes me want to step up my game.”
Pereira. Adesanya. Burns. Masvidal. His teammate Michelle Waterson-Gomez. That’s a star-studded lineup, and Garcia wants to hang with those folks and have people talking about him on Monday morning. That’s a lot of pressure, but the man who made his last fight count is used to that. And he’s fine with it.
“I’ve got to feed my family and I’ve got to make sure that I provide,” said Garcia. “If you don't fight and win, they don't eat as good. They're going to be struggling. So you’ve got to go get extra work. You’ve got to do extra, and I want to keep the mentality of an underdog because then I feel like you always have something to prove.”
UFC 287: Pereira vs Adesanya 2 took place live from Kayesa Center in Miami, Florida on April 8, 2023. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!