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By: Rich Hansen, MMATorch Columnist
Duke Roufus' gym in Milwaukee, Wisconsin is home to several immediately recognizable names. From Anthony Pettis to Ben Askren to UFC 149 title challenger Erik Koch, the gym is coming up alongside several young and talented fighters. Add another name to that list, as 19-year-old Elias Garcia is following in those footsteps. The amateur flyweight prospect returns to action on Saturday night in Milwaukee, and MMATorch's Rich Hansen caught up with him ahead of the event.
Rich Hansen: You're a cousin of the Pettis' (Anthony and Sergio), but you only met them a year ago. How exactly did you guys meet for the first time?
Elias Garcia: Anthony was out in LA for the Guida fight, and I'd never met him, never heard of him besides that Ben Henderson kick. That's the only way I had heard of Anthony.
Rich Hansen: So you didn't even know you were related until then?
Elias Garcia: No, never. You know, I kind of hate the fact that I didn't know them earlier, because they're such great people. They help me so much. Now it seems like I'm here because they're big and famous, but I'm just here to put my own name out there. So like I said, I met Anthony in January (of 2011) and he was a nice guy; I talked to him for a little bit. He asked me if I wrestled, I said I did, and he was like, “Yeah man, you should come out and train.” I kept that in the back of my head, so that was always an option to go out and train. I was ready to go to junior college and wrestle, but I was like, this just isn't for me. So I gave him a call and he said to come out.
Rich Hansen: So how are you related?
Elias Garcia: Our grandpa's are brothers. So we're second cousins. I'm so lucky to have Sergio. He's my age, and I hang out with him every day. We get closer from training and hanging out, and I just can't believe I never met this guy. I really, really regret not knowing all my family like this. It blows my mind how close we've come within a year. I feel like he's my brother, man. I would do anything for that guy.
Rich Hansen: So, you wrestled in high school. At your last fight on May 4 (a third round TKO victory over Dillon Woods) it looked like you were leaning heavily on your wrestling, particularly when your bell got rung in the first round. During the first round, Duke Roufus in your corner was screaming for you to go forward, and it didn't seem like you were able to quite process that. Is that all part of the learning process for you?
Elias Garcia: Yes! I mean, I'm such a good fighter in the practices, but I don't fight like how I practice when I'm in the cage. I'm a completely different fighter when I get into the cage; I fall back to my old wrestling (habits). I wish I wouldn't, but I get too nervous to use my hands. I knew they were yelling, "Forward! Forward!" but I was still going backwards. I'm not comfortable with my hands yet. But I'm going to show this fight that I am. It all comes with experience.
Rich Hansen: You got caught in two or three submission attempts in the first round of that fight. You managed to get out of all of them. How much of the submission defense can you credit to your wrestling instincts, and how much of your ability to scramble out of those submissions can you chalk up to your jiu-jitsu training here?
Elias Garcia: Well, one of those submissions I got hit below the belt and the ref didn't see it, so I don't really think he would have got that (position). I did do some dumb things; I left my head in there, I left my arms in there. I would say my jiu-jitsu coaches here; they help me out a lot. But the main people who help me out are Dustin Ortiz and Sergio. We work our jits just us three a lot (of the time). They help me constantly. But the crazy thing is, I asked my coach, Coach Omar (Choudhury), to show me guillotine defense and armbar defense right there in the locker room. I told him I know it's probably going to happen in the fight, so he showed me how to get out of them and I did exactly what he said to do.
Rich Hansen: And this was right before the fight?
Elias Garcia: Yeah, right before the fight.
Rich Hansen: So in the second round you almost had him finished. You had him back mounted and it looked like you were trying to go for an arm when you went to the high back mount. You didn't finish him then, and in the third round it took a while for you to get the TKO. Is the killer instinct needed to finish fast learned behavior, or is it just inside somebody?
Elias Garcia: I would say it's inside of you. And I just need to be able to find my aggression. Like I said, when I had the opportunity to finish someone in the gym, it's not a problem, I do it. But I don't know what it is when I get in the cage; maybe I'm nervous or a lack of cage experience, but I definitely need to be more aggressive in my ground and pound when I go to finish people.
Rich Hansen: When you fight on Saturday night, what's more important to you: getting the win no matter what, or showing improved skills and progressing?
Elias Garcia: Well, I would say a little bit of both. Getting the win for me and my family would be cool because no one in the family has ever fought, between Sergio and Anthony. Getting this win is really important to me for experience too. I need to let people know that hey, I'm not just here to be one of these up and comers who come up and (disappear). No, I'm here to make my name, and I need to make a statement in this fight, so I have to show improvement.
Rich Hansen: When you told your dad that you were moving to Wisconsin where you had never been before, to fight, instead of going to college, what was the family reaction?
Elias Garcia: If you know anything about my past, you know I wasn't really the greatest school guy, so when they heard I was going to college and I enrolled and everything, they were really happy for me. But then this opportunity came up and I took it. My dad supports me 100%, my mom supports me 100%. It paid off. They took a gamble with me letting me come out here and it's paid off completely. It just blows my mind how far I've come in a year and I think it's the best decision I've made in my life.
Rich Hansen: Say six months from now you think you're ready to go pro, but Duke Roufus says no, do you just flat-out listen to--
Elias Garcia: (emphatically) Yes. I do anything they tell me. I'm a Roufusport product, man. I came in here; thank god I came in here as a blank board. I had nothing, never been taught any type of fighting, never was taught anything. So whatever Duke tells me is 100% that's what it's going to be. I listen to everything Duke and (Roufusport boxing coach) Scott Cushman tell me. Whenever they say I'm ready, that's when I'm ready. Because I know they know their fighting, and I'm just going to do what Duke says.
Rich Hansen: Coming up as a wrestler in high school, how special has it been for you to work with…
Elias Garcia: (laughter)
Rich Hansen: ...Ah, you know where I'm going with this one.
Elias Garcia: Yeah.
Rich Hansen: ...to work with one of the five or ten best college wrestlers of all-time in Ben Askren? And being that your cousins aren't wrestling based fighters, do you feel an extra bit of kinship with Askren as a result?
Elias Garcia: Yeah man. I mean wow. It's just amazing. I've learned so much from so many different people because in the time that I wrestled I went to a lot of wrestling camps, and learned from Johny Hendricks, Mark Munoz, and I'm telling you, no one is like Ben Askren. Man, he's got the funk, he's got everything in his arsenal. He teaches me a new thing every day. Every time I talk to him and he flows, I mean, the way he teaches me, I can learn so much easier. I have to have a teacher because I'm the worst student in anything. I need a teacher who has the right method, and every single coach here knows how to coach me. That's why I feel I have fit in really great here. But with Ben, I felt so lucky to have him in my corner for my last fight. All I heard was his voice. That's exactly what I need; just someone like that who is a great person to look up to.
Rich Hansen: I was sitting right next to Askren when he cornered your teammate Rick Glenn's fight. And every single thing Askren said to do, Rick Glenn did. Sometimes literally before Askren could even finish saying it. When you see something like that in play, does it help you to visualize your goals as opposed to having to guess what the future holds for you?
Elias Garcia: Well, when I see people like Rick, or Dustin (Ortiz), I'm doing what they're doing, I'm just younger. I feel like by the time I'm their age I will be just as good if not better. It's really good for me to have people to look up to who work just as hard and who have been going through what I go through. They help me, they take me step by step all the way.
Elias Garcia wishes to thank Afco Gas, Combat Corner, Scott Cushman, and dedicates his next fight to his Aunt Pauline who is fighting cancer. Elias is on Twitter @EliGarcia714
In addition to speaking with Garcia, Hansen spoke with Roufus himself for some information on Saturday's fight card:
Rich Hansen: Tell me a little bit about the Wisconsin Fighting Championship card you are promoting this Saturday night in Milwaukee.
Duke Roufus: It's one of our labors of love. Scott (Joffe, Duke's business partner) is doing a really good job of organizing and marketing the event. It's amateur MMA. I think it is the backbone that we need for the sport.
Rich Hansen: Is the show all MMA fights?
Duke Roufus: The main portion is all MMA, from 7 PM on. The undercard will have one muay thai fight in the cage. But then there's another sport similar to MMA called pankration. We're going to see kids doing MMA, without head strikes. It's a good chance for kids to get in there, work some submissions; work on what it feels like to get in there. It's almost like the flag football of MMA. I think it's great. We're going to have some very experienced MMA fighters down to debuting MMA fighters, down to junior kids getting a chance to get in the cage. I think that is the key right now to build a really good backbone to our sport is having like boxing did years ago. When boxing was better, it used to have a better amateur program.
Rich Hansen: Which of your fighters will be making appearances on Saturday?
Duke Roufus: Ben Askren will be there, and he will have a special guest with him. Kyle Dake (three time NCAA champion) from Cornell University is in town doing a seminar, so Kyle is going to be with him. So all the wrestling junkies will get to meet two pretty high end fighters. Chico Camus who just signed with the UFC will be in the house. And of course Sergio Pettis will be there to support his cousin.
Wisconsin fighting Championship takes place at Milwaukee Harley Davidson at 11310 West Silver Spring Road in Milwaukee, WI. To purchase tickets, go to http://nafc.tv/ticketing.php, or buy them at the door. Doors open at 5 PM.
Check out Garcia in this short film by Kenneth Williams:
Video URL: http://youtu.be/c4zKg2th3VU
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