Headlining BKFC-16 is a lightweight grudge match between Leonard ‘Bad Boy’ Garcia, (18-13-1), fighting out of Lubbock, TX and Joe ‘The Hitman’ Elmore, (13-12), of Atlanta, GA.
Garcia made his BKFC debut on February 2, 2019 at BKFC-4: USA vs. Mexico with a sensational second round knockout of Julian Lane. Against Elmore he will be looking to bounce back into the win column following a loss to Jim Alers at BKFC-7 on August 10, 2019.
Moving quickly through the BKFC ranks, Elmore stopped Will Chope in the first round at BKFC-11 on July 24, 2020 and followed that up with a unanimous decision victory over Tom Shoaff on September 11, 2020 at BKFC-12.
Elmore recently had high praise for his upcoming opponent in Garcia, calling him a 'legend,' but certainly made no mistake in getting too friendly with his future dance partner.
"I’m a huge fan of his," Elmore said. "He’s a legend, but with all of my heart, I believe I am the legend killer. I’m coming out here to knock him out."
Garcia sees the pending fight in similar fashion, respectful in the pre-fight talk, but too close for comfort.
“The way I look at fights is different," Garcia said. "We can say what we want. We can try to hype it up. We can pull the Conor McGregor bit but at the end of the day, we have to get in there (ring or cage). The way I see it, I’m glad that he is confident. I’m excited that he is confident. I’m glad he thinks he is going to win and that he is going in there saying he’s the ‘legend killer.’ Anytime you are called a ‘legend,’ it precedes you. It follows you. You’re expected to do something legendary. Legends are legends because they rose to the occasion every time. I applaud his confidence but it is a fight and we are going to have to get in there. Say what you want to say but once we start swinging, that is going to tell the story. I don’t see it as disrespect for some reason. I see it as a confident guy saying what he has to say. I don’t get moved by that at all. I’m emotional enough as it is."
Despite Elmore calling himself a 'legend killer,' Garcia doesn't take a offense to the comment. Instead, he believes it is necessary for a fighter to build up mental warfare prior to entering the ring or cage.
"I just love to fight," Garcia continued. "I feel that you’ve got to sell the fight. I think that’s he saying what he has to say to pump himself up. Joe is one of those guys that likes to wind himself up a lot. That’s fantastic. I hope that he thinks he is going to go in there and kill a legend cause I’m going to go in there that night and hope to be the legend that people see me to be. Like I said, when we start swinging and I hit him, and he hits me, that’s going to tell the story. We’re going to see who reacts which way and that’s going to be it.
“I’ve got tons of respect for Joe," Garcia said. "I don’t see him saying anything in an ill manner but I get it man. I get it. We’re warriors. We’re there to fight. I’m there to do a job. He’s there to do a job. I’ve watched a lot of his fights. I’m excited for it. I think we have to tell ourselves a million different things. Does killing the guy cross my mind? Probably not. But does beating the crap out of his cross my mind? Absolutely. We’re trying to knock each other unconscious and I couldn’t be more excited.”
Prior to getting into the sport of bare knuckle, Garcia, a former UFC and WEC competitor, took several years off from competition. Little did he know, the sport he had always been looking for was about to take off.
“Every time we were in the UFC and we were waiting in the back room, they would make me go pick my gloves," Garcia said. "I would tell them I wanted a small size and that I didn’t want to wrap my hands. They would tell me I was nuts and ask, ‘Why don’t you want gloves? Why wouldn’t you want to wrap your hands?’ I would say, ‘because we don’t need gloves. It doesn’t make any sense.’ I would say to myself, ‘if they ever made a sport where we don’t have to wear gloves, and there was no kicking, and no wrestling, sign me up right away. I’d do that a million times.’ You’re right. I took four years completely off. I did very minimal training. From time to time I would go run or go to the gym and spar with some guys, just because that’s who I was. I just didn’t have a taste for the grappling or the kicking anymore. Then David Feldman reached out to me and he sent me a link to Bare Knuckle FC 1 and I saw it was like ‘Oh my… How am I going to get this past my wife? How is this going to work?’"
Eventually Garcia would have to have that discussion with his wife if he wanted pursue bare knuckle competition.
"It was funny because everything just fell into sequence," Garcia recalled. "I mentioned it and she was like ‘No, no.’ I was like ‘listen, they are offering me a pretty good fight. It’s a good guy (Julian Lane). He’s going to stand and trade. He’s famous for saying ‘let me bang.’ It’s kind of right up my alley.’ She was like ‘no, we’re not going to go back into fighting. We’re doing well. It’s too time consuming, too stressful, and you haven’t been training. What’s wrong with you? It’s 5-weeks away.’ She didn’t know that I had already verbally agreed. I still had to sign the contract. I told her ‘look, we haven’t had a vacation because we’ve been working so much. I think this fight is going to be in Cancun.’ She was like ‘Cancun, like in Cancun, Mexico?’ I said, ‘yeah.’ She was like ‘well, maybe just one.’ Then I told her it was a three fight deal and she was like, ‘you already signed it didn’t you?’ I told her ‘no, I wouldn’t sign without you.’ This all happened on a Saturday. We went to church on Sunday and I prayed about it. I thought about it a long time and that night we sat down and talked. I kind of made my deal with God, my deal with my family, but I kind of just went for it."
While "Bad Boy" Garcia may have earned the win in his first BKFC outing, he would eventually pay a price for underestimating the type of investment he needed to make in preparation.
"I learned though in my first fight that it was kind of a curse to be honest with you," Garcia said. "I got off my butt and I went to the Ranch, and I trained for five weeks straight. I trained every day like a madman for five weeks straight and I won the fight. This gave me a false sense of security. I was like ‘ok Leonard, you don’t have to train full time. You can keep your day job and then five weeks before the fight you can go out and train like a crazy man, put your body through the gauntlet. I learned a hard lesson against Jim Alers, a guy who trains professionally every day. I blew up to almost 200-pounds after I fought Julian. When I got into camp I was 202-pounds and cutting down to 155 to fight Jim. Those five weeks were really rough. I killed myself to make 155. I was on weight three days prior to the fight.
"No excuses. Jim came out and land a perfect shot, blew my eye up. I mean, he caught me right in the eyeball. Had he punched me maybe a centimeter above and maybe landed on some bone and not all eyeball, maybe it would have been a different fight. Congratulations to him, he did what a fighter is supposed to do and he finished the fight. I don’t remember ever feeling like hurt really bad. I just couldn’t see the punches coming. I felt like I was getting hit from all angles. I couldn’t see where the punches were coming from. The one good eye was trying to keep an eye on him but it wasn’t doing a very good job (laughs). After the fight I said ‘I’m going to take a little time and reflect and actually make it a point to train throughout. From now on, until I get a fight, I’m going to train. I’m going to make this a profession, not a hobby.’ That’s what I did. I hit the gym with my eye all swelled up and starting punching the bag. Started working on head movement and I just felt that I had a lot to prove to myself. Just getting back in there is proof enough that I’m a man of my word and I’m going to go out there and give the fans what I always say I will. I want to show a few different aspects. I want to showcase my actual skills and not just be a guy who got ready for a fight.”
The Elmore fight will be the third of three on Garcia's current contract with BKFC, but he feels that with a win, the possibilities are endless.
“This is for the number one spot," Garcia said. "They have Joe ranked as number one. I set out to become the champion. If they don’t give me the title this fight, which in all honestly I think it should be for the belt, I hold the International Bare Knuckle title at 165-pounds, and Joe is number one, so I think a title holder vs. the number one guy should be for a belt, but regardless, I am fighting for the number one spot. I have to prove that to myself and to everybody, that this is why I came into this sport. But, all I am thinking about right now is Joe Elmore. His ability to take shots, mixed with his punching power, is a scary thing. I know I’m in for a dog fight. This is one of those fights that shortens your life a little bit to be honest. That’s what we sign up for. You sign up to fight the best and when you are trying to be the best and you can’t beat the top guys, then what are you doing? When Joe said that he wanted to fight me, it made the most sense. I think he understands what I understand; ‘to be the best, you have to beat the best.’ This is the greatest middleweight bout they can put together and I hope that Joe and I go out there and put on a spectacular show for the fans.”
Tickets for BKFC-16 are Now On-Sale starting at $55 and may be purchased through the BKFC website, www.bkfc.com. The Biloxi Civic Center is located at 578 Howard Street, Biloxi, MS 39530. Doors will open on the night of the event at 6PMCT with the first bell at 7PMCT.