Dana White’s Contender Series (DWCS) has long provided a platform to showcase the global plethora of top MMA prospects. However, the benchmark for a prospect to earn the coveted UFC contract isn’t victory; the benchmark is a sensational performance.
So, when Dana White describes awarding Fernie Garcia a UFC contract as a “no-brainer”, it’s clear that the UFC has gained something special.
Indeed, the Bantamweight, hailing from El Paso, otherwise known as “Sun City”, entered DWCS with an impressive 9-1 professional record, his single loss being a close split-decision.
Yet, it was the remarkable composure and calmness that Garcia maintained in the lead-up to his DWCS bout that truly defined an athlete full of self-belief.
Originally, Garcia was scheduled to face 6-0 Paul Capaldo. However, when Capaldo tested positive for COVID-19, a new opponent was sought on short notice.
Whilst 8-1 Joshua Weems stepped up, the American Bantamweight missed weight for the DWCS bout.
Garcia, however, was unfazed. It didn’t matter who was opposite him in the cage; Garcia was certain he would capitalise on the opportunity presented, and earn a contract with the UFC.
He wasn’t wrong. At 2 minutes 10 seconds of the very first round, Garcia secured a TKO victory. Dana White himself best summarised the performance, remarking “great chin, incredible counter puncher, big power”.
Seven months later, the 29-year-old will finally make his highly anticipated promotional debut at UFC 274, in Phoenix, Arizona (otherwise known as “Valley of the Sun”).
Ahead of his debut, Fernie graciously took the time to speak with MMA UK’s Danny Jones.
Fernie, congratulations on earning a deserved UFC contract. Dana White was very complimentary prior to awarding you a contract, referring to your signing as a “no-brainer”. Given the many years of training, moving to Dallas to train at Fortis MMA, and leaving your job to commit full-time to MMA, can you describe how it felt in that moment hearing Dana speak so highly of you, knowing that you made it to the UFC?
“Dana White calling me a “no-brainer” to get signed to the UFC was pretty cool to hear. It’s been a long time coming for me. Of course, I moved to Dallas from El Paso; left my family, my friends, my nephews, to try to make it to the UFC out of Dallas, Texas. And of course, left my full time job to train everyday, all day, to try to get signed. So, when I finally got the shot and was able to finish Josh [Weems] in two minutes, and get signed by Dana White, [it] was the best feeling in the world probably. But, I’m still hungry; I still have a lot to prove May 7th. So that’s where my mind is now.”
Throughout the lead-up to the DWCS, you were remarkably unfazed by the short-notice change of opponent, and your new opponent missing weight, despite the high-stakes of the opportunity; you maintained an absolute self-belief that you would succeed. How much of that confidence do you attribute to training with stellar talent at Fortis MMA?
“I had a change of opponent two weeks before the fight, or probably sooner, and I was really never bothered by any of it. At that point, I’m 29 years old, I’m not scared of anything. I feel like I’m the best in my division. I feel like I can hang with anyone in my division in the UFC, and that’s why I’m pursuing this dream. If not, I wouldn’t even bother. Of course, training with big UFC guys in my division every single day at Fortis MMA gives me a lot of confidence. Training with Miles Johns, Damon Jackson, Steven Peterson, Austin Lingo, and all these great guys, successful guys in the UFC, of course gives me great confidence fighting against anybody in the Contender Series. So, it didn’t really bother me if they changed my opponent once or twice, or where we fought really. I knew for a fact I was going to win that fight, and I knew nothing would stop me from getting signed to the UFC”.
Whilst fighting out of Dallas, you proudly represent El Paso, Texas. It’s also clear to see from previous interviews that you are a proud Mexican. Could you provide some insight into your roots, and how important it is to you to represent those roots?
“I’m from El Paso, Texas, and it borders Juárez, Mexico. So that’s where my entire family is from; they moved to El Paso, Texas, when I was young. That’s where I was raised most of the time, in El Paso. Half my childhood, I would go back-and-forth from El Paso to Juárez, so I spent a lot of time in Juárez; I grew up there to. It’s just the same as El Paso for me, it’s another hometown for me. It is very important for me to represent the Mexican colours of course. I grew up Mexican. Everybody from El Paso, they’re all Hispanics from there; they’re all from Mexican parents or Mexican family across the border. That’s the same thing with me; Spanish is still my first language. So it’s very important to me to represent the Mexican colours in my UFC career”.
You are set to make your debut on a sensational fight card at UFC 274, at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Does that bring an added pressure to your promotional debut, or do you look forward to being a part of a huge event with a big atmosphere?
“I feel super excited to fight at the Footprint Center at UFC 274. I don’t feel like there is any type of pressure on me. I trust my training, I trust my team. I’m under one of the best coaches in the world, Coach Sayif [Saud]. I’m around a winning environment, so I feel really no pressure. I’m very confident going into this fight; I feel like the best I’ve ever been. My last fight was only about two minutes, so I feel like I wanted to show a little bit more of my striking, and my wrestling that I have been working on. Hopefully this is the fight I can do it on”.
What’s your thoughts on your opponent for your debut, Journey Newson?
“Journey Newson, he’s game. He has a tremendous right hand. He has knocked out a lot of people with that right hand. He has big power on that hand. That’s a problem, of course. He has a black belt in jiu-jitsu, so of course he’s well rounded. I can’t wait to prove myself against a guy like him. He’s well rounded, he has a great record, he has three fights in the UFC, [a] big knockout in the UFC. I couldn’t ask for a better opponent to prove myself against”.
Do you have any particular goals in mind for 2022?
“My goals in 2022 are to stay healthy, fight two more times after May 7th, and to fight here in Texas if the UFC comes back to Texas”.