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02/18/2016 12:41 EST | Updated 02/18/2017 00:12 EST

Dominican Alex Garcia finds new home in Montreal, looks to rise up UFC ranks

Growing up in the Dominican Republic, baseball is the game to play. But Alex (The Dominican Nightmare) Garcia always favoured American football.

"Because I liked to tackle the guy," Garcia explained.

"I grew up on the beach. My friends didn't like to play with me because I was very rough."

Fortunately Garcia found Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

"I decided I love this. Let's try to do this in my life and I was good with it."

His first coach was originally from Montreal, which led him ultimately to come north in 2009 to improve his mixed martial arts game. He now calls Montreal home, although he returns to Cabarete in the Dominican several times a year.

On Sunday, Garcia (13-2-0) takes on American welterweight Sean (Tarzan) Strickland (16-1-0) on a UFC televised card in Pittsburgh. Donald (Cowboy) Cerrone, moving up to welterweight, faces Alex (Cowboy) Oliveira in the main event at the Consol Energy Center.

Also on the card, Canadian welterweight Shane (Shaolin) Campbell fights James Krause. Bantamweight Sarah (Cheesecake) Moras, who trains with Campbell at Toshida MMA in Kelowna, B.C., was also slated to be on the card but was forced to withdraw after dislocating her thumb, tearing some ligaments. 

Garcia, 28, trains out of the famed Tristar Gym and, while he misses the beach, says he loves life in Montreal.

"I think I was born in the wrong country. I like winter," he said. "I go ice-fishing some time, I go snowboarding some time."

Garcia, a gregarious sort, says he missed his family and friends when he came to Canada. But Montreal won him over. "I like the vibe here." 

Garcia is coming off a win last July over veteran Mike (Quick) Swick, who retired after the loss. He is 3-1-0 in the UFC with the lone setback a decision loss to Neil Magny in August 2014 when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the first round.

It's a measure of Garcia's mettle that he kept fighting — and took Magny, currently ranked ninth among welterweight contenders, down three times in the final two rounds despite the knee injury.

"I kept fighting with one leg basically," he said.

Takedowns have been a consistent weapon for Garcia, a muscular five foot nine. He has converted 16 of 23 takedown attempt in his last three fights — his first UFC outing ended via knockout after just 43 seconds.

"I'm pretty strong for my weight class," he said.

Garcia, who walks around at about 185 pounds, is working on his endurance. There's not much he can do about his height but he says he is comfortable fighting taller men.

The six-foot-one Strickland, 3-1-0 in the UFC, will be a good test. 

"This year I'm trying to put myself in a top-10, top-five position," said Garcia. "I'll work my butt off to get into that position this year."

His goals are lofty. "I want to be a legend in the sport," he said.

 

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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press