A MMA fight between decorated grappler Gabi Garcia and kickboxing talent Barbara Nepomuceno has been discussed for years, ever since Nepomuceno and her team first criticized Garcia and her opponents in Rizin. Now, the grudge match is finally happening at Rizin 14 on Dec. 31.
But it’s not coming without its fair share of controversy.
Nepomuceno signed the Rizin bout agreement to fight Garcia days before competing for the WGP title in kickboxing on Nov. 24 in a rematch against Val Stanski, who defeated Nepomuceno months before due to knee injury. As fate would have it, in the rematch, Nepomuceno injured her other knee and left the ring.
Days later, Rizin announced Garcia vs. Nepomuceno for Dec. 31 in Saitama, Japan. Nepomuceno told MMA Fighting that she was hoping to be 100 percent healthy in time for her MMA debut, however Garcia is not fully convinced that her opponent’s injury was even that bad in the first place.
The day after the kickboxing bout, Garcia tweeted that she was sure that Nepomuceno “was ok”, adding that the kickboxer is “just a quitter” and is “a lion when she wins and a cat when she’s losing the fight.”
”When I heard she got injured, I was worried because I’ve been training for her since May,” Garcia told MMA Fighting. “I don’t think someone would fake an injury, we’re athletes and we all have injuries, but when you watch the fight, she felt (an injury) in her right knee, and the one that had surgery was the left one. A week later, she posted videos training and jumping boxes. I suffered a knee injury at the ROAD FC open workouts and it took me two months to jump boxes again. I don’t think she faked the injury, but I think she was saving herself for our fight. She already knew about our fight.
”Barbara said in an interview that I took the things she said too personal, but I have nothing personal with her. It’s business,” Garcia continued. “I don’t respect her sports-wise. She had already signed the contract to fight me, she knew she was going to fight me. I think she was saving herself at WGP to fight me later, and I think that’s disrespectful with the sport, with her opponent, and with the promotion.”
Citing the times when she competed in jiu-jitsu with bad injuries, like a fractured finger, and when she entered the ADCC tournament just days after her brother died, Garcia says she would never act like that.
”I don’t know what went through her mind, maybe she felt the knee, but the only thing I expect from her is her to be 100 percent in the fight. No excuses,” Garcia said. “If you accept a fight, don’t bring excuses before the fight. She challenged me at any weight, and now she’s saying I’m heavier than her, that I’m better on the ground, but she’s the one with more experience in the ring.
”Don’t come with excuses after the fight or quit in the middle of the fight. I want her going until the end because I’ve fought injured before, and I never quit. I just hope that doesn’t happen. She asked for it and got what she wanted, we’re going to fight. I think she’s good at what she does and so am I. I’m training non-stop for 45 days, giving my all in the gym from Sunday to Sunday, and may the best win… but don’t give up.”
Nepomuceno told MMA Fighting that she believes Garcia didn’t want to fight her in a MMA cage and has been avoiding the matchup for years, however Garcia insists that she was the one that made it finally come to fruition under the Rizin banner.
”She thanked her manager and a bunch of people for making this fight happen, but I’m the one who made it happen,” Garcia said. “I had issues with Rizin because my boss (Nobuyuki Sakakibara) was here and offered me other opponents to fight, but I said no, I said I wanted to fight her. I was the one who asked for this fight. I want to test myself on the feet.”
When both women finally enter the ring in Japan, Garcia expects to shock her foe and improve to 6-0 in the sport.
”I think I’ll win by knockout,” said Garcia, who submitted Veronika Futina in her last bout at ROAD FC in May. “Jiu-jitsu will always be my No. 1 plan, but I want to knock her out. Test my hands and my kickboxing. I’ve been training kickboxing every single day. It won’t be as good as hers, of course. If I throw 15 strikes she will throw 30, but we have a good gameplan. Jiu-jitsu will always be the No. 1 and I will always count on that, my wrestling is sharp, too, but I want to challenge myself. If my hand lands, it would be great for me.”