He may only be just two fights into his amateur MMA career, but Halifax’s Zach Garcia knows exactly what he wants accomplish with the sport.
In addition to the natural dream of competing at the sport’s highest level, Garcia’s goals include combining his MMA knowledge with his career to help others.
Garcia, 28, obtained a bachelor’s degree in both psychology and social work at Acadia University and, combined with his knowledge in MMA and a passion for helping others, he hopes to open his own gym one day, as well as incorporate an MMA program specifically for troubled youths.
“I’d like to create an MMA program for kids that have mental health or behavioural issues that’s therapeutic towards their needs. I want to teach the great values MMA brings to people, but bring it to the people that need it the most,” said Garcia in an interview with MMA Empire.
“As soon as martial arts came into my life, a lot of deficiencies in my character and personality kind of got shown to me a little bit. When you go to your first class and you’re the strongest guy in the room, but everyone keeps beating you up, there’s certain things that get exposed in you. But when you keep coming, keep seeing the improvement and the change in your attitude, all those things are incredibly beneficial to someone. If you can present it in a way that’s fun and meant to be helpful, there can be great benefits to that.”
Growing up, Garcia found it difficult to stay out of trouble, getting into fights on a regular basis and hanging out with the wrong crowd.
He said his decision to pursue a career in social work and helping youth in need was largely based on his own childhood, and is a way of “paying it forward” for the people in his life who helped steer him on the right path.
“As a kid, I was always really angry and never really had any help, and if it weren’t for my mentors later in life, I’d be down a very different path.
“I’m grateful for them, and I wanted my professional job to be one that was based off of paying it forward for what those people did for me. The last thing I wanted after school was to get a job that pays the bills, but that I hate, I’m not valued at, and I’m not making a difference at.”
Conquering the game
Not only has Garcia’s education in the field of psychology led to a fulfilling career path, it’s also been a significant benefit to conquering the mental side of MMA.
From the stress of a training camp and weight cutting to the wave emotions involved in being locked in a cage with another man, Garcia said he has the knowledge and power to not let those emotions get the better of him.
“A lot of it is what we call thought distortions, which is derived from cognitive behavioural therapy. It’s where we get these thought patterns that are actually quite harmful, but we don’t realize them, and that creates this story in our heads, which leads to sabotage. Sometimes, when we find out who our opponent is, we think they’re this giant who can’t be killed, but then at the end of the day when you break it down, they’re just human.
“It’s being able to have that knowledge and foresight to say these thoughts aren’t helpful or true; they’re just stories that you’re telling yourself and they’re not serving any purpose.”
Prior to getting his start in MMA, Garcia played football at a high level throughout high school, as well as university.
But following graduation from Acadia University and the conclusion of his football career, Garcia began to notice a void in his life that was once filled by football.
“If we’re playing cards, I’m going to fight you tooth and nail to win. I’m very very competitive, and it’s a bit tough to control sometimes.
“I kind of got to a point when I was done school, I was working, and I was around people that weren’t athletes that I needed something. I needed that release. I had this energy and this drive, and I needed something to fill that void, and I got that with training MMA.”
Overall athletic success
Following his football career, and now having been training MMA for six years, Garcia is well-versed in what it takes to be successful as an athlete.
And while he said there are plenty of aspects of football he was able to apply to his growth in MMA, Garcia said there are also just as many differences between the two sports that need to be realized in order to be successful.
“Like football, in order to be successful in MMA, you have to have an incredible amount of discipline and a high level of accountability as well.
“The thing that’s different is in a team sport you’re kind of able to lean on other guys to do your job for you sometimes, or you can kind of hide behind someone else doing a good job. But in individual sports like wrestling and MMA, there’s no hiding. It’s either you won or you lost, and it’s all your fault if you didn’t get the result you wanted.”
Garcia has had many coaches, mentors, and role models throughout his life that have helped him reach the point he is at today.
One of those individuals is his coach at Fit Plus Martial Arts, Scott MacLean, who he said is one of the main reasons he’s found success in MMA.
“It’s not just a professional relationship, he’s a good friend of mine. He’s a mentor, and I look up to him. Whether it’s life advice or things about marital arts, he’s a very credible coach, and he doesn’t get the props he deserves.
“Without Scott, my victories aren’t really anything because he’s the one who’s taught me everything. I really value Scott a lot and he’s been a big factor in my life thus far. I want to keep on this road together, and we’ll see where we go.”