Upon the creation of the unified rules of MMA, the sport of Mixed Martial Arts as a whole has seen widespread acceptance and is now legal in 49 states in the U.S. Unfortunately the one state holding out is New York, the largest market in the country.
As a born and raised Long Island, New Yorker, I could not wait to see a large scale UFC event at Madison Square Garden or even a Fight Night Show in my own backyard at the Nassau Coliseum. I figured it was only a matter of time. Well, despite UFC president Dana White’s guarantee that MMA would be legalized in New York by the end of 2012, it still stands as the only state in which the sport is banned. The ban however, has not stopped fellow New Yorkers from bursting MMA onto the scene and achieving great success including current and former UFC light-heavyweight champions Jon Jones and Rashad Evans.
A new generation of fighters is among us now and multiple fight camps are breeding young fighters to achieve success in the sport that we all love. The Long Island, New York based camp that has made the biggest splash onto the scene in recent years has been Serra-Longo fight team. The camp, led by BJJ expert and former UFC champ Matt Serra as well as striking whiz Ray Longo, has been having a phenomenal past two weeks headlined by middleweight champ Chris Weidman’s second title defense at UFC 175.
With their beloved New York Islanders (the island’s only professional team) moving off the Island at the end of next season, the rise of Serra-Longo fight camp gives Long Islanders something to look forward to in the sports world for years to come. As a fighter, Matt “The Terror” Serra is known for two stellar achievements during his illustrious career. Serra is the first ever American to receive a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt under the legendary Renzo Gracie and accomplished the feat of shocking the world by taking the welterweight title from Georges “Rush” St. Pierre in 2007.
Serra was crowned the victor of the Ultimate Fighter Comebacks, the fourth season in which fighters who had been released from the UFC had a chance to enter the show and not only gain a job in the UFC but also a title shot. The title shot was seen largely as a publicity stunt but Serra made the most of it and his first round TKO victory over St. Pierre is arguably the biggest upset in UFC history.
Today, Serra is also seeing a great deal of success but this time as a coach. He and renowned striking coach Ray Longo are big names on the MMA scene nowadays bringing a slew of new generation fighters to the scene. In the mid 2000’s, there were some notable fighters to come out of Serra-Longo including former Ultimate Fighter contestants Pete Spratt and Luke Cummo.
It was not until the arrival of current undefeated UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman (12-0, 8-0 UFC) however, that the camp began to be recognized as a force to be reckoned with. Weidman, a Baldwin, New York native who achieved All-America wrestling honors at Hofstra University, was a very unique prospect upon entering the UFC as he was not only a decorated collegiate wrestler but also had success at the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship in Abu Dhabi. Matt Serra infamously stated early in Weidman’s UFC tenure that he would go on to become UFC middleweight champion. This proclamation was generally mocked by the MMA community.
Now here we are in July 2014 and Serra turned out to be right. Weidman (who has become a solid striker under the guidance of Longo) went onto become middleweight champion by, like his coach, shocking the world and knocking out Anderson Silva in the second round. Silva is regarded as arguably the greatest mixed martial artists of all time. Weidman went on to defend his belt in a rematch against Anderson Silva via tko by checking a leg kick causing Silva to fracture his tibia in one of the most gruesome injury the sport ever seen. Despite beating Silva twice, fans still doubted Weidman claiming the two fights were “fluke” victories due to the unconventional manner in which both fights ended.
Weidman put all doubts to rest last weekend however when he defeated Silva’s Black House teammate and former UFC light-heavyweight champion by unanimous decision. Both Weidman and Machida were awarded $50,000 Fight of the Night bonuses. He is now one of the premier mixed martial artists in the world and one of the highest paid fighters in the UFC.
Chris however, was not the only Serra-Longo fighter or Hofstra alum to earn Fight of the Night honors in recent weeks. Just one week prior to Weidman’s successful title defense, teammate Gian Villante (12-5, 2-2 UFC) also achieved Fight of the Night honors at UFC Fight Night 43 in New Zealand.
Villante, a former All-American football player at Hofstra and New York state wrestling champion at MacArthur High School, did so by defeating Sean O’Connell by split decision in a light-heavyweight bout. Gian is a Strikeforce product who has been making his presence felt in the UFC. To add to Serra-Longo’s recent success another one of their fighters, Eddie “Truck” Gordon (7-1, 1-0 UFC) won the Ultimate Fighter 19 middleweight title last Sunday.
A native of Freeport, NY, a town that borders Weidman’s hometown of Baldwin and also produced MMA veteran Jay Heiron, Gordon was a slight Vegas Underdog for his finale fight against Dhiego Lima. MMA fans however, were largely dismissing Eddie’s chances in favor of Lima, the brother of Bellator welterweight champion Douglas Lima. Like Weidman, Gordon proved the doubters wrong by dominating Lima on way to a first round TKO victory in slightly over one minute.
Another successful recent TUF contestant fighting out of the camp is season 15runner-up Al Iaquinta (8=3=1, 3-2 UFC) from Wantagh. NY. Although coming up short to Michael Chiesa in the finale, Iaquinta amassed three straight victories proving that the UFC is where he belongs. He is coming off of a loss to Mitch Clarke at UFC 173, he looks to get back on track next month in a fight against Rodrigo Damm.
Serra-Longo also has another promising young fighter in bantamweight Aljamain Sterling (9-0, 1-0 UFC), a successful Division III wrestling standout at SUNY Cortland. Sterling, who goes by the nickname “Funk Master”, is 1-0 in the UFC after winning his debut fight against Cody Gibson by unanimous decision at UFC 170. The 24 year old returns to the octagon on Wednesday at UFC Fight Night 45 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The Serra-Longo boys are not the only ones making names for themselves on the Island.
Former Serra-Longo fighter and current trainee at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy Costas Philippou (13-4-1, 6-3 UFC) is ranked #10 in the latest UFC middleweight rankings. Long Island MMA Fight Team also has some solid fighters coming out of their camp including undefeated welterweight Ryan Laflare (11-0, 4-0 UFC) and former Ultimate Fighter runner-up featherweight Dennis Bermudez(13-3, 6-1 UFC). Bermudez is coming of a Performance of the Night award at UFC 171 vs Jimy Hettes and is expected to face long time UFC veteran Clay Guida on July 26 at UFC on Fox 12.
With the popularity of MMA on the rise on the island, there have been strides made to embrace the sport on Long Island. Namely, East Coast MMA Fight Shop was established. The Fight Shop, owned by young entrepreneur Zack Lipari, gives MMA practitioners the unique opportunity to try on all the top of line gear before buying. The shop also contains a plethora of MMA merchandise for all fans to enjoy.
An outlet like this is unprecedented for the area. It has become so popular that a second ECMMA shop has been opened in Brooklyn. The shop has seen the likes of all the aforementioned Long Island fighters. The success of the shop goes to show how much of an impact that mixed martial arts is having on the community.
It appears to be a recurring theme that Serra-Longo fighters overcome the odds and go on to achieve high levels of success. With the Islanders leaving, these fighters give the Long Islanders something homegrown in the sports world to look forward. Hopefully, Serra-Longo Fight Team continues to ascend and produces a new exciting crop of fighters for the whole world to cheer for!