Locals thrive in MMA octagon

Freeport's Gordon wins "Ultimate Fighter" after tip from Wantagh's Iaquinta


When the octagon door closed at the Mandalay Bay Events Center on July 6, one man, Dhiego Lima, stood between Freeport’s Eddie “Truck” Gordon and the opportunity of a lifetime — a six-figure contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC.) And the way the 71 seconds of the fight played out, Lima probably wished someone else was standing in front of Gordon in the 185-pound bout.

Truck looked more like a bulldozer, initially connecting on an overhand right behind the ear that wobbled Lima 45 seconds into the fight. Gordon then went into full-on attack mode, sticking to Lima like saran wrap and raining down hammerfists, uppercuts and hooks — connecting on 27 in a row over the next 26 seconds — before the referee finally stopped the bout.

“Going in I knew I was the bigger, stronger guy,” Gordon said. “I wanted to impose my will. I wanted to close the gap and not give him much space. It was the best feeling [getting the win]. With the adrenaline, I didn’t know whether to run around the ring, yell or scream.”

For Gordon, a 2001 graduate of Freeport High School, fighting as part of a [Matt] Serra- [Ray] Longo fight team that also includes the UFC’s middleweight champion, Baldwin’s Chris Weidman, and Al Iaquinta, a 2005 graduate of Wantagh High School and a rising 155-pounder, it was the culmination of a nearly year-long effort that included a six-week stay on Season 19 of the UFC’s “The Ultimate Fighter” (TUF) reality show. Gordon grinded out three victories by decision during the taping in just four weeks.

“People don’t realize you film for six weeks and the fights are over the last four,” Gordon said. “After the quarterfinals, I fought four days later. It’s tough, it’s grueling and it’s a grind. I had time to recoup [for the finale] and train with my team for seven or eight months.”

Gordon, like Iaquinta and Weidman before him, didn’t magically appear on the UFC’s radar. Instead, they all broke into the fight game at one of the nation’s premier promotions, the Ring of Combat, run by Bellmore’s Lou Neglia. All three earned titles in the promotion the old-fashioned way—they earned them. “It’s who you fought and how you fought,” Neglia said of his promotion that has now sent 88 fighters to the UFC, four of whom fought on the UFC’s two Las Vegas cards over the holiday weekend (and won), Weidman, Gordon, former UFC Lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and middleweight Uriah Hall. “I’ve got guys that call from other countries that fly in and fight because [Ring of Combat] is a segue to the UFC,” Neglia added.

“Guys like Truck and Al take the fight to their opponent and don’t fight not to lose but fight to win,” Neglia said.

“There were no easy fights,” Gordon said of his time in the Ring of Combat. “Even in my pro debut, I fought a guy that had 13 fights [already].”

Iaquinta agrees with Gordon’s assessment, even counting a 2011 decision over Gabriel Miglioli as the moment he realized the sport of mixed martial arts was for him. “I fought all good, experienced guys,” he said. “So it’s not like it’s been a shock when someone is put in front of me. That fight [against Miglioli] gave me so much confidence to be in deep waters that I had never been in before.”

As much as the Team Serra-Longo crew sticks together in the octagon, it does outside of it also. Iaquinta was the one who tipped off Gordon (7-1 as a professional) about the 185-pound weight class being featured on TUF 19, and as a former finalist himself on TUF 15, Iaquinta was able to offer some keen first-hand knowledge on what goes down when the cameras turn on. “I told him to keep his weight down because you never know when you’re going to fight,” Iaquinta said. “I had five fights in 13 weeks, and usually it’s five in a year.”

Iaquinta (8-3-1 as a professional, 3-2 in the UFC) is scheduled to fight Rodrigo Damm at UFC Fight Night 50 on Sept. 5, at the Foxwoods Resort Casino. Iaquinta had a three-fight win streak snapped by Mitch Clarke at UFC 173 on May 24.