The state of New York may not have its act together when it comes to allowing sanctioned Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) bouts — it is legal in each of the other 49 states with Connecticut most recently coming on board — but Bellmore resident Lou Neglia has made sure local fighters have a regular opportunity to step into the octagon and hone their craft. His Ring of Combat promotion features quarterly fight cards at the Tropicana in Atlantic City and has served as a launching pad for more than 80 fighters who have leaped into the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
“The main focus [of the promotion] has always been and always will be to focus on new talent,” Neglia said, whose 46th show is scheduled for Sept. 20.
“I’ve been dealing with Lou for a long, long time and he always does the right thing and helps get the guys to the next level with competitive fights,” Keith Trimble of the Bellmore Kickboxing Academy said. “Lou does a great job of getting guys prepared.”
Of the more than 80 fighters that have jumped to the UFC after fighting in Neglia’s Ring of Combat promotion, some have already risen to the top of the food chain, including former Baldwin wrestling star Chris Weidman, who pulled off one of the biggest upsets in UFC history on July 6 by knocking off one of the all-time greats, Anderson Silva, in Las Vegas to earn the middleweight championship. Uriah Hall, the runner-up in the last season of the UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter reality show and Wantagh’s Al Iaquinta, a finalist in the reality show in 2012.
Trimble currently has three alumni Ring of Combat Alumni and current UFC fighters fighting out of his camp – Costa Philippou, Gian Villante and Ryan LaFlare — and the newly crowned Ring of Combat featherweight champion, 145-pound Freeport native Andre Harrison, who’s establishing himself as a fast-riser in the sport. Owner of a perfect 6-0 mark as a professional MMA fighter, Harrison, a former Red Devil wrestler, has developed into a well-rounded fighter with his last three wins coming via stoppage or submission.
Harrison earned his championship belt on June 14, stopping Matias Vasquez in the final minute of the first round via strikes. “My counterstriking definitely made a difference,” Harrison said. “It forced him to try and grapple with me.”
“You can see the confidence in him when he steps in the cage,” Trimble said of Harrison, whose recent run of stoppages comes after three straight victories by decision to open his professional career. “After the third fight we sat down and I said to him that if you just go for the takedown and [get] wins by lay and pray, the UFC is never going to come calling. You’ve got to step up your game and start finishing people.”
Harrison, slated to make his first title defense on the Ring of Combat’s September card, has proven to be a quick learner, and it’s the passion, work ethic and ability to adapt in the eyes of Neglia, a former World Kickboxing Champion himself, that help shape successful fighters. “You have to have a passion for what you’re doing,” Neglia said. “If you don’t have that passion, you’re never going to succeed in the sport.
“This new group of fighters is so well-rounded, and he fits into that category.”
A wrestler by trade, there was a slight adjustment for Harrison, though his style on the mats helped make for a smoother transition to getting hit than most fighters have. “When I was a wrestler, I was more neutral and liked to be on my feet a lot more,” he said. “Being on my feet, I always led with my head so I was always taking headbutts and stuff.”
“You either have it or you don’t,” Trimble said of fighters being able to not only dish out punishment, but taking it as well. “Either it’s not going to bother you, or you get hit and you’re scared of it. It looks a lot easier than it is to a lot of people.”
Harrison’s camp, which starts with Trimble as the lead coach who also specializes in striking, includes Spiro Vlantis (strength and conditioning) and Joe Scarola of the Gracie Barra Bazilian Jiu-Jitsu School.
“My favorite part is the actual fight,” Harrison said. “I am a competition junkie, so there’s nothing I like more than hearing the cage click closed and seeing my opponent.”