This is number seventy-four in Jack’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature longtime martial artist, and trainer for UFC champs Matt Serra and Chris Weidman, Ray Longo. Jack was fortunate enough to get a Sunday night phone conversation with the affable Long Islander. They discussed Longo’s martial arts roots, his success with Serra and Weidman, and many other things, including Luke Cummo! Please enjoy the conversation below.
Jack Brown: What was your first experience with martial arts/combat sports, and how did it become more than just a hobby for you?
Ray Longo: As a younger kid I always hung around with older kids in the neighborhood. This is unusual because we're back in the 70's, Jack, so bear with me. They would always tell me that there was this guy that they knew that was older than me that could flip people. It was always mesmerizing to me or intriguing or whatever you want to say. They'd say that he was only 5' 6", but he's kicking the crap out of everybody, that type of deal. And then a couple years after that, I ended up running into the guy and he was teaching up at the high school. I ended up taking lessons with the guy. He actually lived up to everything that was said about him. That was Chinese Gung-Fu, Wu-Su, and he was also a black belt under Miyazaki, who was a Shotokai teacher, on Long Island, in New York. That was in the 60's that he got his black belt. You got to remember that there was no social media. There was nothing. So you were down to just the people in your neighborhood. There were no TV shows, no videos, about it. I was just intrigued by it. I thought the guy was great. He was my first teacher. He had a big, big influence on me.
JB: I've seen that you have a background in a lot of different martial arts. What is the primary basis of your training?
RL: My primary basis is Jeet Kune Do. Probably in like the early 80's there was a guy that used to bring in Paul Vunak and he would do seminars like four times a year. I found that fascinating with the Kali, the trapping, and the kickboxing. We were at a point where there weren't even any Thai boxing schools. At the Inosanto Academy, at the time, anybody who was anybody would pass through there. So they would always have Thais out there coming in from Thailand because the weather was always nicer out there than here. They were exposed to Savate and Thai boxing and Kali and then guys would come out and do a seminar. I was close with him. He actually came to my wedding way back when. You know, Dan Inosanto would come out. Eventually, there was a guy, Tom Burrell, who had lived out in California, that moved back to Long Island and I ended up training with him too. To this day, I still maintain some friendships, but I think I was kind of a rebel with that so I never followed anything too directly. But the Jeet Kune Do definitely is my foundation.
JB: How did you eventually transition from learning martial arts to a career training fighters like Matt Serra and others?
RL: I was just a martial artist. I didn't compete. By the time I met Matt, I had a world champion kickboxer. His name was Mike Ryan. At the time, I had a lot of local guys competing in Thai boxing and stuff. At that point in time, I think I was already 37, I started working with Lou Neglia around the same time, but I knew him before Matt. I think my first show co-promoting with him was at Holy Cross High School in Queens in 1993 or 1994.
I had a school where I was training a couple kickboxing champions at the time. Paul Vunak had called me and said that, "There is a guy coming from California. His name is Craig Kukuk." This was when we were first hearing about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He said, "Why don't you get with the guy? A year from today, you'll be way ahead of everybody." So I called Kukuk, and he had a school in Manhattan, and I went down there. He had like two people. So I used to bring guys from my school just to let him make some money. At the time he would say, "Can you make money teaching martial arts? This is crazy, blah, blah, blah."
So then I was sparring in Manhattan one day and I dislocated my shoulder so I was in a sling for two months. I was rehabbing for another three after that. In that time, the first UFC hit. By the time I went back to Manhattan, it went from five people in one class to thirty people in one class and thirty in the class right behind it. It just kind of exploded, and I had seen Matt down there. Oddly enough, I don't know if he told you this story, but oddly enough he had, three months before that - and it shows you what a good guy he was even back then - he had to be like 17 or 18, and he brings a buddy of his to my school. The guy was kind of having a drug problem and he thought training would be good for him and he was really trying to help the guy out. I had met Matt, and we talked, and we kind of built a rapport from him coming into the school. So three or four months later I see him at Kukuk's or Renzo's. They were partners at the time. I think I had just bought a house by Matt too so I'd ask him if he needed a ride or whatever. That's really how the friendship started.
And at that time Matt was just lighting people up in there. He was a prodigy. He was unbelievable. You can ask anybody from back in those days. He had a knack. He and his brother, Nick, had a knack for the Jiu-Jitsu that was just beyond belief. They were really, really good. That's how I met him really. I met him originally through my school. You'd have to check with him on this, but it was originally through my school and then I met him when I went back to Manhattan. I saw him and we started driving in together. We were busting everybody’s balls right from the get-go together. It was like a match made in heaven.
I was already promoting fights and I already had a couple kickboxing champs. I think back then that I was the only guy with a school with a boxing ring in it. I was always into the boxing and the kickboxing and I had guys in the Golden Gloves and stuff like that. Back then, when Royce was winning, nobody wanted to do boxing or Thai boxing or wrestling. It was just Jiu-Jitsu. But I think that I had the insight to see that eventually you were going to need everything. Matt was willing to start doing the Thai boxing with me. By doing Thai boxing, there is no better sport to get in shape with than kicking those Thai pads. The ways that the Thais train, I think that ended up actually helping his Jiu-Jitsu. His cardio was through the roof back then when he was a kid. That's how it all started. I think I tricked him. I said, "Do the Thai boxing for your conditioning. I think it will help you with your Jiu-Jitsu." In the process he was learning how to punch and kick, which was awesome.
JB: There's another student of yours, who became well-known during the second season of The Ultimate Fighter. What can you tell me about Luke Cummo?
RL: Luke was more of a loner when he came into the school. He really was just very quiet and shy. He probably was in the school a year before I ever even looked at him or said "Hello" to him. One day he jumped in to spar with a guy that was pretty good and he ended up holding his own. I remember going, "Do you have any interest in fighting?" And he said, "Yeah." So we just took it from there. We gave him the attention. He ended up being a really awesome fighter, crazy as a shithouse rat, but a really good fighter. He's bonkers. He's completely bonkers. Just go to his page and look at some of the stuff he's doing. He really was a great fighter though. Go back and look at his highlights reels. At least from a stand-up standpoint, I'm talking, he was phenomenal. I loved the kid. He was really, really good.
JB: So you later got to have your own TUF experience when you coached with Matt on TUF 6. What was that experience like for you?
RL: Put it this way, I was probably 49 or 50, with two kids, married probably about 15 years. So to go away and to live with Pete "Drago" Sell for two months in Vegas wasn't bad. It might have been a dream-come-true for everybody. Fortunately my wife's a psychologist with the board of ed. so she's got the summers off, and she stayed with the kids and then I flew her out there for a while. It was a great experience. I felt like I was a kid again. It was fun, and you know any time that you are with Matt and Drago, we got a great relationship and they're always a lot of fun. I can't tell you the amount of laughs we had out there.
I thought we did phenomenal on that season also. Nobody mentions this, but after Scarola lost, we ran off six victories in a row. What made it interesting was the pick kept going back and forth whether you won or lost. So we were even winning when Hughes was picking. But then when it got down to the semifinals, they wouldn't let us pick who we wanted to fight against each other. So we kind of got screwed that way. We ran off six in a row and I thought that was a phenomenal job that we did. I think it gave credit to the way that Matt and I coach. We really wanted to put Danzig against Tommy Speer, and Hughes was going to walk off the show if we did that. Spike didn't like that. The producer wanted the best guys in at the end so we had to start maneuvering everybody. I think the way it was working out we thought that it would be Sotiropoulos against Danzig in the finals, but then Sotiropoulos ended up losing to Tommy Speer and that sent that whole theory down the toilet.
JB: I'm sure you could talk for hours about when Matt won the belt, but when you think back to that night, what are the memories that have really lasted for you?
RL: It was just a bunch of kids from Long Island flying down to Houston. I kind of knew he was going to win that fight. I can't explain it. Everybody was really relaxed and we were already so tight as friends and everything. But what sticks out in my mind was that Matt was the biggest underdog in UFC history and he shocked the world. He said he was going to do it. I say this about Chris too. These are the guys who talk the talk and walk the walk. Those are my type of guys. I don't want to hear about how good you are. Show me how good you are. Everybody wants to tell you how good they are. Holy crap, if I tell you. Every day I got to listen to people. But these are people that are genuinely, legitimately, tough guys that can back up whatever they say. They love to fight and that's one of the things that sticks out in my mind. He was an underdog, and we never for once thought we were underdogs.
As we were going out, and I've told this story before, but as we were going out, Diego Sanchez's Mariachi band started playing the theme to "Mission Impossible" as we were walking by. How screwed up is that? I swear to God, the Mariachi band was playing the song. Who would even think these guys knew what the hell was going on? But that's how bad it was. The Mariachi band was playing the theme song to "Mission Impossible!" And I'm not a hundred percent sure about this, but I think they actually got fined by the athletic commission. Right before they were announcing his name, how nice was that? Thanks, guys! Thanks for the vote of confidence! That's what sticks in my head.
And the other memory about that night, that's a funny story, was that Luke had knocked out Josh Haynes in the first round and then Matt knocked out St-Pierre. They got into an argument after the fights because Luke was saying that he should win the "knockout of the night" because Georges was actually tapping. They started having an argument and it was just comical, man. I think that those are some stories that people get a kick out of. Luke was like, "You shouldn't get it. He was tapping!" If you don't look at the tape, you don't really know what's going on. McCarthy pulled him off, whatever. Luke was like, "That's bullshit! I need the money, and you're taking the knockout bonus when the guy was tapping."
The Mariachi band and that conversation stick out along with the memory of my friend having one of the biggest upset victories in UFC history. What made it special to me was that he, for the first time, started believing in how much power he has. This kid's like a tank. Once he started believing in himself, he bombed a lot of people with that overhand.
JB: You are a couple weeks removed from Chris's championship win, and again, it was another upset. What stands out for you about this win?
RL: I love this kid. He just worked hard. He talks the talk. He walks the walk. He said, "Give me a full training camp, and I promise..." And he backed up everything he said. Those are the kind of guys that I like, guys that back it up and put the time in. This kid followed his passion. How many guys in life can really do what they're passionate about and be the best at what they do? That's what he proved to me, man. He wasn't going to take "No" for an answer. He made a couple statements that everybody chuckled at and thought were nonsense. Then he went in there, and phrase it whatever way you want, but he stuffed it up everybody's ass. That's the type of a guy I like. I just like guys that aren't bullshit artists. We're in such a narcissistic society where everybody's entitled to say they want, but these are the guys that back it up. They're grassroots guys form the neighborhood that went in there and really fulfilled a dream.
I was part of these guys' dreams. I hope I facilitated it for these guys. As the senior guy in the group, it is a great feeling for me. I think all three of us are the best at what we do, even if it's for two seconds or ten minutes or whatever. In this field, it doesn't get better than that. I feel like that I accomplished something that's never going to be duplicated. Nobody's going to have two guys that beat pound-for-pound the best guys around. It's going to take a long time for another Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva to come along. Somebody will have to beat Weidman. I'm hoping that he becomes the guy. That alone, two neighborhood kids that by chance happened to come into the gym, it's crazy stuff, crazy. I love it. I think that's my comfort zone, helping people to go to the top of this field and getting the greatest accolades that they can. It's just phenomenal for me.
JB: I'm sure you're already planning for the logistics of the rematch between Anderson and Chris, but how are you feeling about the fight and how much are you looking forward to it?
RL: I'm thinking about it a lot, and I'm looking forward to it even more. I think Chris really wants to prove wrong all this "fixing" and other nonsense that people are talking about. He's going to put an exclamation mark on who he is, and I think the rematch is going to end worse than the first fight.
JB: You have a very certain style. You work mostly with local guys, you develop a close relationship, and I'm sure that you have very specific ways that you train guys. Who are some of your peers, some other trainers or coaches, that you admire?
RL: I really like a guy like Mark DellaGrotte. I think he's a young guy, but he's way wise beyond his years. He reminds me of an old-school guy like Javier Mendez a lot. And I've learned a lot from my partner, Lou Neglia. He's been around forever. He was a kickboxing champ. I've learned a lot about the psychology of fighting, and I think with me I'm just a conduit of all the knowledge I've accumulated over the years. I've been lucky enough that it's worked out really good for me.
JB: You have a lot of other guys that you work with. In the UFC you have Al Iaquinta and you had Costas Philippou for a while. Costas has gotten lost a little bit in the middleweight picture and he recently went elsewhere to train. What do you think of Costas as a fighter?
RL: Costas is a really good fighter. The guy was 5-0 and ranked number five in the UFC, and for whatever reason, he decided that he needed a change of scenery. I wasn't going to argue with him. I feel like I did my job. Costas is a good fighter. I think he has to believe in himself. Sometimes he gets a little negative, but if he believes in himself, he definitely has the attributes to be a really great fighter.
JB: And how about Al Iaquinta and some of your other guys? Who is next from the Serra-Longo team to really make a splash in MMA?
RL: As we’re talking right now, Al’s down at the gym. He's chomping at the bit. I got to bring in a couple more guys for him to spar. He's one of my favorite guys. You got to love this kid. To know him is to love him. He's fighting Ryan Couture on August 31st. I think you're going to see this kid make a big splash on August 31st against Ryan Couture. I think it's a great matchup. I'm really amped up for this fight. I like this kid. He's got a great family. He's close to his dad. He's just a good kid. He has been out for a while so I just want to see him get in there and show everybody what he's made of. He's very skillful. He's the Arturo Gatti of MMA. He's phenomenal. I'm really hoping he has a great night on August 31st. He's who I'm working with now and there are a couple other guys that are coming up. I don't even want to get into it because I'll end up forgetting somebody and they'll kill me. So I'll keep it with Al, but there are a couple other lightweight guys that I think will be in the UFC within the next year.
JB: I was disappointed that we didn't get to see Al fight Joe Proctor, from up here at Lauzon's, back at UFC 159. That would have been a great fight.
RL: That would have been a great fight. And who is that guy, Steve Maze, the stand-up guy at Lauzon’s? That camp, I believe, is similar to us. They're great guys and they got a great synergy over there. I think Al and Proctor would have put on a great fight. I think Proctor hurt his rib, and then Al took the opportunity to get a break because he had a banged-up knee. I think Al would have fought banged-up because he had worked with Proctor on the show and didn't feel that there were going to be any surprises. But those guys, it's always a pleasure to see those guys. I like the East coast guys. Costas fought Boetsch the night that Miller fought Lauzon. We were joking with Steve and their guys about the bonuses. I like guys that you can talk to and there are no pretenses, no bullshit. They shoot from the hip. You know what they think. They're not looking for anything. I think Lauzon and Maze and those guys are great. I enjoy seeing them every time we're together at a fight.
JB: I think you’re a hundred percent right in your assessment of their team. Joe and his brother, Dany, still train with Steve Maze and Joe Pomfret and others. But it’s still the guys who were in Joe’s corner when he knocked out Jens Pulver.
RL: I love that. All these guys that jump around drive me insane. Everybody's looking for the magic bullet. They don't look at themselves. Matt and Chris, these are guys that love to fight and are talented. But they also surround themselves with grounded people. That's why their successful. Their families are there. Their mothers and fathers are good. There are certain ingredients to rounding out a person. The guys that jump around never get to have that bond with anybody. I don't even know what that would be like. Sometimes I get guys that ask, "Can you work my corner?" I'm like, "No. I don't even know you. I'm not just going to start screaming like I got a magic pill for you." It's impossible. The relationships are important because not only is the guy fighting for himself, but he's fighting for everybody. It gives him another cause to step it up when he hits a little adversity.
It's worked for me. I've been really successful with it. I'm never going to have a camp of fifty guys fighting, but I never wanted that. I want a couple of guys that not only are successful when they're fighting, but after they're done too. Look at Matt, a great family guy, two successful schools. He's the "American Dream." I hope I had 2% to do with that. I'd feel great. But I've got a great family too. I think another thing is that the trainer has to be secure with himself and be happy so that he can be happy for other people.
JB: Last question, Ray, and thanks so much for doing this. It has really been a pleasure to speak with you. You’ve accomplished a lot, and you have the rematch and some other fights lined up. What other plans or goals do you have for the future?
RL: Our school is going to expand to 10,000 square feet. Chris and I are going to be partners with a school we're working on right now. We're going for all the permits. He's a young guy with a family and I'm probably on the back nine at this point. So I'm really just happy to help him. We're going to do that school, and who knows? Maybe if I'm lucky, I'll get number three. Right now we're concentrating on Weidman's rematch and he's going to have years ahead of him where I think he's going to be successful in and out of the ring.
Thank you so much for reading and please follow @raylongomma and Jack Brown on Twitter.
Visit JackJohnBrownMMA on Facebook for links to all of Jack’s past interviews. Previous interviews include: Dan Hardy, Rose Namajunas, Joe Lauzon, War Machine, Tom Lawlor, Bas Rutten, Chris Leben, Phil Baroni, Julie Kedzie, Michael Bisping, Duane Ludwig, Sara McMann, Matt Lindland, Duke Roufus, Pat Miletich, Jens Pulver, Dan Severn, Nate Quarry, Ken Shamrock, Matt Serra, Jeremy Horn, and dozens more.
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