This is number eighty-three in Jack’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature former world kickboxing champion and Ring of Combat president, Lou Neglia. Ring of Combat is a successful MMA promotion that holds events in Atlantic City, New Jersey. These events have included the early fights of future UFC champions Matt Serra, Frankie Edgar, and Chris Weidman. Many other well-known fighters have also been discovered as a result of their Ring of Combat fights, fights that were put together by the matchmaker, president, and man behind the promotion, Lou Neglia. 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?
Lou Neglia: I saw a demonstration in the late sixties in New York City. Aaron Banks, who recently passed away, was a premier promoter at the time. He had a Kung Fu vs. Karate demonstration. I was about sixteen years old and I thought I was a pretty tough street-fighter, coming from a very tough neighborhood in Brooklyn. When I saw this demonstration, I was amazed not only by their physical ability, but by the respect and the discipline that these guys had. It was just love at first sight. I had a passion for doing it. If you find something that you can do for free and do it as a profession, it’s like you’ve never worked a day in your life. That’s what happened with my association with the martial arts.
It kind of changed my life. I came from a rough area in Brooklyn. Out of six of my friends, three guys went to jail, one guy got shot, and two guys overdosed. I was at that crossroads in my life that getting into martial arts helped with. I think the philosophies, the building of character, the discipline, learning how to deal adversity, really changed my life. I’m really happy that the martial arts became part of my life and affected my life in a very positive way.
JB: You were a three-time world kickboxing champion. What was the highlight of your fighting career?
LN: The highlight of my career was winning the world championship at Madison Square Garden, beating the champ at the time, “Cyclone” Flood, by knocking him out with a roundhouse kick to the head. That experience and that feeling was a dream-come-true. Money can’t buy that experience. You can’t go into a store and buy those kinds of feelings. The richness of our lives is not the material world, but how we feel about ourselves. I felt very rich that day.
I fought at Madison Square Garden seven times. It’s one of the greatest arenas in the world. The electricity in that arena is second to none. When I fought at The Garden in 1980 and I won the world championship, it was a sold-out crowd of twenty thousand people. It was surreal.
JB: If you were in your prime, and competing as a mixed martial artist today, what weight would you fight at, what type of fighter do you think you would be, and what current well-known fighters might you compare yourself to?
LN: I always fought at middleweight as a kickboxer. So I’d be a lightweight in MMA. My strength was in kicking so I think I’d be like Edson Barboza. He’s an awesome kicker. I’d relate to him. A lot of fighters fight not to lose and other fighters fight to win, and what I mean by that is that when I fight someone, I want to fight him and take my attack to him. I’m not trying to counter him, not trying to do enough in the round to win. I think I was a very aggressive fighter. I like the Edson Barboza type of style. I think we would be similar in the kicking strength that I had. Edson Barboza has awesome kicks. You kick a guy a couple times to his leg, and I don’t care who he is, he’s remembering that kick. Then you can play chess with him. Fake him low, come high, and do bi-level attacks. With any attacker or any offensive fighter, if he’s an experienced fighter, everything is set up and everything is in combinations and everything is in bi-level attacks. That’s how I used to fight, and I believe that Edson Barboza follows that same way of fighting.
JB: As you began promoting fights, what were some of the keys to you eventually becoming successful with Ring of Combat?
LN: Ring of Combat has super-fights and championship fights but the main focus has always been, and will always be, to showcase new talent. There is no other organization that can boast that it has over eighty fighters that are not only in the UFC, but that are very successful in the UFC. The last show that was on pay-per-view for the UFC had Frankie Edgar, Oliveira fought, Barboza fought, and, obviously, Chris Weidman fought. Four of the Ring of Combat alumni fought on that show, and you can’t really look at a UFC event without seeing Ring of Combat alumni on there. But I think the key is matchmaking. As a former fighter, and as a former world champion, I think I’m probably the only promoter that has a fighting background. I match up fights that I’d like to see and that are evenly matched. Evenly matching fights is the key and matchmaking is, I think, one of my best traits.
At Ring of Combat, great fights or tough fights make tough fighters. I talk to guys and sometimes tell them to fight somewhere else and to call me back when they want a real fight. But everybody in the know knows that records are deceiving. The UFC has taken guys from my show that were 7-3, and other guys who were 10-0 from other shows were not taken by the UFC. The UFC and other people know that there are mismatches. It’s who you fought and how you fought that matters. I think that everybody that fights in Ring of Combat knows that they’re going to have a competitive fight and that’s how they become great fighters. I have some guys that talk so much about, “I don’t like fighting this type of guy. I don’t like fighting that type of guy.” Or they ask a thousand questions about the guy. I say, “What do you want to date the guy or you want to fight the guy? Come to Ring of Combat when you’re ready to fight a tough fight that’s going to escalate you, if you have the ability, to the UFC.”
JB: Ring of Combat has showcased the early fights of many of the top MMA promotions' current and former stars. How is it that your promotion has been so successful and attracting and discovering such top-notch talent?
LN: I think the reputation precedes Ring of Combat, and I have fighters from other countries that would fly in for nothing to fight in Ring of Combat. They know the success I’ve had and the attention that fighters get from fighting in my events. They get that attention because of the reputation of Ring of Combat. The UFC has been very complimentary to the alumni that I’ve produced there. You’re definitely going to get known and you’ll definitely test, develop, and display your skills. They get instant notoriety from fighting in Ring of Combat. The UFC watches the bouts because they know that they’re competitive bouts and that talented fighters come there. I attract fighters that might not be known, but they’re not untalented. That’s how they develop themselves through Ring of Combat.
Chris Weidman is a perfect example. Although he was a great talent in wrestling, nobody knew who he was in MMA. Every fight he had before the UFC was at my show. That’s how he got known, that’s how he developed, and that’s why he felt comfortable fighting in the UFC. He tested and developed his skills in Ring of Combat.
JB: Weidman, Edgar, Serra – those are some of your guys who went on to be champions. When you look back at some of the fighters that fought in Ring of Combat, who were a few that you're particularly proud of and were there any that really surprised you?
LN: Those are my three most famous Ring of Combat alumni, but Edson Barboza was another guy that fought for me and I noticed his championship ability right from the beginning. You can kind of tell it when they fight. It’s when a fighter gets hit, and Weidman was one example, and you see them grind their teeth and not get negative at all. It’s if you can still say, “Okay. He got me, but I’m going to get him back again,” with confidence in your offensive technique. Edson Barboza was one, Josh Koscheck was another guy, and obviously the three champions that we just mentioned. I have a lot of up-and-coming fighters that I think will be Ring of Combat alumni that will go on to the UFC also.
But the thing that I was most proud about and surprised about was Weidman. I knew he was going to be a champion, and I mentioned it in Black Belt Magazine and other interviews prior to him fighting for the championship. I was surprised that he did it so quickly. He had an injury. A lot of people don’t realize that from July of 2012 until July of 2013, he didn’t fight. So he had a whole year layoff and yet he got in there against the best pound-for-pound fighter. He walked in there with the confidence like he was fighting a regular fight. There are certain traits that a champion has and one of them is the mental relaxation when you’re fighting. That only comes from your confidence in your training and your ability. But he’s so relaxed, and he never gets rattled, and he sticks to his fight plan and he believes in his fight plan. That is one of his great qualities that will enable him to be champion for a long period of time.
JB: Your most recent event was Ring of Combat 45. It was held back on June 14th and it featured Ring of Combat, UFC, and Bellator veteran, Phillipe Nover, winning the lightweight championship. How was that event from your perspective, and what do you make of the arc of Nover's career?
LN: Nover has had a lot of curves in his career and mainly they’re because of injuries that he has had. He is a very, very talented fighter, but unfortunately he had a lot of curves in his career due to a lot of injuries. I think he’ll be back in the UFC. He was supposed to fight in this show coming up, my September 20th show, and again, because of injuries, had to pull out of it. So he was headlined as one of the co-main events, one of the three championship fights, but he had to pull out just a couple weeks ago. So he’s not fighting in this show, but I think the curves in his career were based upon unfortunate injuries that he’s had.
It was a great, great show. One guy that I definitely feel will be a successful Ring of Combat alumni is Andre Harrison. He just won the Ring of Combat featherweight championship and there hasn’t been a Ring of Combat Champion that ever didn’t go to the UFC. He is now 6-0 and has a very tough fight coming up. These tough fights will develop great skills for him.
In Ring of Combat, I had Chris Weidman fighting Uriah Hall at one time when both of them were undefeated. Both of them took a risky fight and both of them got to the UFC as a result of that. Weidman went on to win the UFC middleweight championship and Uriah Hall went into the house on The Ultimate Fighter. I tell them that one loss will not define you as a fighter and risky fights will develop your skills. I think that because of that fight with Uriah Hall, Weidman developed the confidence that he needed for the stand-up ability of Silva. Even though Silva is better than Uriah Hall, Uriah Hall has an awesome offensive stand-up attack.
JB: Your next event is Ring of Combat 46. It will take place on September 20th, at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino, in Atlantic City, NJ. What can fans look forward to at the event and what are some matchups that involve fighters whose names we know or are going to want to remember?
LN: There’s Andre Harrison, who is defending his championship, and he’s fighting a very tough fighter from Russia, Levan Makashvili. That’s going to be an outstanding fight. There’s Adam Townsend who is on the card also and who I believe will be a UFC vet. Brendan Barrett is coming off an exciting first-round knockout and fighting a tough veteran, Miodrag Petkovich. Frankie Perez is undefeated and also an exciting fighter who I believe will be in the UFC with a couple more fights. There’s also Chris Wade and a number of up-and coming fighters. Again, I take much pride in finding the unknown but not untalented fighters. There are quite a few of them on this particular card.
JB: What do you think about how the overall sport of MMA is doing right now, and what issues do you think need to be addressed?
LN: I think the MMA sport itself is making great strides. It’s the most combative sport. It draws record-breaking crowds in the largest arenas in the world. The UFC is doing a great job as the premier show. I’m very happy with my contribution to the MMA world being developing fighters for the UFC. I just think that the champions themselves need more notoriety. I think the champions need to be promoted more. They’re the best athletes in the world. If you’re a fight fan and you want to see fighting, there’s nothing better than seeing MMA. If you’re a wrestling fan, boxing fan, Judo fan, Jiu-jitsu fan, it shows it all. Back in the heyday of boxing, everybody knew who the world champion was, and champions were promoted in big ways. But they were on regular TV. My hope is that there will be more regular TV coverage, and occasional pay-per-views, but not as many pay-per-views. The fans will get to identify with the fighters more on regular TV than they do on pay-per-view. I think that’s going to be an important aspect that could help give the fighters the notoriety that they deserve. The people walking the streets will be able to identify who the champion is, like back in the heyday of boxing. Of course, FOX is going to help that quite a bit, but I think even more TV coverage will help that a great deal.
I also think that there should be some sort of pre-weigh-in. A lot of fighters drop too much weight before their matches and it’s not healthy for them. I think that would be something that would have to be implemented. Maybe a week before the actual weigh-in, fighters are checked and have to be within a certain range and not dropping thirty pounds in a week as I know many fighters have done. It’s definitely not healthy for you.
My other issue to be addressed, of course, is that I’m waiting anxiously for MMA to be allowed in my home state of New York. It’s the greatest sport and it should be in the greatest arena in the world, Madison Square Garden. I’m definitely going to try to campaign as I have been with signatures to the Governor and all that to try to get the legalization of MMA in New York.
JB: Last question, Lou, and thanks for taking the time to do this. You have accomplished quite a bit in combat sports. What remains for you in terms of plans and goals?
LN: One I’ve mentioned, and that’s getting MMA allowed in New York. I’d also like to continue to have Ring of Combat be the proving ground. I’m very happy with my place in MMA history as far as developing eighty fighters for the UFC. I’m also working on a TV deal now to get more exposure for the “American Idol” of MMA. That’s what I think Ring of Combat is with our unknown but not untalented fighters. That’s something that I will continue to strive for. I’m working on a couple deals with TV to get more exposure for Ring of Combat so that the fighters can get the attention that they deserve.
I think that if anyone thinks that they have what it takes to be an MMA star, Ring of Combat is looking for you. You can email me at Lou@LouNeglia.com to become part of the great Ring of Combat alumni. I get as much satisfaction finding fighters as developing fighters and getting them where they want to go. I’ve ripped up contracts when fighters got to the UFC. No other promoter would have done that, or very few would have done that. I was happy that they got to the place where they wanted to go. I have a different relationship with them because as a fighter I relate to their sacrifice. Everybody wants to be successful, but most people don’t make the sacrifice. There are so many great fighters out there that are making tremendous sacrifices with their family, and their time in general, to be successful with MMA.
I think the obstacles that these fighters find in the cage help them deal with the obstacles that they find in life. I think that’s a great tribute to just martial arts in general. It builds up your character. It humbles you. It develops so many great qualities for life. Besides becoming a great fighter, you become a great citizen.
Thank you so much for reading and please follow Lou Neglia 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, Ray Longo, Dennis Hallman, and dozens more.
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