Beyond the Cage with Lou Neglia of Ring of Combat
By: William Holmes
Ring of Combat is one of the most successful and longest running promotions in the United States, regularly putting on shows since 2002. Promoter Lou Neglia has been around combat sports long enough to know the type of work it takes to run a successful promotion, especially considering that he was a former 3x world kickboxing champion, with a career record of 34-2. MMAonline was able to interview Lou, as he discussed a wide variety of topics such as his own fighting history, the UFC, Bellator, famous Ring of Combat alumni, upcoming plans, the history of the regulation of MMA, what makes a successful promotion, what makes a successful champion,boxing, and a wide variety of other topics.
MMAOnline: What made you first get into promoting mixed martial arts?
Lou Neglia: I was a former world kickboxing champion, and when I retired from fighting, I opened up a school, which turned out to be the largest kickboxing school on the east coast. I missed fighting; it was like being at a good party and never knowing when to leave. Rocky Graziano gave me good advice, and said what’s another win to add on your record.
When I retired I felt like I was in good shape, and it made sense to retire. I used my name for my school, and started promoting kickboxing first. I’m about to have my 102nd kickboxing show in New York City. I was teaching mixed martial arts before it became trendy. In the 1970’s I studied jiu jitsu, kickboxing, and karate. I feel students should be well rounded.
I saw my first UFC event, when it was no holds barred, and started promoting at that point. I thought this is great and started intermixing them in my kickboxing shows. I had my first MMA bout on a kickboxing show. Six months before the modified rules were adopted by the UFC, I approached Larry Hazzard about promoting MMA in New Jersey. He felt it was like cockfighting, and agreed to modify the rules so that it will be safe. The modified rules were weight divisions, no strikes to the groin, and no hair pulling. First fight included Steve Anshelewitz and Mark Dapolito. After watching it Larry Hazzard agreed that the sport was safe, and from that point on the sport became regulated. If it was never regulated it would never have been the sport it is now. Nick Lembo is also very instrumental in the growth of MMA.
Obviously the sport has evolved greatly since then, you have great stand up guys and great ground guys who are the top in the sport. You regularly see stand up guys submitting ground guys and ground guys submitting stand up guys.
MMAonline: How long has Ring of Combat been around?
Lou Neglia: I had a regulated bout at a kickboxing show before the UFC had a regulated fight. I was the first person to have a regulated bout in MMA before the UFC. I started intermixing shows, and I have my 36th MMA only show coming up in the Tropicana in Atlantic City. Matt Serra fought for me before, I have fighters everywhere. My main focus is to showcase new talent. I have had 61 fighters who have been unknown in the sport move onto bigger shows.
MMAonline: What are you most proud of with Ring of Combat?
Lou Neglia: I’m most proud of the legacy of Ring of Combat among the MMA promotions. I have fighters from other countries, and I’m proud of finding new talent and the breeding of new talent. I can’t wait to see some of the fights on my cards. Drago (Pete Sell) has a tough fight on his hand at the next Ring of Combat card. People enjoy Ring of Combat, and there are no fixed fights, no mismatches, and no feeding of guys to other fighters. It is not fair to the sport of to the fans to do that, and I am very proud of that. One win or one loss does not define you as a fighter. The most important thing of you is to have tough fights. I’ve had fighters that were 7-3 that go to the UFC and do better than a guy that is 10-0 because the 7-3 guy has been against tougher fighters.
MMaonline: Who are some of the more famous fighters that fought for Ring of Combat?
Lou Neglia: Matt Serra, Kurt Pelligrino, the Miller brothers, Dante Rivera, Drago, Baroni, Frankie Edgar….you can’t watch a UFC show without watching a guy from Ring of Combat. Luke Commo, who fought Josh Koscheck on a Ring of Combat card on Koscheck’s second fight. Koscheck won in a close fight. Phillipe Nover, Nick Cotone…every UFC I watch that is 3 or 4 guys who have fought on my show on there.
MMAonline: What do you think has made Ring of Combat successful?
Lou Neglia: The success we have is because of great matchmaking, when people come to see Ring of Combat they know they are going to see competitive bouts. I have fighters calling me from Russia, Canada, and France…within the industry it is almost known as a segue to the UFC. Currently our fights are on gofightlive.tv. Good competition and a good reputation have helped build up Ring of Combat. Even guys from California have been calling me about fighting in Ring of Combat.
A few organizations previously approached me about merging Ring of Combat with them. But they were losing money, and I wanted to remain separate. Organizations wanted to knock off the UFC, but why knock off the UFC? They are the world series of MMA and they deserved that. These organizations that tried to knock off the UFC lost money and they became self-destructive
The UFC should be where it is at, and they earned that right. I’m proud that my show has fed people to the UFC. It’s one of the longest running shows since the UFC. A promotion should do about 10-20 shows before they even think about taking over the sport.
MMAOnline: Where do you see the sport of Mixed Martial Arts going in the future?
Lou Neglia: I think it’s getting bigger and bigger, it is amazing how a sport blew up…even during the dark ages fans fell in love with the sport, even when it was underground people still followed it. People go to hockey games for fights, MMA will continue to grow.
It will be difficult, kickboxing never made it to mainstream. Kickboxing was too close to boxing it’s why die hard boxing fans never switched over. MMA is a totally different sport, almost like coming up with a new sport. So difficult to make a new sport in our generation, but it happened in MMA, and reason being it shows all aspects of fighting. You need to be well rounded today, you can’t separate the sports but combine them together, it shows what martial arts is about, all aspects of fighting.
I have seen grapplers who are punched in the face one time, and their whole game plan goes out the window. Very few grappling guys want to do boxing or muy thai, no matter who you are in MMA you are going to get hit. Nowadays to be a good MMA guy, you have to have good stand up skills
Brock Lesnar has to do something different, he can’t just grapple. A lot of grappling only guys aren’t doing MMA because they know they handle the complete training MMA requires. Some guys nowadays are so picky; they only want to fight people that they believe they can win against and no competition. .
MMAonline: What are your future plans for Ring of Combat?
Lou Neglia: I’m currently working on a tournament aspect, and I do about five shows a year at the Tropicana. I started off with a tournament, called the Beast of the East. I’m looking to do another tournament and looking for someone to back up the purses, about $250,000 in each division. We’ve worked with HDNet, and currently working with a TV network to follow some of my fighters, something like a reality concept. It’s amazing some of the jobs that these guys have. Until you reach the top level you have to have a regular job to exist along the way. That’s a part of fighting that a lot of people don’t know about, to be a family person, to work, and to also train. Very few people can do this. Hardest part of it when I was training was to keep a family together, a job together, and the type of concentration it takes to be a champion. The hardest part of fighting is the distractions along with training. I used to think when I wasn’t training that my opponent was training. Injuries happen, especially in MMA.
MMAonline: What fighters from your promotion are you most excited about?
Lou Neglia: The last two were Chris Weidman and Edson Barboza. As soon as I saw them I knew they were going to be UFC bound. Chris Weidman is a Ring of Combat champion, 6-0, and he just entered the UFC. He is so relaxed that you feel this comfortable feeling about him that is such an important part of being a champion. Mental relaxation is such an important part of being a fighter. Certain qualities you see in a fighter right away that champions have, I saw them in Weidman and Barboza right away.
Ryan Laflare is the current Ring of Combat welterweight champion. He is fighting on our September show and I think he is going to be the next Ring of Combat alumni that goes to the UFC.
When a fighter wants to go to the UFC I let them. When fighters tell me they want to go try out, I tell them they are ok to go without affecting the deal we have with them. It just happened with the Ultimate Fighter reality show, and I inform my fighters that it will not affect their contract.
MMAonline: Do you think there is room for more than one major promotion in the US?
Lou Neglia: I think if they had another promotion that was around, and if they became big on themselves they could do it, such as Strikeforce. I just don’t think they should have the concept of trying to beat the UFC, they become self-destructive as a result. Ring of Combat is getting bigger and growing.
Dante Rivera had a three fight contract with me, but when the UFC called I let him go. If any fighter talks with you today, if they are being honest they will tell you they want to be in the UFC. Even Eddie Alvarez will probably tell you that. Alvarez is a great and talented fighter, but is probably one of the only fighters that is keeping Bellator together.
MMAonline: Why do you think so many other promotions have failed?
Lou Neglia: A bad business plan…one of the things I do is put local fighters on my card, I think it is important to get the local crowd involved in a promotion. Some people have spent money foolishly, definitely a big mistake. Some of the organizations overspent and didn’t put money back into the promotion. I’ve had people that wanted to give me money, but knew that they would lose money, you know before a show if you are going to lose money in the investment. A TV deal is important because it helps give the sponsors you need to payback investors. Some people took money while knowing they were going to lose it. They would escalate their own salary before they eventually lost money. One organization got two hedge funds involved and raised 30 million twice and lost money. I do a barter deal with HDNet, and they pay for the production.
To be rich in life is not about how much you have but how you feel about yourself. I have a great relationship with the fighters and we have a mutual respect for each other. At the end of the day its how you feel about yourself, if you do good you feel good, if you do bad, you feel bad. Many promoters have a bad reputation for scamming fighters and not looking out for them.
MMAonline: Do you think MMA will ever be regulated in New York?
Lou Neglia: It has to be regulated in New York, the ignorance of politicians has to change. They still believe it’s cockfighting. There is more to it than that. Ring of Combat brings 3,000 people to Atlantic City for an event; New Jersey gets the benefit of hotels, tourists, and taxes. New York could get added revenue like hotels, restaurants, cabs…etc. Promoters such as myself will try to do four shows a year in New York.
I believe the unions are against MMA being regulated in New York because of the UFC not using union workers at Station Casino’s hotels. I believe the unions are really affecting the politicians in New York. I do believe it will happen by the end of this year, and it should’ve happened in April. The Senate in New York has been busy, because of other issues such as the economy and the budget. I’ve already fought in Madison Square Garden eight times, and I already met with them in anticipation that it’s coming in April. The greatest sport in the world should be in the greatest arena in the world.
MMAonline: How do you recruit fighters to fight for your events?
Lou Neglia: People contact me, often through the internet. It is amazing how people from other countries contact me. I post upcoming shows on mma.tv, and people will contact me. I roll over fighters from previous shows. The next card was supposed to be Drago vs. Kris McCray, but it became a problem because of affiliations, since Matt Serra trains Drago and Ricardo Almedia trains Kris McCray. Sometimes I look for certain fighters, but many times people just contact me. I have a list of hundreds fighters for upcoming shows.
I have events coming up on June 15th, September 9th, and in November. Ryan LaFlare is returning and I am excited about that, he hasn’t fought in about eight months. LaFlare will fight the winner of Drago and Harshbarger, which will be a great, great, fight.
MMAonline: What is your opinion of boxing?
Lou Neglia: I do not know why all other fighting arts are against MMA. MMA has helped all other fighting arts. Look at wrestling for example, all their schools are flourishing because of MMA. I don’t know why they can’t co-exist, MMA is better for them. All of the fighting arts can co-exist, and should stop and knock it off and enjoy the benefits of each other and share the sport. MMA is not going away, people love fighting will always love MMA because it will always show all aspects of fighting. It is unfair to compare boxers to MMA fighters, and can’t really say boxing is better than MMA. Boxing is a part of MMA, but it’s like comparing tennis to baseball. Hard to compare the two.
MMAonline: Anything else you want to say?
Lou Neglia: Nick Lembo and Larry Hazzard have been very instrumental in the spread of MMA. If we did not have the unified rules, MMA would never have grown to the level it has grown in a global way. You’d still have fans watching it, but not the way it is watched today. The unified rules that New Jersey set up, everybody thought they are great rules and we all use them. Nick Lembo is a great advocate of the sport.
The next Ring of Combat event is being held at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City on June 17th, 2011 at 8:00pm featuring former UFC fighter Pete Sell against Elijah Harshbarger. Information about the fight card can be found at Ring of Combat’s website, www.ringofcombat.com. Tickets can be purchased at the Ring of Combat website, or through Ticketmaster at http://www.ticketmaster.com/event/02004663F4297FC7?artistid=1010779&majorcatid=10004&minorcatid=33