New York native and No. 14-ranked Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweight Ryan LaFlare will venture out to Brazil for the second time in his Octagon career to take on the No. 7-ranked Demian Maia at UFC Fight Night 62. It also marks the fourth time he's traveling out of the country to step into the cage.
LaFlare is the owner of an unblemished 4-0 UFC resume, most recently defeating John Howard at UFC Fight Night 39 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Then, a second ACL tear forced the 31-year-old out of a scheduled meeting with Icelandic grappler Gunnar Nelson in Dublin, Ireland.
Layoffs, though, are unfortunately something that LaFlare is all too familiar with. The Blackzilian stud recently talked with MMAmania.com regarding the announcement of his main event, being tentative in his return, life at the Blackzilian camp, Maia's jiu-jitsu, and more.
Being that you just came back from Brazil, were you able to celebrate Valentines day?
RL: I try to celebrate it as much as possible. My wife is really supportive. I have two kids and there wasn't much that we could do. She made a nice dinner for us and that's pretty much it. It's tough because I'm down in Florida and I don't really have any family to watch the kids.
Can you talk about what it's like to main event in a location like Brazil, where you've fought before?
RL: Yeah, it's definitely surreal. It kind of caught me off guard because I didn't expect to be the main event. Someone told me that [Raphael] Assuncao got hurt and said 'hey, you might be main event' and I was like 'nah, they'll probably get somebody else' and then I get a call the next day. I feel like this is where I belong. I haven't lost in the UFC and outside of it. This is my time and my time to shine.
RL: That might've been taken a little out of context. I fight the way I fight, you know? I don't fight to compensate for the person I'm fighting against, so why would I change up my game to fight somebody? That's how I win my fights. I take people down, I wear them down and I'm high-intensity. Demian's no different than anybody else. I'm very comfortable on the ground. I train with some of the best guys in the world. My training partner "Durinho" Gilbert Burns is fighting on the same card. We train every day. If the submission is there, I'm going to take it. It's not brain surgery.
Your UFC fighter profile says that you're a purple belt, is that still true?
RL: Yeah, I'm a purple belt but I stopped putting the Gi on a couple years ago when I started training MMA. I've been training jiu-jitsu for about 14 years or something. The belt system doesn't matter.
Do you feel like the belt system is a little bit misleading?
RL: A black belt is obviously going to know more than a purple belt but it's an MMA fight, not jiu-jitsu. You can only take so much jiu-jitsu into an MMA fight. You're cutting your game into a third when you take the Gi off and you're only cutting it down more when there's punches involved. Of course, you have to be careful of submissions and that's something I have to watch out for. He's going to be really good there; he's one of the best in the world. I'm an MMA fighter not a jiu-jitsu fighter.
Demian said that he hasn't be able to get that many submissions of late because of his opponent's fighting styles, are you going to look to advance positions and go for the finish?
RL: For me to answer that, I can't really tell you how the fight's going to go. I'm not really the type that has a game plan and has to stick to it. You get punched in the face and the game plan is out the door. I'm just training in all aspects of the game. I definitely don't plan on playing jiu-jitsu the entire time. Keep moving and keep the fight going. Play to my advantage not his.
Do you feel like you have the advantage in the stand-up?
RL: Of course, I have an advantage in the stand-up. I have a weird, awkward; kind of that rangy striking. People have a tough time getting in on me. I plan on exploiting him there too.
Can you take me through what the layoff has been like and how your latest ACL injury occurred?
RL: The injury, I'm not sure if it happened right before my [last] fight or during my fight. In my last training session I was sparring with somebody and they went to take me down. All I did was kind of block the takedown and all of a sudden my knee completely went out. It didn't hurt at all. I felt my knee completely give out. I turned around and heard a bunch of crunching. I was like 'man, that was weird.' My adrenaline was going. I was sparring and I just kept going. I was getting kicked in the leg and every time I went to wrestle, I just felt it moving out.
Then, in the fight against John Howard, I was going for a takedown and I just felt it completely go out. But it didn't hurt so I didn't think anything was seriously wrong with it. I was just very unstable. After the fight, I was home for maybe a week and a half. I got a call about the Gunnar Nelson fight and I didn't want to turn them down so I said 'yeah, I just want to get my knee checked out.' Which I never did because I ended up getting it checked out and he [the doctor] said 'you have a full tear. It's definitely not smart to fight with it.' I tried training with it and of course it's in the back of my head. Every time I wrestled, or did anything, I felt it. It really started bothering me. Then I was like 'alright, I've got to get this thing fixed', especially from one of the best guys in the world.
Do you feel like you're being overlooked at all since you were hurt?
RL: Yeah, absolutely. I've beat everybody they give me. I take fights on short notice. I've never turned down one fight. My fights before I was in the UFC were all finishes. I'm getting decisions in here but sometimes I think it's even harder to beat somebody by decision because you have to beat them for three, five-minute rounds. Sometimes if you get a knockout or you get a submission, you could be losing. You never know what would've happened if you didn't catch them with that shot. With a decision, I'm clearly winning these rounds. None of the fights were really that close.
Are you concerned at all with cage rust or being tentative at all?
RL: No. Before this I had like a two-and-a-half year layoff. I tore my wrist and then my knee. The entire time I'm learning, I didn't like, walk away from the game. I was coaching, I run a school in New York and I came back and I was better than I've ever been.
What were your thoughts on Benson Henderson's welterweight debut? Do you like his chances?
RL: I didn't see the fight. I thought I taped it. I put my kids to bed and I ended up falling asleep at 10 o clock. The next day, I went to watch it and it didn't tape but I heard it was a good fight. I think Ben is amazing. He's a former champion. He might be a little small for the weight class. Who knows? We'll see how he does when he goes against some bigger opponents.
What were your thoughts on the January arrest of New York assemblyman Sheldon Silver. Do you think we'll see MMA in The Big Apple in the near future?
RL: I really hope so. I had a smile from ear to ear because I knew that guy was corrupt from day one. I actually was on an interview at Hot 97, a popular radio station in New York, and he was on there. No, actually it was Bill O'Reilly who was on there. Either way, they don't even know what they're talking about. Their reasons for not passing it in New York are so out of left field. It doesn't make any sense. They're some underlying issues and I'm just happy to see him get exposed. I really hope it gets passed here because I've been fighting everywhere except New York.
It seems like you've been fighting everywhere but the states, what's up with that?
RL: Well like I said, I don't turn down fights. They offer me fights; I don't turn them down. I keep saying to my guy 'if they offer me another one somewhere else, I'm not going to take it.' I rather have a matchup that I like rather than fighting where I like to fight. I got back from Abu Dhabi and I called my manager as soon as I got home 'I want to fight but I don't want to fight anywhere else. I want to fight in the U.S.' He called me the next day 'hey, I've got you a fight. A co-main event in Dublin.' I'm like 'you've got to be kidding me.' And then obviously I got hurt, and then I said the same thing, I'm like 'hey, there's a card in April, in Jersey.' I haven't fought in Jersey, in a couple of years. I asked for that fight and he said 'yeah, we'll get on it.' Then he called me back and said 'I could get you on that Jersey card, but I've got this fight with Demian Maia in Brazil.' Alright, it looks like I'm fighting in Brazil, I guess.
Have the past weight cuts been challenging seeing as you fight out of the country so often?
RL: I've been fighting at 170 for my whole career. The only time I've ever had a tough time was in Abu Dhabi. It was like an eight-hour time difference. It was like a twelve-hour flight; it kind of messed me up going there. I fought on a Friday instead of a Saturday so I kind of lost a day. It was really dry there; I fought outside. That was the only time I've ever struggled making my weight and I promised myself I'd never let that happen again. But besides that, I'm very disciplined. Fighting is my job. My wife is extremely supportive of me. She prepares all my meals. Eating is part of my job. I take that stuff very serious right now.
How has the move down to South Florida affected your pursuit for a title?
RL: Obviously, it had a positive affect. I would never pick up; I have a gym in New York. I have the best training partners and great coaches too. It just made sense. There's some of the best guys down here too. There's just so many more people for me to train with. In New York, I'm just training with Costa Philippou. It's just me and him sparring and doing jiu-jitsu. All the guys are really good but most of them are 145-pounders; Dennis Bermudez; Gregor Gillespie; Chris Wade. If I want to fight guys like Demian Maia, I need to train with bigger guys. I've got Vitor Belfort here, Cezar Mutante [Ferreira], Durinho. I've got coach Henri Hooft, Jorge Santiago and Greg Jones helping me out.
Are you going to be rumbling like your pal Anthony Johnson? Henri is someone whose had a positive effect on Anthony.
RL: Henri has a positive effect on everybody. He keeps everybody together here. His personality is literally the perfect thing for the team here. He doesn't let anybody get out of line and he's not strict. He doesn't take no shit. Everybody respects him and he respects everybody.
You mentioned your buddy Durinho, who's fighting on the same card as you. Have you been rolling with him in preparation for your bout with Demian?
RL: Of course, I train with Durinho whenever I'm in town. He's a good training partner. He fights at 170 sometimes too but he's fighting at 155 now. We do a lot together. He's very disciplined. We help each other with everything. I'm more of the awkward striking and wrestling and he's really good with the judo, wrestling and jiu-jitsu. We give and take from each other.
When you take a look at the welterweight division, is there anyone that stands out to you? Is there anybody that you look forward to fighting in the future or expect to be challenging for the belt soon?
RL: That's a good question but for me to answer that would mean I'm looking past Demian Maia. I want to get Demian out of the way and get past him. There's a lot of good fighters out there. You can ask me that question literally after I win that fight.
How would you feel if this fight went to the judges and do you think it will?
RL: Honestly, I don't think it's going to go to the judges but I'm prepared for it too. You can't leave it in the hands of the judges but if you can't finish the fight; you can't finish the fight. I've had to go to the judges four times already in the UFC; one more time isn't going to kill me. With five rounds, I think I should be able to get a finish there.
Do you think you'll pull a "Cowboy" and fight five times this year?
RL: I think I fought four or five times in 2013. I'm not sure. As long as I'm healthy, I'm down to fight. I know that I can't do it forever. I might as well get them out of the way now. I only have 11 fights but I've been fighting for a long time. If the fight is there, and I'm healthy, I'm taking it.
What are your thoughts on the recent failed drug tests by some of the UFC's top stars?
RL: I don't really like to comment on this because everyone has a reason for doing what they do. I've never taken anything like that before. It's just like baseball; if they weren't testing for it then there's nothing wrong with doing it. Now that they're testing for it, everyone is getting popped and I think it's good for the sport and it's cleaning it out.
Has the UFC and Reebok partnership affected you at all?
RL: Honestly, I didn't do that well with sponsorships in the first place. If anything, I still have sponsors from my first fight in the UFC that still haven't paid me. If anything, it's going to help me but I can't really speak for everybody else. Some guys might have big deals that are going to get a fraction of that now. I'm looking to get paid.
Any final comments on your camp, issues or things related to your camp that you've been working on for Demian?
You're going to see some new stuff from Ryan LaFlare in this fight that you haven't seen yet. Make sure you tune in. I know a lot of people aren't too excited about us being the new main event but when they watch it, it will be exciting.