Yesterday I had the pleasure of sitting down with Al’s trainer Ray Longo and asking him some questions about Al and his involvement on this season of The Ultimate Fighter. I appreciate him taking the time out of his busy day to sit with me and answer some questions.
Ray Longo’s resume is an impressive one. He’s a world class boxing, kickboxing and Muay Thai coach who has trained countless fighters both at professional and amateur levels. His lengthy résumé as a trainer includes preparing 9 UFC Fighters for competition including Matt Serra, Nick Serra, Pete Sell, Luke Cummo, Chris Weidman, Costantinos Philippou, Al Iaquinta, George Sotiropoulos, and Rodrigo Gracie. Ray is also one of the few certified Jeetkunedo instructors under Richard Bustillo, Tom Batell and Paul Vunak. Ray founded IMAA (International Martial Arts Academy) in 1990 and continues to train fighters for all different levels of competition.
What did you do to help Al prepare for this opportunity mentally and physically? What advise did you give him in dealing with being constantly monitored by TV camera’s for reality TV?
Physically it was the same routine as always, training hard. Wrestling, sparring, pad work nothing out of the ordinary. As far as mentally I told him to just stay in the moment and continue to be himself. To keep a level head, pick his shots, and to see all the openings. You’re on TV for thirteen weeks so you’re really leaving a legacy, I stressed to him it was important to act accordingly.
What was your reaction after the first fight against Jon Tuck? A lot of talk on the internet about the toe incident. Do you feel Tuck’s broken toe was a factor?
First off it was really strange for me watching one of my fighters on TV not knowing what was going to happen. To be honest I was very nervous. As far as the Tuck fight he’s a tough opponent but I don’t think the toe was really a factor. Fighters fight hurt constantly, I don’t think that changed the outcome of the fight. Al worked his way out of Tucks arm bar and I think Tuck broke down mentally after that, which shifted the momentum in Al’s favor.
What were your thoughts on Al being picked by Urijah Faber first? Did you personally have a preference on which team he was on Cruz being such an unorthodox fighter and Faber having a wrestling background?
Faber definitely would have been my first choice having a strong wrestling background. I think that’s important to help keep Al to his roots. I know Urijah and I like what he stands for. He’s an entrepreneur, run’s a good team, and is a great role model. I think Team Faber is a great fit for Al.
How difficult is it training with coaches as well as teammates you don’t really know for over three months? Can it hurt in any way or only help?
This is a great experience and training with different teammates and coaches can only be a good thing. You can never learn enough in this sport. It’s a great chance to learn some new styles and get some different perspectives. I hope when I was a coach on the show people learned from me, and I was able to help them improve.
Normally before a fight you have some time to watch tape and research an opponent. How do you come up with a game plan for a fighter your for the most part unfamiliar with?
I think that’s really an individual thing. I know some fighters who don’t watch tape at all. Every fighter is different but I think certain guys problem solve and adjust on the spot. That’s what make a good fighter. A guy like Al can adapt very easily once he’s in a fight, so being somewhat unfamiliar with his opponent isn’t a factor.
How difficult was it for Al to have his original chance to be on the show taken away by the injury to his hand? How important do you think it was for him to win his fight and get into the house after missing that original opportunity?
I can’t speak for him but I know it was very difficult for everyone around him that loves him. Our heart’s really went out to Al. The good thing was his injury gave him a year to mature mentally as well as physically. After his hand was re injured I think he really needed some clarity. It was great for him to be around guys like Costa (Costantinos Philippou) and (Chris) Weidman. Those guys and his other team mates really helped him get back on track. Everything happens for a reason. Now he has a chance to be part of something big, reality TV history with something that’s never been done before.
What do you think is the key to being successful in a lengthy tournament based situation like the TUF show?
Thirteen weeks is a long time, the longest the show’s ever been with it’s new format. It’s important to stay focused, healthy, and injury free. Most importantly you have to try and spread out your fights and not fight too often.
What are your thoughts on Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber? Can their heated rivalry effect their teams in any way?
I think the rivalry between Cruz and Faber is strictly a competitive hatred. It’s important that they stay themselves, but I don’t think they would let anything personal between them effect their teams. The rivalry between the two isn’t on the same level as past coaches like Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock.
I’m going to put you on the spot. How successful will Al be this season? Do you see him possibly getting into the finals and winning that UFC contract?
Of course I do. I fully expect him to be in the finals and do very well, without a doubt.
When it’s all said and done how do you think this experience will change Al’s life?
He’s going to find out a lot about himself. Being on a reality show you receive instant fame, so he’s going to have to learn how to handle that. He’s definitely going to grow from this situation. This is a great start for Al, and I think if he stay’s positive and focused he’ll do very well.
Interview by Matt Pellicane