What do Matt Serra, Frankie Edgar and Chris Weidman have in common? These UFC fighters all rose to fame while competing in Lou Neglia's Ring of Combat MMA show.

So you’re an aspiring mixed martial artist with dreams of making it to the big time. You’re probably wondering how to get there — how you can appear on the radar of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and other major promotions. While there’s no sure way to get noticed by the UFC and finagle your way onto one of its cards, some paths can give you a better chance than others. Perhaps the best is to headline a Ring of Combat show. An East Coast organization run by Lou Neglia, ROC holds five pro MMA shows a year, primarily at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City, New Jersey, with a helping of pro kickboxing and amateur MMA matches scattered throughout New York and New Jersey the rest of the year. From those events, Neglia has sent 80 fighters to the UFC. Eighty! Among his alumni are former UFC champs Matt Serra, Frankie Edgar and Chris Weidman, Black Belt’s 2014 MMA Fighter of the Year.


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A former kickboxing champion, Neglia began staging kickboxing matches in his home of Brooklyn, New York, back in the 1980s, both to stay close to the sport and to provide his students with a venue to compete. When MMA came along in the ’90s, he sprinkled in matches and saw the fan interest jump. Having promoted kickboxing in New Jersey, he eventually approached that state’s athletic commission about doing a sanctioned MMA show at one of the Atlantic City casinos. But the state was leery to give its blessing to a sport that was still known as “no-holds-barred fighting.” Neglia offered to modify the rules to mesh with what eventually became the standard for MMA bouts. He got the green light, and Ring of Combat was officially born. “I think having the fights in a little bigger and more glamorous venue in Atlantic City helps prepare my fighters to go on to the larger shows,” Neglia says. “I’ve seen a lot of guys who succeeded in smaller shows step up to the bigger events and just fall apart from the pressure.”

Neglia is quick to point out that the key to his success lies in the quality of the competition. “I take pride in providing good matchups,” he says. “You won’t see any mismatches or easy fights in my shows. When people come to Ring of Combat, they always get competitive fights. They know they’re going to have action.”

Such competitive matchmaking doesn’t just bring the winners to the attention of the UFC; it gives them the experience necessary to stick around at the higher levels once they get there. Weidman fought his first four professional matches for ROC before moving up to the UFC in 2011. He credits his experience there for his successful transition to the sport’s top level. “It definitely helped prepare me for the big leagues, so it wasn’t that much of a culture shock when I got there,” Weidman says. “If I didn’t have such tough fights [with ROC], I would have had a much tougher [time] when I got to the UFC.”

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Aspiring professional fighters are well aware of the connection between ROC success and a chance at the big time, and Neglia gets queries from mixed martial artists around the world. Sifting through the calls and emails he receives from fighters, he looks for those who are most likely to succeed in the sport. Rather than just an undefeated record, he wants fighters with the heart and desire to make it. “I hear from guys who want to pick and choose their opponents or who tell me how much they want to become millionaires from competing in MMA,” Neglia says. “Those are generally the guys I don’t get back to.” As a former fighter himself, Neglia looks for athletes who are willing to sacrifice and persevere — not just inside the cage but outside it, as well. If you’re the kind of fighter who has to cancel a match because you just broke up with your girlfriend, you probably shouldn’t bother calling him. But if you’re the kind who has an obstacle in front of you and, as Neglia likes to say, is willing to grind your teeth and soldier on no matter what, he’ll have a spot for you in his promotions. What’s more, he won’t stand in your way if you outgrow him. Although it might be a promotional taboo, Neglia is more than willing to tear up his contract with a fighter — even if he’s a reigning ROC champ — if said fighter gets an offer from a bigger promotion. “I had a fighter under contract for one more match when he got called from the UFC to go fight on one of their shows,” Neglia says. “Now I could have stopped him or told the UFC they have to pay me if they want to use the fighter, but when he told me the UFC wanted him, I said, ‘As of this minute, your contract with me is null and void — go fight for them.’ “I enjoyed doing it. I’m proud of him. This is more a passion than a business to me.” (Photos courtesy of Lou Neglia / Ring of Combat)
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Do you want to maximize your self defense skills? Learn the game of combat chess and most importantly the queen of all moves.

Allow me to intercept those who would object to the title of this article. I'm not claiming that there's a secret move, shortcut or hack that will give you the edge in any fight. Even if there was an ultimate weapon or strategy, you likely would avoid it because you
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Looking to buy some weights to gain some strength?

Looking at Dumbbell, Kettlebells or Weighted bar? How about an all in one that won't just save you some good amount of money but also space? Look no further, we bring you the GRIPBELL!

Let's face it, when we do want to work on some strength building, we don't want to go around shopping for 20 different weight equipment things. That would just not want us to even do any sort of strength training. But what if we only needed a few, a few that can do the things we want without having 20 things lay around? That's where the GRIPBELL comes in. Let me clarify with you first, these are not some heavy duty, muscle exploding weights, they are for building the level of strength we as martial artists want without going crazy and insane in bulk sizing!

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Many different types of "blocks" are taught in most martial arts school. We are taught high blocks, low blocks, middle blocks, knife hand blocks, etc. Some schools will also teach how to use the legs to block an attack, as well.

The purpose of this writing is to possibly open some minds to the possibilities of going outside the box and considering alternatives to the basics.

Blocking is taught as a way of protecting oneself from harm. Truly, we don't "block" anything, as a non-martial artist would think of it. What we call "blocking" is more of a redirection of an opponent's attack, or even a counterstrike against the opponent's attacking limb.

To block something would mean to put something, like your arm, leg or other body part directly in front of the attack. That would certainly hurt and possibly cause some damage. The goal should be to move the attack out of the way in order to prevent injury and provide a way to fight back. For example, many schools teach blocks as a limb moving toward the strike such as a circular high block.

The movement required for a block might have other uses, if you keep an open mind. The blocking techniques can also be used as attack techniques. For example, your "low block" may be used as a striking technique against the outer thigh of the attacker. Your high block might be used as a strike to the jaw. The set up for a block can be used as a deflection, as well as the actual block.

Doing a block or a series of blocks will most likely not end an attack. A block needs to be followed by a counterattack. While the block is usually taught as a separate technique in order to learn it correctly, it should also be used in combination with a counter.

The more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Intensive books can and have be written about basic techniques. With this writing, I am hoping to create interest in exploring the additional possibilities for what we have been taught and what we teach others.

About Grand Master Stevens

GM Stevens has been training in taekwondo for 47 years under the tutelage of the late legendary Grand Master Richard Chun. He holds an 8th degree black belt and is certified in the USA and in Korea. Grand Master Stevens is a member of the Board of Directors of the prestigious Richard Chun TaeKwonDo World Headquarters organization. He has been very active in his community and has been a volunteer with the Glen Rock Volunteer Ambulance Corps for over 11 years. He is a certified member of C.E.R.T. (Community Emergency Response Team).

Gary Stevens Taekwondo is located at 175 Rock Road in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

For more information: call (201) 670-7263, email: StevensTKD@aol.com or go to www.StevensTaeKwonDo.com

Having partners at or above your skill level is important for improving in your martial arts training. At some point, however, you will probably find yourself with a shortage of skilled partners, especially if you are an instructor.

This can happen for any number of reasons: students can move away, change their work schedules, start a family, etc., and just like that, you find that you're the highest-ranked student, or sole instructor, in your gym or dojo. This doesn't have to be a bad thing. In fact, if you take advantage of it, even working exclusively with lower-ranking classmates or students can improve your skills.

I used to host a twice-a-week training session at my dojo where I invited mostly black belts from other schools (as well as a few of my advanced students) to come and run drills. It was a blast. These were tough two- to three-hour sessions where I got to work with fighters of all different sizes, speeds, and technique preferences. My sparring improved dramatically over the next few months, and I don't think I've ever been in better shape. But unfortunately, it doesn't always work out that way. And as the old saying goes, "You gotta work with what ya got." So, make it hard on yourself.

I like to set handicaps when fighting my students. Specifically, I focus on forcing myself to work on improving my weak areas. Is you right leg weaker than the left? Then only kick with the right leg when sparring your students. Not much of an inside fighter? Don't kick at all. Training with partners of lesser skill not only helps you improve your weak points but gives them an opportunity to improve as well by working on strategy. It's also great for building their confidence. It can also be a low-cost opportunity to test new techniques and combinations, which benefits you as well.

In grappling, just like sparring, there is little benefit to wrapping lower ranking classmates into pretzels over and over, for them or you. Instead, let your partner put you in a bad situation. Let them get the mount; help them sink in that choke or armbar. If you start standing, such as in judo, allow your partner to get the superior grip before attempting a throw. This way you will get comfortable working out of a weaker position and your less-experienced partner can perfect their technique (and get experience using multiple techniques, if you get out of their first one).

You might think that giving advantages like these to students who may be far beneath your skill level is much of a challenge. Trust me, you'll reconsider that sentiment when you wind up sparring a 6'5" novice with zero control over his strength after deciding to only use your weak leg, or have a 250-pound green belt lying across your diaphragm trying to get an armlock after you let them get the pin. Remember, this is exactly what you signed up for: a challenge.

If you find yourself at the top of the heap without partners who are sufficiently challenging, there is no need to despair. Use it as a low-stress opportunity to improve your weaknesses and develop avenues to help your less experienced classmates and students to grow. You may even be surprised. One day they might present more of a challenge than you ever imagined!
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