Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial
Last time we saw Pete "Drago" Sell fighting inside a cage, he got knocked out twice in the same bout. That's not a typo. We don't mean knocked "down." We mean knocked out. How that's possible is simple: shoddy refereeing.
"I definitely can't go out on that sword," said Sell, who grew up in Westbury and now lives in Bethpage. If I quit tomorrow, it's like, 'What was your last fight?' That one. No way!"
And here we get a glimpse into the mind-set of Sell, 28, a former contestant on "The Ultimate Fighter" looking to make a comeback after more than two years away from competitive fighting. Sell fights for the welterweight title Friday at Ring of Combat 36 against Elijah Harshbarger at the Tropicana in Atlantic City.
Sell lost four of his five bouts in the UFC, three of which came by unique and memorable knockout. There was the third-round KO by Nate Quarry after Sell beat him up for two rounds. There was the knockout by Scott Smith after Sell landed a body shot that crumpled Smith. And of course, the double KO by Matt Brown.
These were DVD-reel knockouts. But that doesn't matter to Sell. To him, they're part of the job, part of what happens in his office.
"It's what I do," Sell said. "It's my life. It's what I did most of my life. What am I going to go do now, make cars or something?"
Sell's name may not have been on any fight cards in some time, but he hasn't left the life. He still teaches mixed martial arts at Serra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu academies in East Meadow and Huntington. There, he works with former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra.
He still works with the fighters at Ray Longo MMA in Garden City. There, he trains with top middleweight prospect Chris Weidman, who fought Saturday night at UFC 131 in Vancouver, and Strikeforce light heavyweight Gian Villante, to name a few. These are top guys in the area, both with promising futures, both in a place where Sell used to be.
Eventually, that takes hold of a fighter.
"Training with guys who fight all the time, and sparring with them, I know what my level is and how I can perform, so why aren't I fighting?" Sell said.
For a guy that has had just about everything happen to him inside the cage, it was a training injury that delayed his return. Sell injured his groin muscle a year ago. "Tore it off the bone," he said. "One of those things where everybody in the room heard it."
He has since rehabbed and healed the injury. Same could be said about his fighting. Sell has a solid ground game, but is known more for his brawling approach. Eric Hyer, a Muay Thai coach at Longo's gym, has worked on refining Sell's striking since before this fight was booked. Hyer instructed Sell on different counters and a new way of avoiding unnecessary blows.
"I felt like I was in there," Hyer said about watching Sell in a recent sparring session. "I was so happy to see it."
Sell is a fighter, plain and simple. And he's fine with you calling it a comeback.
"It's almost like I'm a cornered dog," he said. "I'm going to go out there pretty much with my two middle fingers up like 'What? Let's fight.' "