This time is personal.
On the field where they played lacrosse together, Ryan LaFlare talks to his friends. To Jimmy. To Dennis. To Joe.
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That field in Lindenhurst is now a cemetery. His friends are gone.
"It helps me remember my childhood, remember who I am, where I come from, why I am the man I am," LaFlare said. "Those guys I grew up with, those were the guys who were with me before I was fighting, before I was doing anything, so I definitely like to pay them respects."
Jimmy Marckesano died several months before LaFlare's professional MMA debut in June 2008. Dennis Forgit died two weeks before that fight. Joseph Pritchard died last year, just before LaFlare's first UFC fight.
"Before every one of my fights no matter where my fight is, I go to the graveyard," said LaFlare, 30. "I pay my respects, I make a prayer to them. And I know that they're with me."
LaFlare's friends are buried in Breslau Cemetery in Lindenhurst, their hometown and one town over from where LaFlare lives with his wife and two children. He made sure to stop by Breslau before leaving for Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. LaFlare will fight John Howard at UFC Fight Night 39 on Yas Island Friday night on the promotion's Fight Pass digital network.
Howard (22-8, 6-3) has won both of his fights since returning to the UFC after more than two years competing in other promotions.
For LaFlare, it's another fight to continue his ascent in the sport. And it's another fight nowhere near home.
LaFlare debuted in the UFC Sweden in April 2013, then fought in Brazil in November and Sacramento, Calif., five weeks later. The frequent flyer miles pile up as quickly as the wins for LaFlare (10-0, 3-0 UFC).
"At first I was a little bummed, but then I looked at the bright side," LaFlare said about fighting more than 6,000 miles from home. "When do you get a chance to go to Abu Dhabi? I'll never go there, really, unless I hit the jackpot."
LaFlare took a shorter trip recently -- to South Florida to train with the Blackzilians fight team. For past fights, LaFlare would train there for the first two weeks or so, then head back north for the bulk of his camp at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy and Long Island MMA. After talking with his manager Glenn Robinson, who manages the Blackzilians fighters and owns the Jaco Hybrid Training Center, and trainers Keith Trimble and Gregg DePasquale, LaFlare decided to switch it around.
"If you want to be champion, you have to switch it up," LaFlare said. "You can't get too comfortable."
Opponents have yet to find much comfort in the cage against the undefeated welterweight who likes to push the pace, fight aggressively and use any of the disciplines of MMA necessary to win. That style continues to serve LaFlare well as he makes a name for himself in the UFC.
"Do I want to fight for the belt tomorrow? No," LaFlare said. "I think I still have a lot of learning to do. I still think I can improve a lot in my game. But for me to say I don't believe I should be the champion one day, I'd be lying to you because in know I can be champion one day and I know I will be, so let's get after it."
UFC Fight Night 39 fight card
On UFC Fight Pass, Friday
Main card, 2 p.m. ET
Roy Nelson vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Clay Guida vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri
John Howard vs. Ryan LaFlare
Beneil Dariush vs. Ramsey Nijem
Prelims, 11:50 a.m. ET
Daniel Omielanczuk vs. Jared Rosholt
Johnny Bedford vs. Rani Yahya
Thales Leites vs. Trevor Smith
Chris Camozzi vs. Andrew Craig
Jim Alers vs. Alan Omer