LAS VEGAS – Sure, the hands and feet rank high on the priority list of things a mixed martial arts fighter needs at his disposal during a fight.
But slightly higher on that list: both eyes and clear vision.
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Lindenhurst’s Ryan LaFlare fought most of the first round without the use of his left eye after a Mike Pierce punch at the UFC’s “Ultimate Fighter” finale on Friday night.
“It was like seeing double,” LaFlare said. “If I closed my eye, I was able to see fine. I just knew I had to get out of that round. This way, I could collect my thoughts. Coming into the second round I was able to see again.”
And what the judges saw was a dominant LaFlare – even in the first round – as he won a unanimous decision. LaFlare controlled all but the last 30 seconds or so of the welterweight bout at The Cosmopolitan. The judges scored it 30-27, 29-28, 29-28, as LaFlare ended his career-long losing streak at one.
“Once he regained his sight,” trainer Keith Trimble said, “he went right back to the jab and went back to work.”
LaFlare (12-1, 5-1 UFC) continued to use his range and lankier frame to his advantage. LaFlare was crisp with his hands and solid with his kicks, mixing up the type and location of his strikes to keep Pierce off balance.
“I’ve been working on that right jab and my left pushkick with Keith this entire camp,” LaFlare said. “That was I think the deciding factor this fight.”
It was the first fight for Pierce (17-7, 9-5) in more than two years as an ankle and hand injury kept him out since October 2013. One of Pierce’s strengths is his wrestling and takedown ability.
LaFlare neutralized that rather easily as he fended off every takedown attempt from Pierce. LaFlare also was able to avoid taking much damage during those moments in the clinch with his back pinned against the cage.
It wasn’t until the final 30 seconds or so of the fight when LaFlare looked to be in trouble. He and Pierce exchanged punches, with each fighter landing a few clean shots. LaFlare looked to stagger backwards a little bit once, and Pierce emerged from it at the final bell with a large hematoma bulging from his head.
“That was a little nervewracking,” Trimble said of the final exchange.
LaFlare took a less technical approach to describing that moment.
“I had to make it fun, right?” he said. “I didn’t want it to be too clean cut of a decision, right? I was thinking to myself, it’s Christmas time, I just bought a new house, I wanted to try to get $50,000 out of it, so let’s make it a little more fun.”