Undefeated and unknown, Ryan LaFlare flies to Brazil on Tuesday for his UFC fight on Saturday.
He plans to bring just one of those adjectives home with him.
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"After I win this fight, I'll start getting the exposure I want," LaFlare said. "Before it, I'm just another person."See alsoLI's frequent-flier UFC fighterDatabaseLong Island's UFC fight history
LaFlare, a welterweight from Lindenhurst, headlines UFC Fight Night in Rio de Janeiro against Demian Maia, a Brazilian jiujitsu specialist.
It is LaFlare's first fight since surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee nine months ago. In a promotion with close to 600 fighters on its roster and more than 40 events a year, that's a long time for a rising fighter to be sidelined without losing some fan and media momentum. Even an undefeated one.
LaFlare has a plan for that, too.
"People look at the main event and say, 'All right, who's this guy Maia's gonna kill?'" said LaFlare, 31. "All right, wait until I win. Now you guys will know who I am."
Easier said than done, in both categories. Maia (19-6) is ranked seventh in the UFC's welterweight division, and the lefthanded fighter always is a tough challenge despite losing two of his last three.
Getting the recognition the 15th-ranked LaFlare seeks also presents its difficulties. LaFlare was part of UFC's "Welcome to the Show" media event last month in Los Angeles, which included all fighters in the main event and championship bouts for their upcoming slate of events. LaFlare brought friend and UFC featherweight Dennis Bermudez along with him on the trip to Los Angeles.
Afterward, LaFlare was part of a promotional appearance for the upcoming season of "The Ultimate Fighter" featuring the Blackzilians fight camp, where LaFlare trains (in addition to Bellmore Kickboxing Academy and Long Island MMA), against those at American Top Team.
"His line was longer than mine," LaFlare said of Bermudez. "And he was just hanging out with me."
LaFlare (11-0, 4-0 UFC) can change that with a win over Maia. But being in the main event, with his name at the top of fight posters and marketing collateral, hasn't changed LaFlare's approach. Yes, his head got bigger, but that's only because fight posters hanging in arenas are just a tad larger than life size. The actual head on his shoulders, that's still the same.
"I'm around the same people every day and no one's treating me any different, so why would I act any differently?" LaFlare said. "Just try to stay as humble as possible."
What being the headliner did add to LaFlare's every day life is an extra layer of motivation. He'll fight Maia on Fox Sports 1 in the main event, the crescendo of UFC Fight Night 62. He's not on the prelims anymore, or even Fight Pass. Yes, Brazil is in a different time zone, but it's not halfway across the world like previous fights in Stockholm and Abu Dhabi.
"No one knows who I am," LaFlare said. "You're not supposed to know who I am. That's good. Now you're gonna find out who I am. It motivates me to really go out and perform.
"This is my chance to really break out of my shell. I don't want to let myself and everyone else down."