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SportsColumnistsMark La Monica

Matt Serra, Ray Longo and their unbreakable bond on display at UFC Hall of Fame

Ray Longo, left, and Matt Serra joke around

Ray Longo, left, and Matt Serra joke around on stage as he inducts Serra into the UFC Hall of Fame at The Pearl theater at Palms Casino Resort on July 5, 2018 in Las Vegas. Credit: Getty Images / Ethan Miller

Their relationship began before most people even heard of jiu-jitsu, let alone the several different ways it can be spelled.

From gym to gym to gym, Ray Longo and Matt Serra formed as strong and unique a relationship as there is in mixed martial arts. Fostered by similar personalities and contracted on a handshake, Longo the trainer and Serra the fighter rose through the ranks together.

Before reaching the pinnacle of the sport on an April night in Houston in 2007, there were those 1990s workouts in Longo’s gym in the back of an auto-detailing shop. There were those late-night cardio sessions on what Serra always used to call “Longo’s torture devices.” There were those cars Serra pushed up and down Commercial Avenue in Garden City to build up strength and endurance as Longo watched and encouraged. There were those hills at Herricks High School, where your will gets tested as much as your cardio.

And the jokes, of course, those thousands of jokes at each other’s expense that to an outsider may seem harsh but to those on the inside are a key ingredient to their success.

The Serra-Longo connection reached a new height Thursday night as Serra was inducted into the UFC’s Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Las Vegas. Longo was there to induct “The Terror.”

“I’m listening to Longo’s speech and I truly like it better when he’s attacking me,” Serra said during his induction speech.

It would be just one of the many cracks thrown back and forth at each other during the event.

When Serra beat Georges St-Pierre to win the welterweight title at UFC 69 on April 7, 2007, in what still is considered the greatest upset in UFC history, he quickly passed the microphone to Longo to talk. That’s not exactly typical behavior for an MMA fighter, then or now. But these guys aren’t typical.

On Thursday night, though, it was Longo handing the mic to Serra. There were a few poignant moments as well from Longo. See, to comprehend the Serra-Longo bond is to understand that beyond the wisecracks and chop-busting lies an unbreakable bond of love and friendship. To call them just trainer and fighter undermines their 25-year brotherhood.

They won together. They lost together. There’s a genuine happiness in each of them when the other succeeds.

“Matt Serra represents the American dream,” Longo said. “He went from living in a basement apartment and working as a security guard to becoming a world champion, a successful entrepreneur, TV personality, great coach, and most importantly, a great husband and father to three beautiful girls.”

Eventually, both Longo and Serra directed their speeches to the fight. Yes, that fight. The one that defines Serra’s legacy and is one of the biggest reasons they each were on stage at The Palms on this night. UFC 69. Houston, Texas. April 7, 2007. St-Pierre vs. Serra. The biggest upset in UFC history.

“What Matt Serra did that night was more than just win a title,” Longo said. “See, there’s a message in Matt’s victory. Never ever let anyone tell you you cannot do something. Always believe in yourself and make the most of your opportunities.”

Serra did exactly that. In part with his talent, and in part emboldened by the belief of his cornerman and coach.

“I believed Longo when he told me I could knock Georges St-Pierre out,” Serra said. “I remember him telling me, after one [sparring session] in particular where I had a good day. He goes, ‘I see you hurting these guys with 16-ounce gloves, what do you think is going to happen if you hit St- Pierre’s noggin with these MMA gloves on? Now I’m going to tell you what’s going to happen. He’s going to be on the floor. He’s going to be on the floor. You have to believe in it.’ And I did believe in it because the big guy believed in me.”

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