Last Friday, Ryan LaFlare struggled to define his fighting style.
"I don't even know what it is," the UFC welterweight from Lindenhurst said. "Part of the reason it's so surprising is that I don't know what I'm gonna do. I just go off my reactions."
This Friday, LaFlare did not struggle in implementing that fighting style, beating John Howard by unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night 39 in Abu Dhabi. All three judges scored the bout, 29-28, with LaFlare winning the first and third rounds on all cards.LaFlare (11-0, 4-0 UFC) dominated Howard in the first round with a mix of wrestling, grappling, jiu-jitsu, knees, leg kicks, hand slaps and whatever else he could think of in the moment.
Howard (22-9, 6-4) opened the second round with a three-punch combination that wobbled LaFlare and sent him to the canvas briefly. LaFlare then pinned Howard against the cage and continued to grapple. The two welterweights, both of whom are former Ring of Combat champions, displayed high-level and exciting techniques in the ensuing scrambles.
The most decisive blow of the fight, perhaps, came midway through the second round when LaFlare connected with a forceful knee to Howard's groin. Howard let out an audible scream and winced as he went to the ground. He used nearly all of the five-minute allowance for such strikes, visibly in pain for the entire time. The cageside doctor examined him, and Howard decided to keep fighting.
LaFlare got the quick takedown once the fight resumed, but Howard closed the round the way he opened it nearly 10 minutes earlier with solid punches that connected.
"I'm not happy with the way the knee went down," LaFlare said after the fight. "I feel very badly about that. I am happy to get the win though. I didn't want to go the ground unless I had to but my legs started to feel very tired as the fight progressed."
LaFlare controlled the third round with his wrestling and grappling skills for his fourth UFC win in the past 370 days. Howard went for a leg submission late in the round, but LaFlare was able to push his way out of it.
LaFlare was able to showcase his fighting style -- whatever it may be -- for three rounds.
"The second you get punched in the face, you't can't think," LaFlare said. "You don't have time to think, you have to react."