This was the place Ryan LaFlare wanted to be, inside the octagon in his home state, a train ride away from his hometown. He’d lobbied plenty of times to help mixed martial arts get legalized in New York, and this was his first chance to fight at home since the law was overturned last March.
And with several hundred friends and family in attendance at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center for UFC 208 on Saturday, LaFlare sent them all home happy. Lindenhurst’s LaFlare earned a welterweight victory by unanimous decision over Roan Carneiro with the judges scoring it 30-26, 30-27, 29-28.
One of those family members was LaFlare’s father, George, here to see his son fight for the first time in his nine-year career.
“As soon as I walk out, he’s the first person I see,” LaFlare said. “I’m like, I can’t get knocked out in front of my dad.”
He didn’t. Not even close.
LaFlare pressured Carneiro the entire fight, moving forward to constantly apply pressure with an array of different strikes as well as defend against any takedowns from the submission specialist.
In the first round, he landed several left leg kicks that caused some damage to the right side of Carneiro’s body.
“The first one, that set the tone,” trainer Keith Trimble said. “After that he was petrified.”
LaFlare (13-1, 6-1 UFC) dropped Carneiro twice in the second round with left hands. The first was a left hook that clipped Carneiro (21-11, 4-6). LaFlare took top position and looked to pass guard but eventually postured and connected with a few elbows before both fighters returned to their feet.
The second knockdown was a straight left to Carneiro’s temple. He fell, and LaFlare swarmed in with some punches to control Carneiro and secure the round. One judge scored that round 10-8 for LaFlare.
This was the second straight win for LaFlare after he suffered his only loss in March 2015 to Demian Maia, a top-five middleweight then and now. LaFlare last fought in December 2015, winning a unanimous decision over Mike Pierce.
“I know the nerves had to be there for him,” said UFC light heavyweight Gian Villante, who was sitting amid Team LaFlare during the fight. “First fight of the night here in Brooklyn, hasn’t fought in a long time, that’s a tough one.”
Despite the geography and the friendly faces around the arena, LaFlare looked disappointed after the fight. That’s because he spent the last minute or so defending against Carneiro’s submission attempts and eating enough punches to be left with a swollen right eye. LaFlare had attempted a takedown but wasn’t able to hold on as both fighters were slippery from the sweat of 13-plus minutes of fighting. LaFlare slipped, and the Brazilian ended up in top position to look for a submission attempt.
“I wanted to impress him,” LaFlare said of his father. “My walkout, I’m always ready and game face on and let’s go, and the first person I see is standing up, tense. I’m like, ‘Aw, man, my dad’s nervous.’ At the end of the day, a fight’s a fight. If you’re not worried about the opponent in front of you, you got more problems than that.”