Trainer, Mentor, and Champion
Tucked behind the single door of a nondescript brick building alongside the Long Island Rail Road tracks in Garden City, NY, mixed martial arts (MMA) champions are being made.
ST. JOHN’S WAS A LOT OF FUN. I MADE FRIENDS, AND I LEARNED SOME THINGS ABOUT PEOPLE AND MYSELF. ALL OF IT WAS GOOD TRAINING FOR WHAT FOLLOWED.
- BS in Accounting
- The Peter J. Tobin College of Business
Unknown to the casual passerby, the simple, two-story building could be mistaken for any other industrial, suburban workspace. But once inside, make no mistake: the solid, even drab, brick exterior fails to presage the more colorful and impactful experience that lies within.
It is here that accountant turned Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) trainer Ray Longo ’80CBA of Longo-Weidman MMA runs the premiere mixed martial arts academy in New York, offering world-class instruction and training for all skill levels from beginner to advanced.
Ray is widely considered one of the best coaches in the world, earning multiple Coach of the Year nominations from the Fighters Only magazine’s World MMA Awards. He has trained three champions, all with local roots, and has been part of some of the most memorable moments in UFC history.
In 2007, in one of the greatest upsets in UFC history, his fighter Matt Serra of East Meadow, NY, knocked out Georges St-Pierre at the mixed martial arts event UFC 69. In 2013, another fighter he trained named Chris Weidman of Baldwin, NY, knocked out Anderson Silva to win middleweight gold. Last year, an up-and-coming fighter named Aljamain Sterling from Uniondale, NY, won the bantamweight title.
Ray oozes a New York persona from every pore of his stocky, six-foot frame. With a distinctive Long Island accent and a stunningly creative use of swear words, he very much looks the part of the Hollywood tough guy who has spent a lifetime studying the contact sport that allows a wide range of fighting techniques including striking, kicking, and grappling. He also has some acting film credits and experience as a stuntperson.
But on this dreary, damp weeknight, to watch Ray work at training an eclectic mix of aspiring champions and ordinary neighborhood fitness buffs is to watch a master class in human relations. With smoldering dark eyes and a quiet intensity, he surveys a busy gym while simultaneously serving as a psychologist, a strategist, and a devoted sage to fighters two generations his junior. At one point, he even bends down to tie the shoe of a gloved fighter.
Ray is at heart a teacher—and a mentor who never forgets his roots. While helping others to climb the professional heights of the MMA world, Ray, the consummate corner man, is as grounded as they come.
Born in Astoria, Queens, he moved to Long Island as a child and played the usual mix of youth sports, but was always fascinated by martial arts. As a young teenager, he watched Bruce Lee movies in the cavernous Calderone Theater in Hempstead, NY. On the silver screen, Ray was interested in Jeet Kune Do, a hybrid martial arts philosophy drawing from different combat disciplines that is often credited with paving the way for modern mixed martial arts.
He soon began to travel around Long Island and the metropolitan area looking for places to train, spar—and always learn. In the pre-internet era, there was an emerging underground network of martial arts training and rogue schools that often provided classes for free.
“You were essentially a punching bag,” he jokingly recalled. “Why pay to get the sh** kicked out of you?”
“It was a different time,” Ray recounts, when information was shared by word of mouth and via monthly martial arts magazines. “Guys would soap up their storefront windows because they didn’t want you to see what was going on inside.”
For years, Mr. Cho served as the Head Coach for the St. John’s University Tae Kwon Do Club and assisted other University clubs. He was the creator and promoter of the All-American Open Tae Kwon Do/ Karate/Kung Fu Championship Tournament held at Madison Square Garden for years, which was attended by notable martial artists like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris.
When not sparring on campus and traveling around the metropolitan area in search of innovative martial arts seminars, Ray studied accounting and graduated in 1980. He did accounting work for seven years while living at home and used some stock options to help finance his early foray into the growing world of martial arts.
“Remember, there was no UFC. This was a time when martial arts was not a means to make money—it was an organically emerging force of nature.”
An accountant by day, Ray trained friends in kickboxing and various disciplines by night out of his garage. His training techniques were “old school,” and included pushing cars down desolate streets. He soon began promoting fights.
“There was no roadmap for success, other than working your ass off.”
Today, his training methods reflect his personality and his ability to develop and draw out of his fighters an inner strength and skills they may not know that they possess.
Nicholas “Nick” Vendikos ’91SVC, Senior Director of Athletic Development, first met Ray when he showed up on a prospective alumni donor list. A random cold call burgeoned into a friendship, and Mr. Vendikos has been training in his gym for three years.
“Yes, Ray is a character, but the true measure of his character is what he does when the cameras aren’t rolling,” shared Mr. Vendikos. “He guides people with varying athletic skills, and he does so in a steady and direct way. He personally connects with people on whole different levels.”
Ray puts it this way: “I train people with a pedigree of discipline and people who want to put in the work.”
To that end, he has addressed the St. John’s Men’s Basketball team and provided some training sessions to the players. With a keen sense of integrity, a detailed oriented approach to his craft, and an ability to thrive behind the scenes, he still possesses some of the everyday qualities of the trained accountant that he once was.
His career advice for current students is simple: “I found something I would do for free and then figured out a way to get paid for it.”
Ray pivots from standard business norms in that he rejects formal business contracts and prefers to operate with a throwback approach that relies on looking someone in the eye, personal trust, handshakes, and keeping your word.
Upon reflection on the four decades removed from graduation, Ray reminisces, “St. John’s was a lot of fun. I made friends, and I learned some things about people and myself. All of it was good training for what followed.”
Now 64, Ray, the married father of two daughters, can—with personal experience and colorful anecdotes—trace the birth, growth, and global reach of MMA.
After graduating from Herricks High School, Ray’s parents encouraged him to pursue his education and he followed his brother Paul, then a senior enrolled at St. John’s.
Ray’s passion for martial arts was further cultivated at St. John’s in the late 1970s. As a first-year student during the Student Activities Fair, he signed up for the Karate Club. At the time, the club was led by Sihak Henry Cho, a Korean taekwondo pioneer and instructor who is recognized as one of the first people to introduce Asian martial arts into the United States.