Story Time, Uncategorized

How Finding a Home Led to Meeting MMA Legend Ray Longo

Sometimes a random interaction can impact your life in the most unexpected way. If I thought about how I would meet some legends of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts, I would never think it would be because of the real estate agent who sold me my house, yet here we are.

I’ll start at the beginning. In 2016, my wife and I decided to make a “temporary” move to Florida, near her family in Tampa. After getting settled and starting to plan a family, we decided that we needed a more permanent living situation. Through the recommendation of some friends, we were referred to a real estate agency where we were introduced to Vanessa Charles.

Vanessa Charles, Realtor and Entrepreneur

Vanessa is a great realtor because she really cares about finding the perfect home for her clients – which she did in our case. We now live in Safety Harbor, Florida and couldn’t ask for a better place to raise our baby girl. After helping us find our home, my wife and Vanessa kept in touch. Vanessa would go on to start her own business and a journey to empower fellow female entrepreneurs.

Fast forward to 2019 and my wife would attend Vanessa’s AMPLIFY event. AMPLIFY was a one-day immersion event to inspire female entrepreneurs and provide business, social media and mindset strategies from people who have found success through their own trials and tribulations. One of the speakers at the event was Steve Maraboli.

Dr. Steve Maraboli – stolen from his Facebook page profile picture

Steve is a doctor of behavioral science and international business, motivational speaker, author, life coach, philanthropist, decorated military veteran and social media influencer. Most importantly, for the intents and purposes of this story, Steve is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner for Team Renzo Gracie.

Steve Maraboli and Vanessa Charles at AMPLIFY 2019 in St. Petersburg, Florida on February 8, 2019

Jiu Jitsu is really an anomaly wrapped in a paradox and tied in a knot with unconformity. People either don’t really understand what it is or obsess over it every waking moment. If you’re part of the latter then you know that to find success in Jiu Jitsu, you have to become comfortable with the uncomfortable – mentally and physically. You get put in unusual and painful positions and then thank the people who put you there because in a strange way it made you grow as a person. Since this is not something that many people experience or understand, it causes the people who do to form fairly instant bonds.

Steve Maraboli and Jiu Jitsu/MMA legend, Renzo Gracie in the famous “Blue Basement” – Renzo Gracie Academy in New York City

You may be wondering how this all ties together – I’m getting there. While the AMPLIFY event was on lunch break after Dr. Maraboli no doubt electrified the audience, he found himself sitting at the same table as my wife. They struck up a conversation in which it was revealed that Steve practices Jiu Jitsu and my wife responded by telling him that her husband (me) is obsessed with Jiu Jitsu and MMA. She proceeded to tell him about my podcast, MMA on the Rocks, and show him my Instagram. He, in turn, showed her a picture of him with Gordon Ryan (probably the best BJJ practitioner on earth and she naturally had no idea who he was).

Here’s the Instagram photo that Steve Maraboli showed my wife of him with Gordon Ryan

At this point, I get a text from my wife while I was home watching our one-year-old daughter. She asks if I know who Gordon Ryan is. “Of course I do, he’s the best Jiu Jitsu guy in the world,” I said. She responds by saying the guy who spoke at the event had met him and sends me a picture of Steve and Gordon, then a picture of herself with Steve. “You should send him a message and invite him on your podcast!”

Dr. Steve Maraboli and my wife talking about Jiu Jitsu at the lunch break of AMPLIFY 2019

In all honesty, given what I knew about Steve at this point, I wasn’t really excited by the idea of reaching out to him. I browsed his social media and saw lots of inspirational quotes, positive affirmations, “get off your butt and start believing in yourself” kinds of messages. I thought there was no way I could have much in common with this guy. Yeah, he does Jiu Jitsu, but so does Demi Lovato. However, I found out that he was doing a weekly MMA podcast called MMA and Beyond with legendary MMA coach Ray Longo, someone I happen to have idolized for a long time.

Steve Maraboli and Ray Longo recording an early episode of MMA and Beyond

I listened to a few episodes of MMA and Beyond, and I realized that Steve was actually very passionate about MMA and Jiu Jitsu. I decided to send him a message on Instagram. I told him that I used to train at Renzo Gracie Fort Lee and maybe we could connect to talk MMA or record a podcast. He responded with his phone number and when I called him we BS-ed about MMA for about an hour on the phone. Since then, we text regularly, talk about UFC, mutual acquaintances in the MMA world and criticize each other’s taste in adult beverages (breaking balls is something else that’s common in the Jiu Jitsu world… and growing up in New York).

When I was planning a trip home to New York, I let Steve know that I would be in town and that we should meet up for lunch or to choke the shit out of each other (the way people in the Jiu Jitsu community make friendly plans). Steve and I met in person for the first time at The Renzo Gracie Academy in New York City to take a class taught by legendary Jiu Jitsu instructor, John Danaher. Moments after meeting in person, we were attempting to strangle each other for two hours, then we had lunch.

About an hour after meeting in person, this is Steve putting me in an anaconda choke during Professor Danaher’s lesson at Renzo Gracie Academy in New York City on September 5, 2019

For those of you reading this story who don’t know that much about combat sports, taking a class with Professor Danaher is a pretty big deal. He is one of the premier Jiu Jitsu instructors on the planet and highly regarded for the caliber of students he coaches. On the day I attended class, there were several world champion grapplers in the room who were training for the ADCC submission wrestling world championships. This was a real bucket list experience for me. Even though I used to live in New York, I never pulled the trigger and made the trip – until I met Steve.

Professor John Danaher and myself at Renzo Gracie Academy in New York City on September 5, 2019

As I mentioned, Steve also hosts a weekly MMA podcast at Longo-Weidman Mixed Martial Arts in Garden City, New York. While I was up north, Steve invited me as a guest on MMA and Beyond. The show is also hosted by Ray Longo and Bellator MMA fighter John The Manimal Beneduce, who appeared on episode 146 of MMA on the Rocks. This was a totally surreal experience for me because I had admired Ray Longo as a coach and analyst for well over 10 years. I listened to every interview and podcast I could get my hands on because I always appreciated his blunt and matter-of-fact commentary on the fight game.

From left to right, Ray Longo, myself, Steve Maraboli and John The Manimal Beneduce after recording MMA and Beyond at Longo-Weidman MMA in Garden City, New York on Sunday, September 8, 2019

So after three plus years of doing an MMA podcast and dedicating so much of my life to training the different disciplines of this sport, it all came together in this moment. I sat across from the legendary Ray Longo and he actually cared about what I had to say, laughed at a few one-liners and even said I made some good points. You can decide for yourself if it went well by listening to the episode embedded below, but I definitely had a blast.

After recording the show, I talked with Ray for another 20-30 minutes about growing up in New York, living in Florida, mutual acquaintances and upcoming fights. It was a moment that will resonate with me for a long time. More importantly, I formed some awesome and unexpected friendships along the way. It was all the result of meeting an ambitious realtor who booked a speaker at her first event who happened to love Jiu Jitsu and being open to making new connections. I can’t think of any other experiences in my life that I can map out from A to Z in so many steps, so maybe this is the first and maybe it’s the only. But I know I will definitely be open to new connections in the future and maybe I can even do the same for someone else.

Thank you for reading this, cheers!

Bill

Steve Maraboli and myself about to go grab lunch in New York City after trying to strangle each other for two straighAt hours on September 5, 2019 (his head isn’t really that big, it’s the angle of the photo)
You can listen to Episode 82 of MMA and Beyond, featuring myself, here
You can hear the latest episode of my own podcast, MMA on the Rocks, here

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