(Photo courtesy of UFC) Interview by Cindy Ortiz
(photo courtesy of theultimatefighter.tv)
“Luke Cummo is the guy that… if he was ever in your way, that’s the guy you’d pick on, and he’d kick your head to another planet and you wouldn’t know what the hell happened. Then you could never hang out with any of your friends anymore because the skinny nerd just kicked your ass!”
–Dana White (from episode 8 of The Ultimate Fighter 2)
Luke Cummo, the 25 year-old Taoist from New Hyde Park, Long Island is, for all intents and purposes, a walking contradiction. He looks like an accountant, but he’s a fighter. Luke seems like a “goodie-goodie” at first blush, but once founded a club bent on wreaking havoc in school and enlisted the help of classmates to do the same. He looks like a bookworm, yet he flunked out of college his first time around, but has since earned one degree and plans to pursue another as early as 2006. Luke also used to be a party animal while attending a local catholic school in New York.
Cummo, after having been evaluated by Matt Hughes and Rich Franklin for several days before teams were selected, was deemed to be the weakest and least desirable welterweight of the nine selected to compete for a contract with the UFC, yet he was the first one to make it to the semi-finals by defeating two opponents.
I had the opportunity to interview Luke last week and we talked about his experience on TUF 2, what his family and childhood was like as well as his plans for the future. There were many surprises and quite a few laughs!
Cindy Ortiz: Luke, had you not become a fighter, what do you think you would have become?
Luke Cummo: Well, right before I got on the show, I finished up my two year degree in Biology and I’m going to go back to school for Agriculture.
Cindy: How did you get into the sport of MMA to begin with? Some people joke that you must have gotten into MMA for self-defense purposes because maybe you got beat up a lot. True or false?
Luke: That would be false. I got into martial arts after watching Enter the Dragon with Bruce Lee. I wanted to be Bruce Lee (or just like him) so I found a kung fu school when I was sixteen years old and trained there for about four years. Then I started training at a Jeet Kune Do school in the next town over from me that was run by a guy named Ray Longo who is a kick boxing instructor as well as a kick boxing promoter. I trained there a few years and I was doing well, so I started competing. I got my first amateur kickboxing belt at the Vanderbilt’s, when I was about twenty or twenty one. I had a bunch of kick boxing bouts and I started competing in grappling tournaments after training MMA with Matt Serra and my first pro fight was in Ring of Combat in 2002.
Cindy: Tell me a little bit about your immediate family.
Luke: I’m the oldest of three boys (no sisters). The second one under me just graduated college. My other brother is in the Navy ROTC and he’s in his first year at Holy Cross in Boston. My dad is an ex-cop and he’s also retired from the Coast Guard and my mom is a court stenographer.
Cindy: What was your childhood like?
Luke: I watched a lot of cartoons, GI Joe, Thundercats, I would take my big box of GI Joe’s and go outside for the whole day and play in the dirt. I played soccer up until high school so that’s where I get my big legs from. When I was in sixth grade I founded a club in my grammar school; we were called the “Stupid Heads” and basically, all the kids in my grade got together at lunch and reeked havoc on the other kids, and um, the lunch aides.
Cindy: (laughter) “The Stupid Heads?” Luke Cummo! Grammar school gang-banger!
Luke: Yeah… We got disbanded but it was fun.
Cindy: The “Stupid Heads” got kicked to the curb! That’s a cool memory, though, Luke. So did you come from a big circle of friends or were you a pretty private person?
Luke: No, I was a pretty popular kid up until I would say high school, then I became more of an “artistic personality.” I still have a lot of friends and I’m still getting a lot of support now that I’m on the show, but um, in high school I had run-in’s with the football team because I was like the opposite of them, and I focused more on art work when I should have been paying attention in class instead of doodling or sleeping, but I did have a lot of friends. I went to an all boy’s catholic high school and I like to draw.
Cindy: What was the name of your high school?
Luke: Chaminade High School, in Mineola. We got out a month earlier than all the other schools and we used to do a lot of partying. Mine caught up to me after my first year of college when I flunked out of art school (Pride Institute in Brooklyn, New York).
Cindy: Sounds like the “Stupid Heads” lived on after all (laughter). I bet your parents were livid!
Luke: Um, yeah… I ended up failing out, not only because I was partying, but because I just didn’t do my school work. My parents took me to a psychiatrist because they though I was depressed, which I kinda was. That’s when I started looking into nutrition and alternative medicine because I obviously didn’t want to take any drugs or anything like that. I actually found out that what I was eating could actually affect the way I felt. My parents raised me as a vegetarian and I didn’t start eating meat until I was a teenager. I read a great book called Nutrition on Your Mind and it actually opened my eyes up to really look into the whole health and “eating right and stuff like that” thing. As a fighter, I try to eat right and I find consuming flesh makes me more aggressive.
Cindy: Wow… are there any fighters in your background?
Luke: No, my family isn’t really into the martial arts too much. I mean my little brothers are getting into it now because of me, but my parents would rather me, ya know, be in school or doing something like that.
Cindy: Tell me about the “sleeping north” thing.
Luke: Well I read a book called The Root of Chinese Chi Gung, which is like a centuries-old practice in cultivating the chi or the electromagnetic energy that runs through your body. Its been scientifically proven to exist lately and when you sleep north, apparently (from this book) the electromagnetic energy runs in a pattern; it goes up through the middle of the earth comes out through the top and then goes around the outside and out through the bottom and goes back in. It’s kinda like a circle, and you put your head that way so that the energy is flowing in the same way.
It’s kind of a superstition, but it makes me feel good, you know? A big part of the fight game is mental and I do whatever I have to, to keep that edge.
Cindy: Now that part I understand. If dragging your mattress off the bed on national TV to make sure the head is facing north gives you some kind of mental edge, more power to you. Who has been the single most influential person in your career thus far?
Luke: My martial arts career would be Bruce Lee and Ray Longo.
Cindy: Who impressed you the most from season one and why?
Luke: Well since the show I would say Nate Quarry. I had no idea he was that much of an animal, and also the way he carried himself on the show. I thought he was a really great guy and Kenny Florian and his elbows were nice.
Cindy: When your fight with Anthony aired, what were your thoughts as you watched it?
Luke: Um well, since the show I’ve been working on my jiu-jitsu a lot so when I was watching me get out of the choke, I was thinking how lucky I was because I was doing the wrong escape, so I was lucky to get out of those. I guess I could have let my hands go a little more and go for the knockout instead of clinching, too.
Cindy: What was the first MMA event you ever saw and method (live, video, DVD)?
Luke: I think it was UFC 1. I was watching it at my kung fu school and I was rooting for that kung fu guy who fought Royce Gracie (of course he lost), but then after that, I didn’t watch it again until I got to Ray Longo’s school, and started seeing his kickboxing show. The first live UFC event I went to was when Matt Serra fought Shonie Carter.
Cindy: Atlantic City at the Taj Mahal right? Shonie caught Matt with a spinning back fist, I think.
Cindy: What single piece of advice would you give to up and coming fighters?
Luke: I would say just train smart, you can train as hard as you want but if you’re not training the right thing, it won’t help you out. Half of that is doing your homework at home. If you work your bones off in the gym and then you go home and don’t get a good amount of sleep and don’t eat good, you won’t get good results.
Cindy: What would fans be surprised to learn about you?
Luke: Let me think here for a second, I collect marvel action figures…
Cindy: Finding out you used to be a party animal surprised me!
Luke: Yeah, I’m kinda born again as far as that; I don’t really drink anymore… I just don’t have the taste for it. I don’t know if it was the catholic school or the kind of people I was hanging out with, but even when I look at my brothers and their friends, I see a lot of kids are getting into it very young. It’s kinda like the accepted thing that people drink a lot, especially in college, so I got into that and that’s part of the reason why I got real sick, and I’m glad it kind of opened my eyes and what the deal is.
Cindy: What would you tell future TUF fighters to expect about what the housing environment?
Luke: The house is pretty cool actually. You have everything taken care of, but I would say be prepared to be very bored. I mean you can only talk to the same guys for so long without getting mad at them so we were playing a lot of solitaire. Actually the producers came to us at one point, me especially and pointed out to me, “Luke you’ve gotta stop playing so much solitaire.” They stocked the bar and encouraged us to drink but no one really did. I guess a little interaction amongst drunks would make good TV.
Cindy: Chris Leben should have dropped by for a visit and got you guys all liquored up! That would have been funny! What should future TUF fighters expect from the coaches?
Luke: (laughter) I don’t think anything would have prepared me for what Matt Hughes was about to do to us, but I would say just be prepared and stay focused. You gotta basically do doubles almost everyday. Maybe four days a week, we were doing double workouts, two and a half hours each, pretty hard core the whole time. When you get home you have to make your food take a nap and go back to practice again. It was a very strict regimen, which I kind of thrive in. I was happy because it was some of the best training I ever got. People are going to be rough; I would say bring a journal and just try and mentally stay there. There were times I was thinking of pulling an Eli.
Cindy: Are you serious? You’re probably the last fighter I would have thought could be a “See ya later, Gladiator!”
Luke: It was tough, but I’m glad I stuck it out. It was very stressful physically and mentally.
Cindy: Wow! What should people expect from the trainers?
Luke: Oh, they were awesome. Peter is a super nice guy and he taught some great work drills and conditioning. He had us double jumping a lot which is great and Ganyao had us working everyday on those bags and teaching us some cool stuff as far as the knees and elbows. They’re really nice guys.
Cindy: How about from the Spike TV crew?
Luke: From the crew, you’re not really supposed interact with them but on the way to the gym they would let us listen to the radio if we weren’t talking about fighting. Then whenever we would bring up the subject (if they weren’t in the room) they would run in with the camera crew. We had a joke; if we were talking about movies or music or something they wouldn’t show it on TV so they would walk away, and then we’d start talking about fighting and they would run back in… and we start talking about the other stuff.
Cindy: What should people expect from Dana?
Luke: Well, Dana is a businessman. He wants a good show so he’s going to demand the best from the fighters. He wasn’t happy with my performance against Anthony because he felt I could have gotten the finish. He’s just looking for good TV and good fights and I don’t think he cares about what goes on in the house, but when you’re in the gym he wants 110%.
Cindy: Do you get nervous before a fight?
Luke: I’m not the most confident guy in the world to begin with but I wouldn’t say I get nervous. I get very anxious, my hands and feet sweat. I just breathe deep and when I get in there its all gravy.
Cindy: What do you like to do when you’re not training or fighting?
Luke: I like to play stickball, throw Frisbee and I like to go camping. I was a boy scout, and I really like the outdoors. I love to cook, and I told you about collecting action figures. I play a lot of video games and one of my actual jobs before fighting was a video game tester, which was pretty cool… unless the game was bad.
Cindy: What are some of the sacrifices you have made in order to compete in the sport of MMA (social life, relationships, friendships, diet, jobs etc.)?
Luke: Well uh, I can’t really hang out with my friends too much because of training and they go out late at night. I’m sleeping at like 12:00, so there goes my social life. Ya know, I am an Italian from New York and everybody loves to eat especially when there’s such good food around here, but I have a diet to follow so that makes it tough sometimes.
All these things I sacrifice I feel I can do without anyway. One of the reasons why I love the martial arts so much is because of the discipline. It makes me do things I should be doing anyway, like eating right and not partying. When I graduated high school, instead of going away to college like all my friends did, I stayed here to continue training martial arts because I was kind of close to my kung fu instructor. That fell apart and as of now I’m scheduled to go to ESF, Environmental Science and Forestry soon, which is in Syracuse, New York, but I have to see what happens to the UFC.
Cindy: Why do you think you were picked dead last? How did that make you feel?
Luke: Well, I did have a sneaking suspicion because as far as the weight lifting goes, I am not a good weight lifter. Also, I would say my grappling was about half way; I wasn’t the best and I wasn’t the worst. When they got down to the last two guys we kinda mathematically figured it out that in order for both teams to have this amount of heavyweights and this amount of welterweights, Brad would have to go here and I would have to go there. After the third to last guy got picked me and Brad went up to get our shirts and they made us go back and look all sad. Then when Brad got picked, I tried to go back up again and they made me go back and stand by myself for the shot. That didn’t feel too good.
Cindy: And look how far you made it!
Luke: Yeah… (laughter) how do you like me now?
Cindy: I’ve noticed you’re popularity with the ladies is on the rise. Is Luke Cummo a “goodie-goodie” or a bad boy?
Luke: Oh man, I think I might appear to be a “good guy.” I’m not saying I’m not; I think I am a good guy but everyone has a dark side, and I don’t think anyone that beats up on people for a living can be considered a “goodie-goodie.”
Cindy: Then you’re a “good bad boy!”
Luke: Um, yeah… I guess.
Cindy: Describe your perfect woman.
Luke: My perfect woman would be into organic eating and health as much as I am. She would be into staying fit and I think that goes along with health and……. what else? Um…..
Cindy: Would she be “a fat prostitute and taste like pizza (something like that)?”
Luke: That would be the person I cheated on her with (laughter).
Cindy: For the record, is Luke available to the ladies?
Luke: No, Luke has a city girlfriend.
Cindy: OK, do you want to share anything about her?
Luke: She’s 34 years old, she’s a Special Ed teacher, we met at my gym and she’ll be coming to Vegas for my fight.
Cindy: That’s great! If they ever made a story about your life, who should play you and why?
Luke: I would like to say… I guess my ideal guy would be Johnny Depp but realistically, they would probably get the guy from that movie Rushmore.
Cindy: When your life is over with, what do you hope to be remembered for?
Luke: Um, I want to bring more awareness to an alternative, holistic lifestyle, to prevent diseases and even curing diseases. One of my really long term goals would be a kind of retreat house where people with illnesses can come and live and eat the food I grow. I would also have some kind of martial art thing there so they can exercise and get their blood flowing. I have read a few books about curing terminal diseases with diet, and I whole heartedly believe it.
Cindy: Is this a new idea or do retreats like this already exist?
Luke: Yeah, I think there’s a few that I have heard of; there’s one in like Hawaii and Puerto Rico and I think there’s one in Canada.
Cindy: That’s going to about do it, Luke. Is there anything you would like to add to this interview?
Luke: Yeah… thanks for working with me, Cindy. I sorta thought I blew it (laughter). Thanks to Combat Athlete, Ray Longo, Matt Serra, Zuffa and all the fans for their support and LukeCummo.com will be up and running shortly so check it out in a couple of weeks.
Cindy: No problem, Luke. Good luck with your fight November 5th. You have a lot of folks wishing you the best!