One night in Las Vegas changed his life.
Not like the party capital’s nicknames and clever marketing would suggest.
For Pete “Drago” Sell, his “Sin City” rush came inside the UFC’s octagon on Feb. 5, 2005. That night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, Sell, from Bay Shore, made his UFC debut against Phil Baroni from Massapequa.
“It was my shot,” Sell said recently inside his new home in West Islip.
That fight at UFC 51 was the first and only time in UFC history two fighters from Long Island faced one another inside the octagon. Sell, 22 years old and 5-0 at the time, had three weeks to prepare for Baroni, who originally was scheduled to fight Robbie Lawler. Baroni had lost three fights in a row but had a reputation for knockouts.
But it was Sell who won the fight with a submission via guillotine choke in the final minute of the fight.
“I became a believer,” Sell said about that night. “You gotta chase your dreams. Go for it. You live once. You got one ticket, go for it.”
He did just that for the next 10 years. He went 4-7 over that time span, with fights in the UFC and Ring of Combat. Sell wound up on the wrong side of several highlight-reel finishes, most notably against Scott Smith and Matt Brown. He last fought in September 2015 after three years off. Major knee surgery contributed to the long layoff.
“Where I’m at in life right now, obviously, for so many years I chased the fighting,” said Sell, now 34. “I loved it so much, it was the highest of the highs. And now I’m working my ass off.”
Sell works for Lifetime Chimney Supply, a steel chimney lining company based in Plainview. He does metal fabrication and custom metal work. It was something he did during his fighting career as a way to make money and have a career to fall back on after fighting.
But he’s not entirely out of the fight world. A black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Matt Serra, Sell continues to teach the sport at Serra’s academies in Levittown and Huntington as well as at Longo and Weidman MMA in Garden City.
“It’s nice being able to have that other means come in to make money besides fighting,” Sell said.
He has a family and a home to provide for now, with his girlfriend, Ashley, and their son, Jack.
“I love having the little guy,” Sell said. “It’s just fun. Holding pads for him a little bit, he’s throwing football, hitting baseballs, he’s 2 years old.” But . . .
“Honestly, what I really wish is that I could just be sitting, relaxed and fight for the rest of my life,” Sell said. “Obviously, there’s a life in fighting and I wish it didn’t end. Because fighting, there’s nothing better.”
Many professional athletes find it hard to walk away from their sport and stay away. Sell spent more than half of his life learning and practicing jiu-jitsu. He first began training with Serra at age 17.
Sell said he thinks about fighting again and believes he’ll compete again. When that may be, who knows?
“I know it’s a young man’s sport not only because of age and because of your body, but because of your time,” Sell said. “When you’re young, you’re 21, you got nothing to do. ‘You know what I’m doing today? I’m freakin’ training all day, I don’t care, I got nothing else to do. It’s the best.'”
He’s not 21 now. He has things to do. A job. A family. A mortgage.
“You want the best for your family,” Sell said of Ashley and Jack. “I want to be able to give them the world.”
|PETE SELL’S UFC FIGHT HISTORY|
|Feb. 5, 2005||UFC 51||Phil Baroni||Won by submission, Round 3, 4:19|
|Aug. 6, 2005||UFC Fight Night 1||Nate Quarry||Lost by KO, Round 1, 0:42|
|Nov. 11, 2006||Ultimate Finale 4||Scott Smith||Lost by KO, Round 2, 3:25|
|April 7, 2007||UFC 69||Thales Leites||Lost by unanimous decision|
|Sept. 19, 2007||UFC Fight Night 11||Nate Quarry||Lost by KO, Round 3, 0:44|
|Oct. 25, 2008||UFC 90||Joshua Burkman||Won by unanimous decision|
|March 7, 2009||UFC 96||Matt Brown||Lost by KO, Round 1, 1:32|
Photographer: Chris Ware
Video editor: Greg Inserillo