ByDan Shapiro, writer at
Senior Editor, Champions
Dan Shapiro

Chances are, if you already know who Harley Flanagan is, you’re pretty deep into the world of underground fighting or hardcore punk.

Flanagan, a BJJ black belt and instructor at Manhattan’s Academy, is the founder of legendary New York band the Cro-Mags and the author of the recently published “Hard-Core, Life on My Own.” He’s also a veteran of New York’s submission grappling scene, and trains regularly with UFC 205 fighter Rafael “Sapo” Natal.

“We’re a close knit group over there,” commented Flanagan, who grew up among New York’s cultural elite like Allen Ginsberg and Andy Warhol. “It’s pretty intense in [the Renzo Gracie Academy], especially because one of our instructors is on the bill, so everybody’s pumped. It’s great. We’ve been waiting a long time for this.”

The UFC 205 card at is a monumental victory for New York martial artists like Flanagan, who endured 19 years without MMA in their state. As the years passed, Flanagan and his BJJ brethren took to underground fight clubs to settle their combat itches, but it’s been almost a decade since he competed himself.

Martial arts weren’t always the outlet of choice for Flanagan, who burst onto the late 70s punk scene as the drummer of The Stimulators when he was just an adolescent. Hanging with Joe Strummer and The Clash, Flanagan went on to up the tempo and intensity of the punk rock genre, birthing hardcore on Manhattan’s lower east side.

With an aggressive and rhythmic thump to his charging bass lines, Flanagan traveled the world with the Cro-Mags, opening up for bands like Slayer and Iron Maiden. He eventually withdrew from the band and found BJJ. But while discovering jiu-jitsu transformed his life, the music never left.

A practitioner of multiple art forms, there is a seamless crossover from his low-end four string to the vacuum-tight chokes and locks on the mat.

“It’s a very aggressive style of music so it really pushes you physically … I’ve always really played with that type of intensity. Not just music, but my jiu-jitsu game has always been a pretty intense one,” commented Flanagan. “It’s just my nature all across the board -- for me has always been intense.”

Anil Melwani
Anil Melwani

Now a decorated BJJ black belt, Flanagan teaches daily at Manhattan’s jiu-jitsu Mecca on West 30th St., just one block from the site of UFC 205. And while the gym regularly welcomes MMA A-listers like , , , and Matt Serra, along with author/restaurateur/TV host Anthony Bourdain, all attention this week is focused on “Sapo” Natal, a native Brazilian who has been living in New York for the better part of a decade, training and teaching armbars, chokes, and leg locks.

With Natal, a 15-time Octagon competitor, taking on UFC veteran as part of the UFC 205 preliminary card, the entire Renzo Gracie community is rallying behind their fighting comrade.

“He definitely represents this city with pride ... this is definitely his home away from home,” comments Flanagan. “He could literally do warmups at our academy and jog to [the Garden].”

Listen to Cro-Mags blistering debut LP "The Age of Quarrel" below. "Hard-Core, Life on My Own" is available via Feral House publishing.


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