Do you really know Joe Scarola?

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You remember Joe Scarola, right? You watched The Ultimate Fighter 6: Team Hughes vs. Team Serra, so you have a pretty good idea what this guy’s all about. You read the different MMA sites and news sources about how he left the house, so you definitely have an opinion on what kind of guy he is.

Joe received a lot of bad press during and after his short stint on TUF 6. After he left the show, he got kicked around in the media. It was clear that most people had their minds made up about him anyway.

TUF 6 was a long time ago, and Joe wants to leave the past in the past. It definitely changed his life, but he’s a resilient guy who, over the years, has redeemed himself in an impressive and admirable way. So, erase everything in your mind that you think you know about him, and get to know the real Joe…from the beginning.

Joe grew up in East Meadow in Long Island, NY. He started training martial arts at the age of 5. When he was 16, he saw the first Ultimate Fighting Championship with Royce Gracie and wanted to learn Jiu-Jitsu. He related to Royce, who wasn’t a big guy either, and liked the idea of overcoming bigger guys with technique, not strength.

Joe started taking Jiu-Jitsu and stand-up at a local school when he heard that Matt and Nick Serra, who trained under Renzo Gracie, were doing “privates” at their home in East Meadow. Joe contacted Matt and started training with him. “After a while, Renzo started Jiu-Jitsu classes where I lived,” Joe says, “Ricardo Almeida, Rodrigo Gracie, and Matt taught at the school.”

They called it “The Barn” because there were no windows or ventilation. “It was like slip and slide in there in the summer,” Joe laughs. He trained at The Barn for about three years. “Renzo taught there for the first six months, then went back to his Manhattan academy. Matt and Rodrigo took over teaching to keep it going,” Joe says.

Joe Scarola holds his brand new black belt. With him, Matt, Nick Serra, Damien Serra, Papa Serra, Joe Monahan and Persian Nick. They all trained at "The Barn". Photo: personal archives

Matt and Rodrigo eventually opened their own schools. “I stayed with Matt and helped teach classes.” Joe says, “I also trained with Rodrigo at his school.” When Rodrigo moved to California, Joe kept teaching and competing under Matt and their friendship continued to grow. Joe also began to build a name for himself as a respected and knowledgeable instructor and Jiu-Jitsu artist.

Over time, Joe became so passionate about the sport, he started traveling back and forth to Brazil to train. The first time he went, he stayed with Flavio Almeida. “He was a really good guy,” Joe says, “He let me stay with him and he showed me all around Rio.” Joe went to train in Brazil about a half dozen times. “Jiu-Jitsu was different there,” he says, “Back then, Renzo was getting into MMA along with a lot of other guys. I was training more no gi. Their grips were at a different level. They were better than what I was used to. I learned a lot when I went there.”

As Joe’s Jiu-Jitsu developed, he began to progress in his belts as well. He became Matt’s first black belt when he was 25 years old and the two were inseparable. “I was training with Matt, and going to his shows. I’d known Dana White for a long time. I told Matt I wanted to be in the show (TUF 6). He pitched it and they accepted me.”

Getting his black belt from Renzo and Matt. Photo: Personal Files.

The Ultimate Fighter 6: Team Hughes vs. Team Serra was shot in June of 2007. The show was scheduled to run six weeks, but Joe only lasted two. He says he didn’t realize until it was too late, that the fighters trained for two hours in the morning and two in the evening, but the rest of the time they were stuck in the house with each other.

“The whole experience…that I left for my girlfriend…that wasn’t the case,” Joe recalls, “I didn’t leave for her. At the time, for good or for bad, I just wasn’t mentally prepared to live in the house.” Joe says he was ready to fight, but as a private, introverted person, the chaos, drama, and constant verbal sparring between the guys left him drained and stressed out. “I just wasn’t prepared to deal with all that,” he says.

After Joe left the show, the life he knew completely unraveled. Matt was true to his word when he said if Joe dropped out, he’d cut him out of his life. “Matt gave me everything,” he recalls sadly, “But when I left the house, I had nothing. I lost my way of life and my best friend. Matt was like a brother to me. I was the best man in his wedding. It sucked.”

Scarola was left on his own to try to put his life back together with what little he had – no job, no money, and no real plans. He couldn’t teach for Matt at his school anymore and he had to find a way to make money. Joe had hit the lowest point in his life. “I had to grow up,” he says, “It forced me to man-up. It made me tough.”

I just wasn’t prepared to deal with all that” Joe Scarola

So, Joe did what Joe does best: Jiu-Jitsu. He called in some old “privates” and taught them out of his house. Some friends remained by his side, while others turned their backs on him. “It was terrible,” he says, “True friends stuck around through the hard times. They motivated me to do something big.”

Joe decided he wanted to open up his own Jiu-Jitsu school, but he knew he had to start small to make it big. So, in November of 2007, Joe found a place in Queens to teach. Times were tough and money was sparse, so he did what he could to get by. “I rented space out of a kitchen cafeteria in an Asian Community Center in College Point,” Joes laughs, “I brought mats there and tried to advertise. Through word of mouth, I got students to train in the kitchen! I thought, ‘Wow! I can actually do this!’ I had 15 students and I thought, ‘Ok, I gotta get out of this kitchen!’”

Joe went back to Long Island with a little more money and confidence under his belt. He found a place to rent space and once again, students filled it up quickly. He decided it was time to open his own school. “Scarola BJJ opened in May of 2008,” Joe says proudly, “But I was so familiar with Gracie Barra – I originally trained under Renzo – it just made sense to change affiliations. When I got my 1st degree stripe on my black belt, I went to the GB headquarters in California and saw how well the school was managed, how beautiful the academy was, and how efficiently their classes were run. It was awesome.”

Joe decided he wanted to be a part of their team, so he spoke to the GB Association and changed his school to GB Long Island. “I took a lot of ‘flak’ after the Ultimate Fighter show,“ Joe says, “But when I opened up my school, everyone knew me, partly from that. I got about 100 students in 2 months.” As the old saying goes, when one door closes, another one always opens up.

GB Long Island became so successful, Joe opened GB Long Island, Commack in August of 2009. “The schools are doing well with the help of my partner, Tom Muller,” Joe says, “I couldn’t do this without him. I’m so lucky to be able to live the Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle. You can’t find better. I get to do Jiu-Jitsu everyday, teach, and make people’s lives better. It’s great.”

Although Joe is hungry to get back into MMA, which he trains in and teaches regularly, he says it’s not the time in his life to pursue it. His goals these days are to stay 100% focused on his schools and to train for Jiu-Jitsu competitions. “I want to do well with the top guys,” he says.

Recently, Joe had the opportunity to do just that when he agreed to fight in a Jiu-Jitsu “superfight” with Hermes Franca, Brazilian black belt, former UFC lightweight contender, and WEC lightweight champion. The fight took place at tournament Long Island Pride.

Fighting Hermes at last Long Island Pride. Photo: Chris Scanlon.

“It was an honor to go against Hermes,” Joe says, “His Jiu-Jitsu is really good and I wanted to test my skills. It was a six minute match. He got a take down at the beginning and I got a sweep. I shot a takedown, and he got on top. He won 4-2.”

Today, Joe loves his life. Everything’s finally going his way. Who knew that when he originally accepted the Ultimate Fighter spot, it would turn his life upside down and he would have to work so hard to turn it right-side up again? But that’s exactly what he’s done with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and he’s a better man for it. “Jiu-Jitsu gave me a purpose in life,” Joe says, “I love teaching and spreading the art. I get to do something I love every day.”

As for his relationship with Matt Serra, Joe says he’s seen him sporadically over the years. They say hello, but that’s about it. “It’s not the same as it was,” Joe says resignedly, “It won’t ever be the same. We lead two different lives now. We’ll always be friendly, but it’s sad because I was closer to him than anyone.”

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