A year ago, I discovered a little sandwich shop on Mulberry Street that produced the finest Chicken Parmesan sandwiches I’ve ever had. That entire summer, I continued frequenting the restaurant and also discovered their turkey sandwiches were enchanted with an unknown mysterious additive. No, it’s not just a turkey sandwich. They do something miraculous with turkey, skipping several generations of culinary & technological advancements to produce a sandwich that I refused to tell anyone about, because I didn’t want the most ballerish sandwichery in NYC to be discovered. Later that year, Anthony Bourdain’s highly acclaimed “No Reservations” show on the Travel Channel discovered the same place and America’s most outspoken food snob proclaimed “Torrisi” as one of NYC’s best kept secrets, thereby shredding any hope I had of keeping my gustatory treasure to myself; after millions of people watched the hour-long dissection of how amazing their food was, and how no other comparable restaurant sourced their ingredients as honestly, locally, and sustainably as them, it became instantly impossible to even see a table outside of their lunch hours. Formerly smug and well-fed foodies were forced to settle for something far less extraordinary in Little Italy just down the street, but on Wednesday, February 15, I found myself walking back up that same street for the first time in months to have a sandwich with Joe Lozito – avid MMA fan, assistant treasurer at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center, loving father of two, and self-proclaimed Chicken ‘Parm’ aficionado. I tried to explain how amazing these sandwiches were, and insisted we endure the hour-long wait for a table (thanks to Anthony Bourdain’s endorsement). Ultimately, we were in great spirits following our brief walk up Mulberry Street, which consisted of smiles, jokes, and laughter as he brought closure to a yearlong saga that played out in New York City’s criminal court system.
On February 12, 2011, Joe entered New York City’s subway system en route to work, following a routine he has practiced for years, just like millions of his fellow “straphangers”, as they’re known locally. What differentiated Joe from everyone else on the train was that his years of watching MMA would ultimately save his life, and the lives of every other man, woman, and child on the train that day.
The “one” train he normally took uptown wasn’t in service that morning. Indifferently, Joe boarded the “three” line. He assumed a seat in the front car nearest to the subway operator’s quarters and waited for the doors to close but there was a delay as an ‘emotionally disturbed person’ boarded the same car and proceeded to pound on the operator’s door. If you’ve spent any extended time in New York City, none of this would seem out of the ordinary. In fact, I would venture to say I’ve never experienced a completely “normal” subway ride getting anywhere in the 25+ years I’ve lived in this city. Unbeknownst to Joe, this particular unhinged man was the focus of a city-wide manhunt following four consecutive murders stemming from the night before. When the conductor essentially told the man to get lost, he turned his eyes to Joe, the person geographically nearest to him at that very moment. He reached to his belt line and retrieved an eight-inch chef’s knife, the kind you’re probably accustomed to seeing in a kitchen, stared directly into Joe’s eyes and muttered “You are going to die”.
Within seconds, the knife traveled into & out of Joe’s arms, shoulders, and head; a total of seven times. Joe immediately planted his legs on the vinyl-coated floor and shot for the most important single-leg takedown of his life while the train came to a screeching halt. A passenger must have triggered the subway’s emergency brake lever upon seeing the savage attack commence. Bleeding profusely, Joe wrestled the man to the ground, disarmed him, and more or less single-handedly brought an end to the Maxim Gelman 24-hour killing spree, while the rest of the subway’s patrons resisted getting their hands dirty. Several moments later, two New York police officers emerged from the conductor’s cabin, where they had resided for the duration of the train’s course. They immediately arrested Gelman and graciously accepted credit for apprehending NYC’s most wanted man while Joe continued to bleed out onto the dirty floor of the subway car. Nobody knows exactly what prompted two armed personnel sworn to protect and serve the people of New York to wait as long as they did to come out and pick up the suspect they were specifically stationed to look out for that day. It was nearly 25 minutes after the attack began when the train proceeded to the next station and Joe finally made it into an ambulance where his bleeding cuts were tended-to. To date, he credits his survival to a single compassionate passenger, Alfred Douglas, who found some clean napkins to compress his most critical wounds and kept him alive long enough for medics to take control of the situation.
While Joe was rushed to the hospital, the local news coverage of his ordeal exceeded any other headlines that week. There wasn’t a single channel covering sports, pop culture, or politics, where the story wasn’t about Joe Lozito stopping a madman on a killing rampage. Less than a day later, Joe was considered medically stable enough to talk to media regarding his horrifying experience on the subway. Throughout the entire media-blitz, the reoccurring question remained, “How were you able to overcome a man stabbing you and end up disarming him?” Joe’s humble response, over and over again, was, “It’s something I’ve seen guys do in the UFC on a regular basis, but without the knife.” It’s the story he told FOX, ABC, CBS, TMZ, and finally Dana White – who responded by deeming Joe a true life “hero” and subsequently invited him and his family to sit at a VIP table at UFC 128 in Newark, New Jersey. Since then, Joe has sat ringside at multiple MMA events, considered a guest of honor – and in our opinion, it’s well deserved for many reasons.
Besides the gravity of what he was able to overcome, protecting dozens of horrified passengers, this was the first time that all major media sources united to produce a story regarding Mixed Martial Arts in a positive light in a state where the sport is still illegal – In fact, it remains the ongoing joke of the MMA world that people like Bob Reilly have ignorantly (and without rational consideration) called mixed martial arts “savage” and unfit for the state of New York. I’d venture to guess that people like Mr. Reilly or any of his constituents at the New York State Assembly would struggle to remember any time when a baseball, football, or basketball fan was able to use what he saw on TV to stop a ruthless murderer and save potentially countless lives in the process. Needless to say, Joe Lozito is not impressed by their ignorance either.
Eleven months later, MMA is still illegal in New York and Maksim Gelman will serve 200 consecutive years in prison without the possibility of parole. The local media swarmed the sentencing, capturing disturbing images of the psychopath verbally lashing out while the victims’ families cried over their lost loved-ones. It was a top story in a city where there’s rarely enough time to cover something that happened a full calendar year ago. Despite the lunacy, it wouldn’t be Gelman’s last time in court or his final hurtful remark. Just 27 days later, on February 15, 2012, Joe returned to court to face the man who tried to kill him, who was to be sentenced for up to an additional 25 years in prison, a formality at this point, but a final opportunity for Joe to say his piece to the murderer.
While our cameras were not allowed in the courtroom, a brief transcript of Joe’s final statement to Maksim Gelman was clear and concise:
“This guy has a lot of time he has to start serving… I don’t want to keep him here.”
Joe proceeded to acknowledge Alfred Douglas for saving his life by giving him first aid after the attack. He then looked directly into Gelman’s eyes.
“When you attacked and I took you down, you went down real easy,”
“You didn’t take me down, you jerk-off,” Gelman fired back.
Looking at the courtroom, Lozito responded, “Look, it’s the funniest Russian since Yakov Smirnoff.”
A brief moment of laughter overcame the courtroom. Joe proceeded.
“I appreciate that you chose me, I really do… Maybe if you’d continued your extreme cowardice, you would have picked on another person, a woman and maybe she couldn’t defend herself. Or a child.”
Gelman resumed interjecting, “You fucking jerk-off. Moron!”
“Why are you so angry?” Lozito mocked back.
Clearly infuriated, Gelman began hollering loudly, forcing the judge to tell him to keep quiet.
“Just think about the lives you have changed,” Lozito resumed, then listed the names of Gelman’s four victims. “They’ll never get to walk the face of this earth because you’re a spoiled little boy who nobody listened to as a kid. Instead of taking your ball and going home, you threw a tantrum.”
“I wish you all the best. I hope you rot in your cell and you have hell to look forward to, so enjoy it.”
Given a last chance to speak on his own behalf, Gelman’s final words were simply “Kim Kardashian, will you marry me?” followed by one last insult towards Lozito, “That jerk-off can suck my dick.”
“No thank you, for the record,” Lozito replied as he took his seat and awaited the judge’s sentencing.
“We’ve been subjected today to something of this man’s evil, unrepentant nature,” Judge Carruthers said. “Remove him.” He handed down an additional 25 years in prison to the pre-existing 200 year sentence.
Gelman was escorted out through the back of the courtroom for the last time, and the remaining spectators in the room were left looking around at one another in abrupt disbelief at what they had just witnessed. A quadruple homicide + attempted murder convict wasn’t in the same league as the other criminals before the judge that day. That kind of evil wasn’t even in the same galaxy of most people’s notions of reality.
At a charity event MiddleEasy attended a few months ago sponsored by the New York Mixed Martial Arts Initiative, Joe was uncertain how he’d handle himself once the day arrived. It was our first time meeting, and he was reluctant to introduce himself, despite effortlessly being the most charismatic man in the room. My initial impression was that he was a soft-spoken individual who could say a lot without saying anything at all. The look on his face often tells a variety of stories. Joe will probably wear the physical scars of the wounds he sustained for the rest of his life, but emotionally, I’m convinced nothing could ever break him. When the time had come, Joe took a deep breath, stood up, and proceeded out of the courtroom just as confident as he walked in, answered a few questions amidst a flock of impassioned photographers and journalists, then insisted he wanted the best chicken parm sandwich on the island of Manhattan. Luckily, I knew just the place…
We toasted a round of beers in the spirit of closure to a year-long wait to say his peace. You could ask Joe Lozito 10,000 different ways, and he’d deny that he’s anything remotely close to a hero, but the reality of what he did transcends any notion of just being humble. It’s because of him that dozens of people who rode the subway got home safely on the night of February 12, 2011. A year later, the people who sat there while Joe was getting attacked by a monster continue live their lives as though nothing ever happened, and they may never fully grasp how lucky they were that this particular MMA fan was aboard that train. Not only is Joe Lozito a hero, but he’s a person that can never be thanked enough for putting himself in harm’s way so that nobody else had to. If you haven’t yet, you should take a moment to send him a simple “thank you,” on Twitter. He whole-heartedly appreciate every single motivational message you send his way, insisting it makes his physical and mental recovery that much more bearable. He also responds to every last message and is always up for a discussion about sports.
On a personal note, it’s people like Joe that give me faith in humanity, humility, and make me proud to be in a position to tell his story.
Thank you, Joe Lozito. I’m proud to consider you a hero, and a friend.
Additional thanks go out to Jason Nawara for editing this footage we obtained by sharing this day of closure for a lot of people.