Most TUF fans know the tale of Matt Hamill by now – an esteemed
wrestler with super-human strength, discovered on season 3. He’s since
evolved into a light heavyweight who’s defeated the likes of Keith
Jardine (in a Fight of the Night stand-up war) and Mark Munoz (via
highlight-reel head kick).
But an interesting new chapter in Matt Hamill’s life story will be penned this
weekend his his co-main event against Tito Ortiz – an MMA legend who
made Hamill his first choice on The Ultimate Fighter.
UFC 121 marks the first time in TUF’s history that a matchup has pitted a coach against his charge, and Matt Hamill couldn’t be more excited for the opportunity to take on big name Tito Ortiz. “He thinks I’m the same fighter I was five years ago,” says Hamill. “I want to prove to him what kind of fighter I am and get my name out there. It’ll be an awesome fight.” See Hamill and Ortiz on TUF 3
There’s plenty more to be said about this fighter, and much of it will be covered in January’s “Hamill,” a biopic about his childhood and early wrestling career. But in the meantime, here are a few factoids that may just surprise you.
He’s Tito’s biggest defender
In an appearance on HD Net, Tito claimed that Hamill suffered from a soft head and poor equilibrium due to his deafness (Hamill was born deaf and learned to read lips and speak from his older siblings). Though the comment riled up the deaf and medical communities, Ortiz has a surprising ally in Hamill himself.
“A lot of the deaf community looks up to Tito, because he opened up the door for me on the reality show,” says Hamill. “Those statements, I’m trying to tell them that it’s just Tito’s job. He likes to talk trash, it’s just what he does. They understand.”
He has the master’s tools
Learning from all your coach’s best techniques can only help you – and hurt your coach – when the time comes to fight him. Though he won’t detail his game plan, Hamill does warn that “Tito showed me some good tricks about ground-and-pound.”
A victory on Saturday won’t be the first time he’s superseded an instructor – from high school wrestling through training for the Olympics, Hamill’s skills have routinely outgrown his surroundings. “I’m the type of person who always wants to beat somebody if they happen to be better than me,” he says.
He’s got other tools too
Hamill says the key to success on Saturday night will be his diverse skills. “I used to be a horrible, one-dimensional fighter, but I’m a fast learner and I’m like a sponge,” he says. On the other hand, “Tito is old school, and everyone knows his style and technique, we haven’t seen him add any new weapons.”
Proof that Hamill was no longer wrestling-reliant came in his June bout against Jardine, which Hamill describes (aptly) as a “bloodbath.” “The plan was to take him down, but unfortunately he has a good defense so I had to use plan B and attack him on the feet,” he describes. “I knew he was breaking down and I just had to do a lot of damage.”
He wants to tap Tito out
“I’ve never submitted anyone and I’d like to add that to my resume as soon as possible,” he says. To those ends, he’s been studying BJJ. The process was made more difficult because of the language barrier – not the Portuguese one, the sign language one. “I finally found someone who could communicate to me and I’m just getting better and better.” While the moves were easy enough to teach, Hamill struggled with nuances that no average interpreter could explain. “It took me a long time to understand that it’s all about technique, not just using your strength.”
He’s just too nice
At least, he used to be. Hamill regrets his friendly approach to his friend and opponent in the Rich Franklin fight, which resulted in one of his career losses. He’s taking those lessons with him into the Ortiz bout. “It’s hard to fight against someone you like, it’s like fighting a brother, but after the Rich Franklin fight I’m learning it’s all about business and I have to toughen up,” he says. “Tito’s a great guy and I don’t want to fight my friend, but it’s just business. I have to go out there and hope I’ll have that killer instinct.”
He knows his limits
Hamill’s career – like his mentor’s – has been riddled with injuries: He suffered a torn shoulder in the Jon Jones fight and had to pull out of a headlining bout against Brandon Vera last summer in order to get knee surgery. Hamill takes a Zen-like approach to this part of the fighter's life. “Nobody’s 100% during a fight,” he says, and he learned patience with his body early on.
“I was wrestling in high school in 1994 when I got my first knee injury,” he says. “I thought I’d be out for one or two days, and then I realized it’d take four or five weeks. It’s disappointing, but as you train, your body starts to change, and you have to just step back and stay healthy.”
He expects a rematch with Bones
Phenom Jon Jones’ only loss on paper came at the hands of Matt Hamill, who ‘won’ via disqualification at the TUF 12 finale. Hamill was surprised by Jones’ superior wrestling and was hobbled by a separated shoulder soon into the fight. “I didn’t really expect him to take me down, since it’d been a long time since someone took me down,” he says.
And he’s open to the idea of earning the W: “I still have unfinished business with him, and I’m sure down the road it could happen,” says Hamill. “I have a feeling we’ll fight in Madison Square Garden,” he hints – both men train out of New York, one of the few remaining states where MMA is not legalized.
He has a hammock
Though Hamill spends most of his time training and traveling – he regularly appears at deaf culture events – he’d rather just be in his yard, which is more the size of a farm. “Sometimes I just go hiking up in the mountains on my land, I’m an outdoor person. I like to just relax in my hammock.”