Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Breaking the sound barrier

By Marques Phillips

UTICA -- New York Mills resident Matt 'The Hammer" Hamill calls being born deaf a blessing. He said not hearing the droves of cheering fans at his Ultimate Fighting Championship matches allows him to achieve a higher level of focus than his opponents.

"I'm deaf, I can't hear the noise," Hamill said. "I can't hear the coach either; I have to use my own game plan. Sometimes people underestimate me because I can't hear, but they have no idea what I'm capable of. There are no distractions for me, nothing to get me nervous."

Hamill does admit that before his last fight, a technical knockout of Rex Holman on March 3, he could feel the rumbling sensations from the crowd for the first time in his life.

"I could feel all the vibration and the screaming," Hamill said. "It made me ready to go."

After college, Hamill, a Loveland, Ohio, native, moved to New York Mills to be closer to his daughter after he and his wife, a Whitesboro native, split up.

He was discovered one night while removing rowdy football players at Tom Cavallo's Restaurant in New Hartford, where he worked as a bouncer.

"I told them they need to leave," Hamill said of the incident. "One of them tried to fight me off so I put him in a cobra choke and threw him out. Everybody was watching like they couldn't believe it."

It was then Hamill was approached by one of the patrons who had the idea for him to apply for the UFC. Hamill didn't know what it was at first, but looked it up online.

He found that it was a sport of bare and rugged combat, two men pitted against each other inside of an octagon locked into a steel cage. He knew it was a good fit for his personality and skill-set.

"I was glad they picked me," Hamill said. "I was in the top 12 out of 3,000 people."

Hamill a three--time Division III national wrestling champion at Rochester Institute of Technology and a Division III Wrestling Hall of Famer, is undefeated in the UFC. He was also named the 1997 USA Deaf Sports Federation Athlete of the Year.

After training with UFC Middleweight Champion Rich Franklin, Hamill appeared on the reality show "Ultimate Fighter 3", a tournament style contest for up-and-coming UFC fighters.

On the show, Hamill didn't lose any matches and quickly developed a reputation as a top competitor with a brutal assortment of takedowns and a wide array of strikes. However, he broke his arm in his last victory on the show, a unanimous decision over Mike Nickels. He won the fight jabbing with one arm, with the other lying limply at his side. He wanted to continue in the competition, he wanted to move on, but the show's producers wouldn't let him.

From there, he trained with renowned UFC champion Tito Ortiz in California, and has continued to spend long stretches training there. He describes the preparation he goes through there as 'raw', and said most men who have tried to join them couldn't will themselves through the arduous training.

"A lot of people gave up," Hamill said. "I'm not really a give-up type of person; I want to be great."

He also trains locally with trainer Duff Holmes, Utica Boxing Association pioneer Tim Greene and a variety of martial artists including Ken Kronenberg and Ray Newkirk.

"The first time I trained him we actually sparred a little," Holmes said. "I was in awe; I never felt anything like that pain in my life."

When asked what separates Hamill from the other athletes he's worked with, Holmes didn't hesitate.

"Heart," Holmes said. "He's got more heart than 100 men combined. He doesn't stop, doesn't quit."

Hamill said his daughter knows what he does, and she wrestles herself. In fact, he hopes to use his newly found popularity to train as many potential fighters as possible.

That's why he has been helping out with Whitesboro High School's wrestling team. It's also why he's opening his own school, and plans to have a fighting cage, a wrestling mat, and some weights in it. He says it will be a school of mixed martial arts. He's in the process of remodeling a building across from the Uptown Theatre on Genesee St. into the Matt Hamill Training Center, but says the vision is clear.

"I'm tired of driving to Syracuse and flying to California," Hamill said. "We need something here."

Hamill said he's happy with the treatment he gets when walks around and estimates that 100 people have stopped by his house in New York Mills seeking autographs and pictures.

"They go crazy," Hamill said of his fans. "I like it, it's not bad. I'm new to it, I still have to get used to it."

When kids who are interested in wrestling or martial arts see Hamill, they ask when he's holding a camp or clinic. Now, he hopes to work with those people full time, in between traveling the country to pummel his competitors.


No comments: