Friday, March 30, 2007

A Day Of Terror

By Mike Chiappetta

We were able to spend the day yesterday with Matt Serra, as he trained in preparation for his matchup with Georges St. Pierre for the UFC welterweight championship on April 7 in Houston. We had a camera crew in tow to document the day, so look for video footage next week.

As many fans learned from watching The Ultimate Fighter Season 4, Serra is a hilarious guy who also has a serious side as a world-class jiu-jitsu coach and businessman. He certainly displayed both traits during our day of Terror. And he is definitely loose in the leadup to the fight, laughing and joking constantly with training partners, students and locals. But when he gets to business, you can see the type of focus and drive that champions are made of.

Serra is an extremely down-to-earth guy, who loves the sport so much he spent two years living in the basement of the first Serra Jiu-Jitsu school he opened. Then unsolicitied, he says, "winning the championship wouldn't change me. I'm not going to be one of those guys who starts referring to himself in the third-person. And if I do, I expect someone to punch me in the head."

He knows he's considered the underdog in the fight, but that's actually a situation he loves, because at just 5-6 1/2 ("and a-half!" he repeats for emphasis), he's been an underdog in a lot of fights, yet the fact that he is just one win away from wearing a championship belt around his waist tells you how often he's bucked the odds.

Pete "Drago" Sell and Luke Cummo, also fight on the April 7 card and often train with Serra, so if all three should win, Houston will see a party worthy of Texas' big reputation.

But can Serra win? He looks in great shape, and his workouts have been stressing stamina as he's been working hard in preparation for his first fight that could go a full 25 minutes (remember, title fights are five rounds).

Does he see holes in St. Pierre's game? Not necessarily. And he can't even work up any ill feelings for his opponent, saying, "Georges is a nice guy. A gentleman, really." But if you ask him what it would mean to him to win the championship, you can see the look in his eyes change. This is the man who became the first American to earn a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In some ways, that makes him a US pioneer. He is proud of his achievements and says there's more ahead.

Here's the thing about fighting Serra that sparring partners discover: one wrong move and it's over. That's how good he is with submissions. One careless move and you're ligaments are in danger, one misstep and you're suddenly fading from consciousness.


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