Thursday, March 8, 2007

Hamill moves record Columbus crowd

By Elias Cepeda

His music hit the arena air waves, his image went up onto the big over head screens, and as he made his way to the cage door and into the Octagon, the Columbus, Ohio crowd’s ovation built into a crescendo that erupted upon his formal introduction by name by UFC announcer Bruce Buffer. Sitting there, live in the arena, it was the loudest this writer had ever heard a fight audience get, period.

And guess what, I’m not talking about Randy Couture’s entrance later that night either. Hours before Couture’s successful return to action whipped the Columbus crowd into a frenzy, on the last fight on the prelim under card, Matt Hamill brought out something wonderful in the over 19,000 UFC fans in attendance March 3rd at UFC 68.

Hamill, who is deaf, was a former division III NCAA wrestler, made the third season of the UFC’s reality show fighting competition, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) and was one of the favorites to win the 205-lb portion of the contest before being forced out by an injury. Just as he didn’t let being deaf stop him from becoming an elite amateur athlete, Hamill overcame that injury and fought and won on the season three finale in June of 2006.

Despite only having months of MMA training this supposedly “disabled” man impressed top UFC light heavyweight and TUF season three coach Tito Ortiz with his raw talent and physical strength, and he had inspired the millions who had watched him on the reality show.

Its true that exposure through a national cable television network show can help a fighter’s profile among fans, so can the types of perseverance, strength of character and sincerity that Hamill had shown. So as Hamill made his walk to the UFC cage for his first pay per view fight last Saturday night the fans were ready to give back.

Hamill had shown them that he didn’t believe anything was impossible. Not wrestling though deaf, not fighting for the UFC with no MMA experience, not overcoming career threatening injuries, nothing. And with anything being possible, the sell-out Nationwide Arena crowd wanted to make Matt Hamill “hear” them.

By the time Hamill had entered the Octagon to fight fellow Ohioan Rex Holman he had a full standing ovation from the largest North American MMA crowd in history, with all of them whooping, cheering, clapping, stomping, whatever it took to let him know exactly how much he had spoken to them through his life’s example.

And it worked. During the post event press conference, after he had beaten Holman by TKO in the first round, Hamill said that it was “the first time I felt the vibrations from a crowd”. During his in-ring post-fight comments Hamill was nearly overcome with emotion.

“I’m so thrilled to be here with all my family my friends and fans. I’m so motivated! Matt ‘The Hammer’ Hamill will be here for a long, long time! Whoo!”

Hamill is straightforward about where he is in his development as a fighter. Also during his post-fight comments the former wrestler said that he had been “focusing on…striking and boxing” and is “so far very happy” with his progress. He should be. Most people with the amount of MMA training he’s had are not yet ready to fight at the UFC level. But like always, Hamill has some how managed to make good anyway.

Hamill was still excited after the fight and post presser when InsideFighting spoke with him briefly to congratulate him on his win. Echoing Randy Couture’s earlier posed rhetorical question of “Not bad for an old man huh?” the charismatic Hamill had his own in reverse.

“Not bad for a year and a half huh?” Hamill asked.

A year and a half of training, three UFC wins and a special place in the hearts of fans. No Matt, not bad at all.


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