Matt Hamill on Saturday night is looking to prove that the old saying "be careful what you wish for" doesn’t apply to him.
Hamill (10-2) made a wish to get a fight against former UFC light heavyweight champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson (31-8), one of the biggest names in the sport. He not only got it, he also landed his first pay-per-view main event at UFC 130 from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas after injuries canceled the scheduled lightweight tilt between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard.
"I expect to win and I expect to win impressively," Hamill, who is deaf, wrote in an e-mail correspondence. "We know what a great fighter Rampage is, but we also know that he is quite one-dimensional. He looks for the big punch all the time. We feel we have prepared the perfect game plan to beat Rampage, and it is now my job to go out there and execute that game plan." When Hamill asked for Jackson as an opponent, he did not expect his wish to be granted.
Jackson responded to rumors of the bout by publicly stating he didn’t want it. UFC president Dana White made the call that it was the best fight available for this date and that Hamill deserved a shot at one of the big boys. Jackson ultimately agreed.
"He thinks 'Rampage' wouldn’t take the fight because he’s [Hamill] not one of the top guys in the division as far as rankings go," said Duff Holmes, who works with Hamill on verbal interviews. "He figured 'Rampage' would be eying Rashad Evans and a rematch with Forrest Griffin or what have you. So he thought that 'Rampage' would believe that this match is not big league. But it’s (Hamill’s) next chance to prove that he is in his league."
Jackson has been using Hamill’s words to as motivation.
"My main motivation is to win, but I think Matt made a mistake when he actually said that he’s going to break my will and that I’m going to overlook him," said Jackson. "It actually lit a fire up under my ass and actually made me try a little bit harder, so I can break his will."
"I think a win over 'Rampage' Jackson is huge for me," said Hamill, who is a 5-to-2 underdog on most sports books. "He’s beaten the best in the world and is a great fighter. He’s knocked out Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva, and he’s just beaten Lyoto Machida. He’s a top contender. If I beat him, I am a top contender. This could be my last fight before I get a title shot."
For Hamill to win, he’s going to have to rely on his wrestling game as the backbone and come in as the better conditioned fighter against an opponent who has historically been successful against wrestlers. Jackson, physically very strong and with knockout power in both fists, also grew up as a wrestler. That background has allowed him to neutralize most top-level wrestlers, a number of whom are of higher caliber than Hamill. Only one beat him – Evans, a fighter much faster and with a stronger stand-up game than Hamill.
"I believe the winner of this fight will be the guy that is comfortable in more than one area of the fight, and I believe I am that guy," said Hamill. "I am not afraid of getting hit. I think I’ve proved that, and my striking is getting better and better. I have also really improved my BJJ and would like the fight to show all my skills."
Hamill, 34, is coming off a win over Tito Ortiz on Oct. 23. He’s still rough around the edges as a stand-up fighter. But a highlight-reel, high-kick knockout over Mark Munoz showed he can’t be labeled as just a wrestler.
His boxing isn’t fluid, but he’s got a good chin, although he readily admits he can’t expect it to perform magic against a knockout puncher like Jackson.
On paper, Hamill is the only fighter to have beaten current champion Jon "Bones" Jones. But even he doesn’t see that disqualification on Jones as a real win because Jones dominated the fight until being penalized for throwing illegal elbows.
"I don’t regard the Jones win as a real win, of course I don’t," said Hamill about the Dec. 6, 2009, fight in Las Vegas. "But maybe he will want to fight me to clear that up. Maybe Jon Jones wants to clean up his record like Anderson Silva does with [Yushin] Okami [who won a DQ over Silva before the two were in the UFC, and will be rematched in August]. I’ve got a lot to prove against Jones and I want to be world champion."
Hamill beat Ortiz, his coach on 'TUF' season three, via decision, getting stronger as the fight went on. But Ortiz is a big name from the past, not a current prime foe.
His two losses are to Rich Franklin and Michael Bisping. Franklin was a former training partner and the guy who really got him into the sport. Hamill was clearly not himself mentally in the fight.
"Rich is a great friend of mine, and it was very hard fighting him," Hamill said. "I struggled to find the right frame of mind necessary to face him in the Octagon, and as a result, I lost the fight. Rich is one of my closest friends in the sport and is a really nice guy, so it was never going to be easy facing him. He also happens to be a very good fighter."
Hamill and Bisping were rivals on the reality show, and because that season was so highly rated, both came out of it as instant stars. Hamill was injured in a win and unable to continue in competition, and Bisping won the show.
Their fight at UFC 75 in 2007, because it was on the most-watched major television fight card in UFC history, is one of the more memorable matches of the last several years. Hamill, a strong underdog, went to Bisping’s home turf in London and lost a split decision that to this day is regarded by many as the worst fight decision in UFC history. Just like nobody considers the win over Jones a real win, few regard the loss to Bisping as a real loss.
"The Bisping fight in London was a setback," Hamill said. "I thought I won and it is great so many fans think I won. Actually, I like watching Bisping fight. He is doing really well and when he does well, it makes me look good. Six weeks after our fight, he had a split decision with Rashad Evans, and that makes me look good."
Hamill is best known by UFC fans as being the only deaf fighter on the roster. He debuted five years ago on "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show as a strong wrestler and a complete novice at the rest of the MMA game. He’s one of the sport’s most popular fighters because he’s a walking feel-good story, someone who overcame a handicap at birth and has succeeded in two tough sports. He is regarded as a genuine hero within the deaf community.
This fight has an interesting narrative. Jackson, who turns 33 next month and insists he’s not fighting past 35, is looking at making the transition into acting. He got a huge career break when he landed the role of B.A. Baracus in last summer's "The A Team" movie.
Hamill’s limitations seem to rule out acting as a post-fight career option, but he’s on the other side of the coin movie-wise. His life story is chronicled in a new documentary, "Hamill: The Movie."
The film has been awarded best picture at about half a dozen film festivals and a theatrical release is tentatively scheduled in the fall.
Hamill likes to watch the movie before a fight, saying it helps motivate him and remind him exactly who he is and what he has accomplished.
"I have watched it a lot," he said. "It brings up a lot of positive memories for me, especially with my grandfather, who passed away. He was a huge inspiration for me. Watching the film makes me very emotional. It shows me how far I have come and how hard I have worked. The film was a great honor and I still can’t believe it actually happened. If I inspire one deaf kid who feels like I felt when I was young, I will be happy."
- Matt Hamill