There's always been a sense when watching Matt Hamill that there is another level which, for some inexplicable reason, he's been unable to reach. He's been good when he should have been great.
Beginning with an outstanding wrestling pedigree, Hamill possesses nearly all of the prerequisites for success as a mixed martial arts fighter. For some reason, though, the whole hasn't equaled the sum of his parts.
And so, after back-to-back disappointing losses last year to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Alexander Gustafsson, Hamill summarily retired.
He had nothing to apologize for, to be sure. He walked after a loss to Gustafsson at UFC 133 with a 10-4 record and as a hero to deaf people everywhere. He'd beaten quality fighters like Tito Ortiz, Mark Munoz, Tim Boetsch and Keith Jardine, among others, and was more often than not very competitive.
But he was a guy who'd lost the majority of his most significant fights and not a guy who many believed was championship material.
When he retired, there was little fuss. It seemed like his time was at hand after he was manhandled by Gustafsson.
His trainer/manager, Duff Holmes, did what any worthwhile trainer will do: He was extremely frank with Hamill.
"Duff told me I didn't have it anymore," Hamill said Wednesday. "I was banged up, I was hurting and I decided to walk away."
But it wasn't long before Hamill felt pangs of regret. Suddenly, he wasn't the celebrity he once was. When he was in the gym, attention was focused on others who were preparing for fights, and not on him.
And, as fighters often do when they retire, he began to reconsider.
He was working out with some of Holmes' other fighters and began to wonder if his choice to step away had been in haste. His injuries had healed, and he was, at 35, still young enough to compete at a high level.
He liked the freedom retirement presented, but he missed the rush he got from fighting. As he began to mull a comeback, the idea that he might be able to ascend to the next level began to overtake him.
"I was helping the other guys and I was feeling good and I started to have some regrets about the decision I made," Hamill said. "I started thinking about it and it made sense for me to try to come back. If I didn't, I was afraid I'd have regrets the rest of my life and I wouldn't be able to do anything about it."
So, after a retirement that lasted about a year, he'll unretire on Sept. 22 and return to active duty when he fights Vladimir Matyushenko at UFC 152 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
Hamill calls his comeback "Hammer 2.0" and said the time off from fighting, however brief, gave him much needed perspective.
He is going to take a more cerebral approach to his game.
"I didn't perform well in some fights where I wanted to, but I'm older and wiser than I was and I've gotten a lot smarter," he said. "I realize now, after I stepped away from it for a while, that it's not how bad ass you are, it's what you know and how you use your intelligence."
Hamill was an athletic freak who things came to easily. But he didn't always take the smartest approach in his preparations or in his personal life.
He'd go hard in practice when there was no need and would suffer an entirely avoidable injury. Holmes was constantly nagging him about the way he went about his business.
"I've told Matt this a lot, that he's been careless a lot in some of the things he'd do," Holmes said. "In training, he'd get too rough and push too far. At home, he'd be screwing around and would hurt himself. He had this great athletic body and he was just be careless with it.
"But he's trying to do things the right way now. He's taking time to rest when he needs it. He is seeing a chiropractor, he's getting the massages. He's a great athlete and he's starting to take care of his body like great athletes do."
Hamill is the only man to hold a victory over UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, though it's quite a tainted win. He beat Jones by disqualification after referee Steve Mazzagatti ruled Jones hit him with illegal elbows.
He said "I definitely didn't win that fight," and said he'd welcome another shot at Jones somewhere down the line in an attempt to try to get what he perceives as a legitimate victory.
That may be a stretch, because the way Jones is going now, it might take a super human feat to knock him off. Hamill, though, has the kind of talent to compete on more than even terms with the elite men at 205.
It's time for him to start doing it.
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