Matt Hamill's love of competition keeps bringing him back to Octagon for more punishment

Yahoo Sports

Matt Hamill turned 37 on Saturday.

The Loveland, Ohio, native has already lived a storybook life. He was a three-time NCAA D-III wrestling champion at Rochester Institute of Technology. He parlayed those skills into a respectable mixed martial arts career in which he scored several impressive victories and earned a devoted fan following.

And as any of those fans could tell you, Hamill raised the profile of fellow deaf athletes everywhere through his exploits.

You could say Hamill's story should go up on the big screens, except, they've already made the movie based on his life, a 2010 flick called "The Hammer."

So with his legacy secure and a career well spent, why is Hamill spending birthday No. 37 in Brazil, getting ready to fight Sao Paulo's Thiago Silva on his home turf?

"I still love to compete," Hamill said. "At the end of the day, that's it. I still want to prove myself, I want to show everyone I have what it takes. I love the competition."

Hamill meets Silva on Wednesday in a light heavyweight bout at UFC Fight Night 29 in Barueri, Sao Paulo. In a telephone interview conducted with Yahoo Sports on Saturday – questions were submitted to Hamill's interpreter, who signed the questions to Hamill, who then picked up the phone and answered the questions on his own – it became clear that "The Hammer" still lives for the thrill of the battle during a time in which most fighters begin to question their future.

"I love what I do," said Hamill (11-4). "Everyone wants to get paid to do something they love. I want to stay healthy and keep fighting and just keep winning fights."

Perhaps the serenity which Hamill brings into a fight can be pinned to the fact that he's already pondered his fighting mortality and has emerged on the other side with a new perspective.

It's been a turbulent couple years for Hamill. After scoring wins over the likes of Mark Munoz, Keith Jardine, and Tito Ortiz, he appeared to be on the cusp of title contention. Then he suffered back-to-back losses against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Alexander Gustafsson and announced his retirement after the latter loss, in Sept. 2011.

"My head just wasn't in the right place," said Hamill. "I had to take a break. At the time I thought that was the end, but after awhile I wanted to get back into it."

His return fight, a decision win over Roger Hollett at UFC 152, left more questions than answers.

"It was a wakeup call," Hamill said. "I knew I needed to change my approach, dedicate myself, get healthy, and give it another chance."

Hamill is undertaking quite a challenge in facing Silva (15-3, 2 no-contests) in the latter's home state. Hamill's come across his most trouble in the Octagon when matched up against elite strikers, as he's been finished by Rich Franklin and Gustafsson, and taken a beating from Jon Jones in a bout we'll touch upon again a bit later.

Silva, at his best, is a vicious striker. Not only does he have 12 knockouts among his 15 career wins, but two more finishes were later overturned (once for filing a false urine sample in a post-fight drug test; the other for testing positive for marijuana).

But that's part of the challenge for Hamill. While Silva is capable of delivering on bad intentions at his best, he's also maddeningly inconsistent at 3-3 with two no-contests the last eight times he's stepped into the cage.

"I'm aware of what he's capable of doing," Hamill said. "I'm prepared for it. He's the type of fighter that, you never know what you're going to get from him when he competes. So I'm going to implement my game plan, and we'll see where the fight takes us."

Among the many things Hamill will be remembered for, he will also go down as a historical footnote. He's the only fighter who owns a victory over the sport's pound-for-pound best fighter, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. But it comes with a hitch: Jones was disqualified late in the first round for using illegal elbows in a 2009 bout that he was otherwise dominating.

Starting that night, Hamill refused to acknowledge the fight as a victory. Jones, however, recently brought the fight back into the news, telling reporters at a media lunch in Los Angeles, "I consider it a real loss. I was using elbows that were against the rules and if you go outside the rules and keep doing it, you don't deserve the win. I learned a lesson that night."

When appraised of Jones' comments, though, Hamill wouldn't budge on his opinion. "That's interesting," Hamill said. "I appreciate his honesty, and he's welcome to his opinion. But he broke my shoulder in the fight, he was dominating the fight. He won. I can never consider a fight like that a win."

Such blunt honesty is part of the reason Hamill has remained a fan favorite after all these years. He's just as blunt about putting aside his birthday celebration. After all, he's in Brazil for a reason, and it's not to party.

"I can celebrate my birthday when I get home," Hamill said. "I hope to have more reason to celebrate."

Follow Dave Doyle on Twitter: @davedoylemma.

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