Matt Hamill lost a fight this past Saturday night to Rich Franklin. There is certainly no shame in that. Franklin is a three-time UFC champion and has only lost to two men in his entire 27 fight career; it’s how Hamill lost that has those in his camp concerned.
Before the fight, Duff Holmes, who trains Hamill, spoke exclusively with Fightline.com on their strategy heading into the fight with Franklin.
“No way Matt Hamill stands with a guy like Franklin,” said Holmes. “Matt is, by far, the best wrestler in the UFC’s light heavyweight division so our plan is simple; we’re going to take Rich down and work the ground and pound while avoiding submissions.”
“Matt’s been training with Bruno Tostes, and his submission defense looks awesome. We know what Rich is going to do. He’s going to come out, keep his distance and work his striking; try to keep things standing and pick Matt apart. We know he’s coming with leg kicks, body kicks and quick combinations, but Matt’s ready. We’ve got him in there with lightening quick professional welterweight boxer’s and he’s holding his own. Speed should not be an issue in this fight.”
There were other issues of concern however. According to Holmes, Hamill has a deep reverence for the man responsible in many ways for his UFC career.
“Matt got his start helping Rich work on his takedown defense. Those two go way back and Matt has a deep respect and allegiance to Rich. He vouched for Matt to join “The Ultimate Fighter” and helped get Matt on the show. He’s sponsored Matt with his company American Fighter and has been a kind of mentor to him, and to be honest, that has me a little concerned.
Holmes’ concern appeared wholly justified after Hamill’s lackluster performance, which saw the former collegiate wrestling champion attempt exactly zero takedowns the entire fight. Holmes desperately pleaded with his fighter between rounds to take the fight to the canvas.
“I practically begged Matt to take Rich down,” said a clearly frustrated Holmes. “I was screaming at him to stop fighting Rich’s fight and fight his fight. I can’t explain it. He just had this blank look on his face. I don’t know where he was, but the Matt Hamill that I know and trained for the past 11 weeks was not in that octagon on Saturday.”
Holmes had assembled a virtual “who’s who” of trainers across many disciplines to prepare Hamill. World renown pro boxing coach Tim Greene has been a mainstay with the camp and has worked along with Muay Thai expert Master Seng on improving Hamill’s striking.
Hamill’s ground game has been significantly upgraded over the past year with the edition of Brazilian jui-jitsu world champion and Renzo Gracie understudy Bruno Tostes.
Holmes has also made certain to keep Hamill’s wrestling up to par by pairing him with the likes of 265-pound U.S. Olympic wrestling champion Steve Mocco, who Hamill was able to hold his own against and even takedown at times. Clearly, if Hamill can take down someone of Mocco’s stature than a guy like Rich Franklin would be hard pressed to defend against a full on Hamill takedown attempt; a point that seems lost on many MMA media outlets.
“Reports that Matt wasn’t able to take Rich down are completely false. Matt didn’t shoot once the whole fight. He didn’t try. Matt Hamill is one of the most physically gifted athletes in the UFC. He has double leg takedown that’s like he’s shot out of a cannon. The guy is an animal; unfortunately that’s not the Matt Hamill that showed up on Saturday. He didn’t work the game plan.”
The game plan was certainly not for Hamill to come out and stand with the world class striker, Franklin. Holmes was well aware that such a strategy would play right into the former champions hands.
“Our game plan was to have Matt come out in a right handed stance because Matt had never shown that he could go southpaw and we figured Rich would expect him to fight right handed so we wanted him to think business as usual. We wanted Matt to take the first minute and avoid Rich with good footwork and make Rich wonder if he might actually stand with him. Also, we wanted Matt to get good and sweaty before hitting the ground so it would be easier to avoid submissions. Traditionally Rich has had issues with left handed fighters so we wanted Matt to switch to south paw and begin to attack from that stance. We wanted Matt to take Rich down, park in guard or half guard and posture up drop punches and elbows while avoiding submissions and work the ground and pound. This would have allowed us to control the fight while scoring points and causing damage from the top position and would have, at the very least, allowed us to probably earn a decision.”
Instead, Hamill sought to trade with Franklin for most of the fight and did not engage with any meaningful strikes or flurries; a point which clearly befuddled his trainer.
“I can’t explain it,” said Holmes. “The only person that knows why he didn’t come out to fight is him. I told him after the fight that his performance was uncharacteristic and that he really needed to do some soul searching to see if this is really what he wants to do. He had absolutely no fighting spirit, no killer instinct. He looked like a shell of himself and was just out there to get through it and that is very disconcerting.”
When further pressed, Holmes admitted that while he takes nothing away from Franklin’s performance, he believes that Hamill simply couldn’t hurt his friend and mentor.
“Rich performed great and showed a lot of class in victory. All his guys, Matt Hume, Neil Rowe, and our buddies Rob Radford and Jorge Grugel all were very gracious and supportive. Matt loves those guys…you know, Matt has this nice guy image and it’s well deserved. He is truly one of the nicest, most sincere, genuine people you’ll ever meet. I think he got out there and found out that he couldn’t fight his friend. Unfortunately, this information would have been much more useful to us months ago. We would have never taken the fight if we knew that to be the case.”
So where does Hamill go from here. He’s shown tremendous potential in his previous six victories (seven if you count “The Count”), but coming off of his first sub-par performance Holmes sees room for improvement.
“As it stands, Matt has too many outside distractions. If he wants to continue fighting and show what he’s capable of, what he shows everyday in practice, the champion that I know he can be, then he needs to do some serious soul searching and see if this is what he really wants to do. Matt lost this fight because of his mentality and nothing else. It was all mental. He let the UFC down, he let his fans down, he let his camp and trainers down and, most importantly, he let himself down. We’re planning on getting him in with a sports psychologist soon to figure this all out.”
Despite Saturday’s lackluster effort, Matt Hamill remains one of the UFC’s brightest up-and-coming light heavyweights. His personal story is inspiring; literally the stuff that Hollywood movies are made of. His “Rocky-like” persona can go a long way toward building a huge fan base, but it’s got to come with more “Rocky-like” performances such as his effort against Michael Bisping.
It’s true that Hamill failed his first big test on the UFC’s biggest stage, however, any man that can soundly defeat a very game Tim Boetsch and, let’s be honest, the ultra-talented Michael Bisping (in a contest which Hamill fought on a badly injured knee), has all the talent needed to become a serious UFC contender.
There are other big tests in store for Hamill; the UFC’s light heavyweight division is chalked full of them. Was Hamill outclassed or was he unable to fight someone who he admired and cared for? Only Hamill can say for sure, but his next fight will go a long way toward answering that question for the rest of us.