Wrestling and mixed martial arts allow me to be myself. That is Matt Hamill, by the way, just in case you hadn't seen me fight before or had never heard the name. I'm a mixed martial artist in the UFC's light-heavyweight division. I was also born deaf.
Before discovering mixed martial arts and making my professional debut in 2005, I wrestled at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, New York and was a three-time NCAA Division III national wrestling champion. I immediately took to wrestling as a kid growing up in Loveland, Ohio and pretty soon nothing else mattered to me.
Any time I found myself wrestling, it didn't matter whether I could hear or not. I was just like everybody else. That's why I loved competing in all sports. Wrestling was my favourite sport, though, purely because it was one-on-one and very competitive. I really liked the competition side of it. There was also very little communication needed.
I had a very close family upbringing in Ohio, and a big part of my will to win is the influence of my grandfather and stepfather. My mom and biological father were divorced and while I had a very close relationship with my father it was my stepfather who I refer to as "Coach" that got me into wrestling.
Coach" was the high school wrestling coach in the town I was raised in and he used to take me to wrestling practice as a means of keeping me occupied. My grandfather, meanwhile, installed a lot of self-belief in me as a kid and allowed me to dream of being whatever I wanted to be.
I never had a lot of confidence as a kid, as other children would sometimes pick on me. I had one of those old-style hearing aids that would almost resemble a box and I'd wear it around my neck, almost like a necklace. Kids used to pick on me a lot for wearing that, and it was only when I found wrestling that I started sticking up for myself and realized that nobody cared what you looked like on the wrestling mat. So long as you could wrestle well, it didn't matter.
Going from wrestling to mixed martial arts seemed like a natural move for me and it was one I looked forward to. My confidence was sky-high as a result of my successful wrestling career, and I knew my wrestling would be a useful aid during my mixed martial arts career. So, rather than being fearful, I was ready to embrace MMA as a new challenge in my life.
There were, of course, a number of obstacles to overcome when choosing to become a mixed martial artist. Above all else, being deaf impacts balance and a person's ability to hear instructions from the corner. Thankfully, my balance is very good and I've never really had a problem with that. I'm able to stay in position to shoot takedowns and throw punches at all times, and rarely ever get taken off my feet.
Of course, the advice being fed to me from the corner is something I will never be able to fully hear, but it's something I can feel. While other fighters rely on the words of their cornermen, I pick up on their body language and also use lip-reading techniques to work out what they are saying.
People assume that it is hard for me to compete as a deaf fighter, but this is all I've ever known. I don't know any other way to fight, and so I've learned to adapt to my environment. Whereas some fighters get weighed down by the advice of their cornermen during a fight, I am in a position where I can receive advice in between rounds and then relax and carry them out for the five-minute rounds. I don't panic or worry if things are going wrong and I don't hear the shouts and screams of my cornermen. It's all on me, and I like it that way.
I remember during Round 1 of the Reese Andy fight (December 2008) I was really struggling to find my groove and things weren't looking great for me. I then got back to the corner and realized Duff Holmes, my coach, was going crazy at me and was really disappointed with the way I was fighting.
Even though I couldn't hear the expletives he was shouting at me, I could pick up his mood and emotions. I then ran out for the next round and stopped Andy. I just needed somebody to pull that inner animal out of me. Once it's out there, nobody can stop me...
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Matt Hamill meets Rampage Jackson as the 130 co-main event, May 28, 2011 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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