Starting his athletic career in little league football, Matthew Semelsberger quickly earned the nickname "Semi." There was no hidden meaning behind it except that it was an abbreviated version of his last name that was easier for his coaches to shout at practice.
Growing up in an athletic family, the meaning of "Semi" evolved to represent his aggressive mentality and playstyle.
"Through the years, just how my family is and the type of athletes we are, we're big hitters, powerful guys, so it started taking on the notion of like, 'Oh you hit like a semi Mack truck,'" Semelsberger said.
"I was huge on that going into college because I played safety, and I was all about laying people out. If I could choose between an interception and laying some dude on his back, I was laying him out."
During college, Semelsberger felt there was something missing from the name "Semi." It's singular meaning didn't illustrate his whole character. While brainstorming usernames for his new Instagram account, he came up with the idea of "Semi the Jedi." At the time, "Jedi" worked because it rhymed and because he was a fan of the Star Wars franchise.
But simultaneously his passion for mixed martial arts grew stronger, and the name "Semi the Jedi" could become not just his social media presence, but his cage name.
Like "Semi," this new nickname didn't have depth or substance to it straight away. But as he grew as a fighter, amassing a 10-3 professional record with four wins inside the octagon, a deeper meaning behind "Semi the Jedi" materialized.
"I kind of have two sides to me, the fire and ice, or (Yin and Yang)," Semelsberger said. "Semi is like the more fiery, more aggressive part of me and then the Jedi is the more reserved, smart and spiritual type of person."
"Everybody has a light side and a dark side, so, for me, I'm trying to balance both, and 'Semi the Jedi' in its truest form is a perfect balance between the two."
Those emotions have translated directly to his results inside the octagon. Winning four of his five bouts in the UFC, two have come by unanimous decision in three-round battles that forced Semelsberger to dig deep and outwork his opponent. The others? Both by knockout in 16 seconds or less. In the others, "Semi the Jedi" showed how keen his preparation and gameplans were, knocking out Martin Sano Jr. and Jason Witt in less than a minute each.
Producing such vast results has provided Semelsberger with the perfect blend of experience to help him grow as a fighter and evolve to the next level. Fighting through wars to earn a victory has tested his mental fortitude, while the near one-punch knockout finishes are a reminder of how well he can perform when the stars align.
"I think I can appreciate having both spectrums filled," Semelsberger said. "But, at the same time, for my family and friends, their hearts and being nervous for me, I would like to finish the fight as fast as possible just for their sake."
Landing in Dallas for his "UFC 277: Peña vs Nunes 2 bout," Semelsberger (10-3 MMA, 4-1 UFC) is ready to balance those two personalities against Alex Morono (21-7 MMA, 10-4 UFC). During fight week you won't catch "Semi the Jedi" out at various hotspots around the city; up until the fight, it's all business.
"Anywhere I go for fights I like to save (exploring the city) for after because there's business to handle," Semelsberger said.
"I've been working a lot on my strengths and what I'm good at because that's what's really going to win you the fight. But, at the same time, mixed martial arts has so many tools, so many things you have to look out for that you have to spend time pretty much on everything."
Once he makes the walk to the octagon, all the buildup and preparation has been finished, and it's time to soak in the atmosphere of the crowd before the cage doors close.
"Once I get to the event, I like taking it all in," Semelsberger said about fighting in front of the crowd.
"I think it's kind of important in a way … a fight is a lot like being out in the wild. It's survival. So, if some sort of wild animal was dropped into a place they'd never been they wouldn't be like, 'No, I'm going to block out everything,' they would be taking in every little piece of information to make sure they'd survive. I'm going to go in there and be taking it all in."
Semelsberger plans on heading into his bout against Morono like the calm before the storm; being patient in the early stages of the fight but forcing the pressure once he makes all his reads.
"With a guy like Alex I think that I want to go out there and I do want to show that I can fight through some adversity, if need be," Semelsberger said. "I'm not really looking necessarily for a quick finish. I'd like to showcase my abilities, but I'd also like to put a stamp on it with a good, big finish."
Semelsberger has the perfect opportunity to showcase those skills in the featured prelim before the start of UFC 277's main card. As fans settle into their seats at American Airlines Center, Semelsberger can set the tone for the rest of the night.
"Last fight I was also the featured prelim, so having it happen again is awesome," Semelsberger said. "I definitely feel like there's a little bit of responsibility, too, at the same time. I'm closing out the show before the main card starts so, for me, I've got to go in there and make sure that I perform and that I put on a good show for everyone."
This story first published at UFC.com.