Q&A: UFC fighter Matt Hamill

9 03 2009

Matt “The Hammer” Hamill, 32, a native of Loveland, Ohio, is billed just below the main event at UFC 96, the mixed-martial arts fight card in Nationwide Arena tonight. Hamill was a three-time Division III national champion when he wrestled for Rochester Institute of Technology. He won a silver medal in Greco-Roman wrestling and a gold in freestyle at the 2001 Deaflympics. Hamill is a veteran of the reality TV show The Ultimate Fighter. He owns a 7-2 record in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. Hamill, a low-budget movie about his life, is soon to be released.

UFC fighter Matt Hamill of Cincinnati will take a 7-2 record into a fight against Mark Munoz tonight in Nationwide Arena.

UFC fighter Matt Hamill of Cincinnati will take a 7-2 record into a fight against Mark Munoz tonight in Nationwide Arena.


Question: Have you been deaf your whole life?

Answer: Yes. I found out when I was just a little kid and my mother was trying to communicate with me. “Matt, Matt,” she would say, and there was no response. The took me to the doctor and they did tests. I can’t hear anything. Nothing. I am totally deaf. I have been since birth.

Q: Did you go to a school for the deaf when you were young?

A : No. I had an interpreter. Whatever the teacher said, the interpreter signed to me. If I went to a deaf school, it would not have been as much of a challenge. But I am more comfortable in the deaf community. I am not uncomfortable outside of it, but I am more comfortable in it. That is just my style.

Q: When did you start wrestling?

A: When I was 4 or 5 years old. My stepdad was the coach at Loveland (High School). Wrestling kept me busy. It kept me out of trouble. It was something that didn’t need much communication. It liked it because it was physical. It was rough. It was something I really enjoyed.

Q: You managed to take your wrestling as far as you could, didn’t you?

A: As a true freshman, I went to Purdue on a full scholarship. My goal was to be a national champion in Division I. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it there, so I transferred to RIT — in an area where there is a very large deaf community. It was a great experience there.

Q: Your stepfather got you into wrestling, which is one thing. Does your mother approve of ultimate fighting?

A: She looks at me and I’m happy. When I’m happy, she’s happy. She supports me in whatever I do.

Q: Was this what you wanted to do when you graduated college?

A: No. I hadn’t even thought about it. I had a degree in electrical engineering and I thought I’d get a good job somewhere in Utica (N.Y.), to be near my daughter. I met my ex-wife at RIT, and she lives in Utica. Somehow, I got on a different path.

Q: How excited are you to have a big fight in Ohio?

A: I was supposed to take another fight in Montreal. Montreal or Ohio? That was the question. I’m an Ohioan. I wanted to fight in Ohio where I’m close to my friends and my family and my fans. Two years ago at UFC 68 (in Nationwide Arena), I beat Rex Holman and I never felt a vibration like that in my career. It’s my home state, more deaf people are coming — and I can’t wait to feel the vibration. That’s how I get my heart in the fight. That’s why I came here. The vibration.


(Pennsylvania) Deaf Wrestler teaches teammates about communication, tolerance and understanding

19 01 2009

News from Reading Eagles

Sunday, January 18, 2009

PA Deaf Wrestler

Joe Ferrari shouts out instructions from his coach’s chair the way he has for 18 years at Reading High.

During a Red Knights junior varsity match, Ferrari appears frustrated that he can’t get Ramon Rodriguez’s attention.

Suddenly, in the heat of the moment, Ferrari remembers an important fact: Rodriguez can’t hear him.

Deaf from birth, Rodriguez is unable to speak or hear. But that didn’t prevent him from joining the Red Knights wrestling team for his junior season in November.

“I’d seen wrestling before, and I was interested,” Rodriguez said through Robin Marlin, one of two interpreters provided by the Berks County Intermediate Unit who attend his practices and matches. “I thought it was cool. I wanted to wrestle. I was curious to learn about it and be involved.”

Video: http://readingeagle.com/article.aspx?id=121779PA Deaf Wrestler 2

Rodriguez has learned quite a bit from Ferrari and a diverse group of teammates – including a sophomore girl – Rodriguez calls his wrestling family. In return, he has taught plenty to everyone else involved.

To communcate with Rodriguez, wrestlers have done everything from taking a pad and pencil into the wrestling room to learning some basic sign language. Ferrari said most of the wrestlers have learned to sign the alphabet.

“The whole team has learned something from him,” said junior Tim Bauer, one of Rodriguez’s practice partners. “Now it’s gotten to the point where we know just enough where we can sign to him and communicate with him about wrestling and what’s going on. He’s picking everything up so quick. It’s amazing.”

Bauer admitted he was a bit skeptical in November when he learned a deaf student would join the wrestling team. But Bauer, who himself has struggled for acceptance as the goalie of the Reading High field hockey team, welcomed Rodriguez with an open mind.

Two months later, Bauer and his teammates have been pleasantly surprised.

“I thought this was going to be hard, and he wasn’t going to last,” Bauer said. “I started to get to know him and found out he was serious.

“He’s probably one of the most intense people on the team, and he’s probably one of the hardest workers on the team. I didn’t expect to see him be such a hard worker.”

Rodriguez’s dedication has paid off in falls in his last three JV matches at 152 pounds. He also received a chance to wrestle varsity matches in the Canner Duals in Biglerville earlier this month.

“He has really good mat sense; he’s learning quickly,” Ferrari said. “He’s very explosive; he wrestles hard. But he’s still a bit raw. He still has stuff to learn.”

So do Ferrari and Rodriguez’s teammates. They all have needed to make adjustments to welcome Rodriguez to the team.

“It’s way different than anything I’ve done,” Ferrari said. “I still find myself wanting to yell to him when he’s out on the mat. Of course, he’s not going to hear.

“We had to talk to him after the last match because he doesn’t look over enough. We’re trying to get his attention to look over. There’s nothing we can do. We have to sit there and wait until he looks.”
Referees who officiate Rodriguez’s matches also have made adjustments in a sport where they blow a whistle to start and stop the wrestlers.

“I just get a little more emphatic with my hand gestures,” said Jeff Broad, a Berks County official. “When they go out of bounds or the period ends, I just tap him on the back.”

Teaching Rodriguez even the most basic wrestling moves was a challenge, especially in the first days of practice when Marlin and Rodriguez’s other interpreter, Ruth Fisher, knew very little about the sport.

They also had to quickly learn something new in the wrestling room, an environment not conducive to women since it often is filled with sweating male teenagers.

“I think we would both say that at the beginning we both knew very little,” said Marlin, also a teacher at Reading High. “When I personally do something, I have to learn about it. If I don’t understand it, I can’t put it so he can understand it.”

Understanding is what Rodriguez has received the most of since joining the wrestling team. He said he was uncertain what to expect when he attended his first practice.

“I wasn’t worried,” Rodriguez said. “Maybe just a little bit I felt worried. I was nervous because my heart was nervous.”

Ferrari said he considered calling a preseason team meeting to inform his other wrestlers Rodriguez would join the team and talk about how to treat him.

Instead, Ferrari let a team that has received three straight Berks County Wrestling Officials Association sportsmanship awards figure it out.

“I decided to let it go and give my kids credit and see if they’d do a good job with it,” Ferrari said. “It’s been perfect. The kids on the team accepted him really well.”

Now, when Rodriguez wrestles, his teammates often are on the floor to show Rodriguez what move to try or just so they can be seen cheering.

After his three recent wins, Rodriguez came off the mat to teammates who were applauding in sign language.

“He’s so happy with wins,” Ferrari said. “He comes running over and hugs people. It’s really neat.”

But the highlight of the season so far for Rodriguez and Red Knights fans was Dec. 20, Rodriguez’s 17th birthday. After a win over Twin Valley, Rodriguez was presented two cakes and watched his teammates sign, not sing, “Happy Birthday.”

“It certainly brought tears to my eyes, and Ramon was very moved,” said Pat Reinik, a retired Reading School District teacher who manages the concession stand. “I must give the coaches so much credit for giving this kid a chance at normalcy.”

Rodriguez said he has enjoyed the experience so much he plans to join the boys volleyball team in the spring and is even considering playing football next fall during his senior season.

No matter what Rodriguez decides, Bauer said he would be a welcome addition to any team.

“He’s great to have on the team,” Bauer said. “Sometimes I wish other wrestlers were as fun as him. He always has energy; he’s always motivated and always likes to have fun. It’s great.”

© 2009 Reading Eagle Company