BY RONALD HANAKI
SC Staff Writer
On a cold Friday night in January, deaf wrestler and mixed martial artist Matt “The Hammer” Hamill came to ESU to speak to a captive audience of college students at ESU’s Abeloff Center for the Performing Arts.
The Hammer’s appearance was made possible by four departments at the university: The Sign Language Club, ESU’s wrestling team, ESU’s speech language department, and the athletic training department.
The Hammer’s life story became a movie a few years ago, and as the lights dimmed in the theater, the big screen above the stage showed a preview of The Hammer’s eponymous biopic.
Matt “The Hammer” Hamill was then introduced as the crowd chanted, “Hammer! Hammer!”
Matt began his speech by saying that he was originally from Loveland, Ohio. He was the only one in his family to be born deaf, and his family struggled to do right by him.
Matt originally started his schooling in special education because he was deaf.
However, it was his grandfather, Stanley McCoy, who encouraged Matt to join the mainstream and not just hang out with other deaf kids. So Matt tried going to public school with the normal kids.
Because Matt did not have an interpreter and did not know sign language, he found the transition to be very difficult. It was not until high school that Matt learned sign language.
Being different caused Matt to be picked on and bullied by the other kids in school. However, Matt was a competitor and was not going to be deterred.
When Matt was young, his stepfather introduced him to wrestling. Indeed, it was sports, specifically wrestling, that was to become the catalyst that enabled Matt to be accepted by his peers.
In fact, when Matt was a kid, his mother asked him if he wanted a cochlear hearing implant. The hearing implant would have let Matt hear.
Matt refused because getting a cochlear hearing implant would have prevented him from participating in sports. He also thought that the hearing implant would make him look like Frankenstein.
Matt wrestled in high school and that led him to Purdue University.
Purdue was good, but the school did not have enough of the services and amenities to support his circumstances and needs, so he went to Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) where he became a three-time NCAA Division III wrestling champion.
At RIT, he beat a wrestler from Cornell University which earned him the nickname of “The Hammer.”
Matt would go on to compete in the Pan American Games in Cuba. He won his wrestling match, but his team lost.
He mentioned that he witnessed the American flag being burned in Cuba. He also competed in wrestling at the Summer Deaflympics.
His big break into the UFC came by chance. He was working as a bouncer at a bar, and he had to stop a fight.
Because Matt was a great wrestler, he was able to easily kick the troublemakers out of the bar.
It was then that a guy asked Matt about joining the UFC. Very quickly, Matt would fill out the application to join the UFC and found himself on season three of UFC’s “The Ultimate Fighter.” There, Chael Sonnen, among others, would become one of his teachers.
In total, Matt fought thirteen times in the UFC from 2005 to 2011. One of Matt’s greatest victories was beating former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz.
After a distinguished career, Matt retired from the UFC in August 2011 because of injuries. Later, he made a comeback to the UFC in September 2012.
As for how his life story was made into a movie, Matt said that he was approached by two movie producers who thought that his story of a deaf guy overcoming adversity was inspirational enough to be made into a movie.
Naturally, not everything in the movie is true. Matt said that there was some dramatic license taken to make the story more entertaining.
Matt shared a charming story about his high school prom date.
His date wanted to go to a fancier restaurant, but he could only afford to go Taco Bell. He bought two tacos – one for her and one for him.
However, his date refused to eat her taco, so Matt ate both of them. There were other mishaps along the way, but the two still keep in touch to this day.
In addition to the movie, Matt has his own UFC action figure. Matt loves that his action figure has a full head of hair since he is losing some of his own. Matt is also featured as a character in the video game “UFC Undisputed 3.”
Matt told the audience that he would like to continue to fight professionally. He wants his next fight to be in April or May. The ultimate goal for him is to get his (title) belt back.
Matt said that training is very expensive, and buying DVDs of his movie – available at major retailers and on Netflix and iTunes – and his action figure and T-shirts help support him as a wrestler.
Finally, Matt encouraged people to follow him on Facebook and Twitter and took questions from the audience.
After his speech ended, Matt took the time to pose for pictures with his legion of fans who braved the cold winter evening to listen to their hero speak to them.
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