Interview date: 09/16/2009
Run date: 09/24/2009
I was fortunate enough to talk with the former world champion Ultimate Fighting Championship fighter Matt “The Terror” Serra. Not your typical post-fight interview, we cover a host of topics. Matt talks about how he started the Serra Academies and his feelings on being a teacher/coach. He clues us in on what is was like to star in the Ultimate Fighter series. We also discussed his long-awaited rematch with Matt Hughes that ended in a very close decision. Serra gives a round-by-round breakdown of his assessment of the fight and his personal opinion of Hughes.
Bullz-Eye: Is Matt there?
Matt Serra: Yeah, this is Matt.
BE: Hey Matt. This is Mike Furci from Bullz-Eye.com. How’s everything going?
MS: Everything is going great, everything is going great. After the fight, I’m spending some time with my family; I’m getting back in my schools. It’s going great.
BE: Oh, that’s awesome. I heard the Serra Academies are doing well.
MS: Yeah, I can’t complain. I have two schools here on Long Island. If anybody wanted to check them out it is mattserra.net. I tell you, you know I have a lot of students and they are all -- it’s a good atmosphere, I have a great time training and it’s a good time. That’s where you’ll catch me after all my fights.
BE: Oh I bet.
MS: I’m there, I’m teaching and having a great time.
BE: Doing what you love to do.
MS: Yeah man, when I’m not fighting I am just teaching guys how to armlock and reverse, sit-ups, triangle chokes. It’s all good.
BE: Right. Can you give us a little history behind the start of the Serra Academies and a little bit about their growth over the last few years?
MS: Yeah, well I opened up my first school with my UFC winnings. After my first two UFC fights, I used that money to open up a storefront in East Meadow, my hometown. I had that for just about a year when I opened up my other school, which is around 20 minutes away. That’s in Suffolk County, in Huntington.
MS: Yeah, so I have two academies and they are going great. That must have been like seven years ago. They’re going great.
BE: I know you offer all kinds of classes there. You’ve got things for kids and adults, and different disciplines of martial arts.
MS: Yeah. We pride ourselves on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. But we also teach Muay Thai, we have wrestling classes there, we have a Judo class. We teach the full spectrum of the mixed marital arts, you know. It’s a great program. We’ve got kids from eight years old -- seven or eight years old -- and then guys up until guys in their 50s. It’s a great place and a good attitude. People check their egos at the door -- it’s one of those schools.
BE: Right. That’s excellent. I don’t think the average person realizes how much training a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter performs to be on a level such as yourself. Can you give our readers what a typical week’s training schedule would be like for you, leading up for a fight?
MS: Yeah, well usually I will start with a morning run. But besides that, I break it down into two hard training sessions a day. It depends on the day. One day could be conditioning, plyometrics and calisthenics during the morning. And then in the evening I could be doing my sparring. Or, on another day, I could be doing my sparring in the morning and then in the evening I could be doing my wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu. So basically, I break it down into two -- besides my run, I have two training sessions a day. They go anywhere from an hour to two hours, depending on how hard it is going to be. We space it out in the afternoon. We space out the workouts, that way I get to recover a little bit in the afternoon. I can fuel up and get ready for the next training session.
BE: Recovery is such an important part of success in athletics. When fighting in the UFC I’m sure there are many aspects outside of training that influence a person’s ability in the ring. What was it like for you when you fought in the UFC for the first time?
MS: For the first time, again it’s a little nerve-wracking because it’s the big show, the bright lights, the people telling you that you’re on in three, two, one. Then there are cameras in your face and you see the big screens. It’s brightly lit in that octagon and you’re not used to that. It’s such a stage to be on that it can get a little overwhelming, you know. I was really excited to be there and I had an awesome fight with Shonie Carter, which I enjoyed very much until the very end. That’s when I got caught with that spinning back fist.
BE: It was a good fight though.
MS: And it was my first war. It was the first time I ever had to battle. I used to just take guys down. I had around like eight fights before that, but all locals. It was against guys that I kind of out-classed, I took them down and just smoked them, you know. It was just Jiu-Jitsu. So when I had to fight a veteran like Shonie Carter, I actually had to showcase a lot of my Jiu-Jitsu skills. Up until that point, I believe it’s the first time anybody had ever seen an omaplata in the UFC. As a matter of fact I know it is. So I attempted an uma plata, I did a lot of techniques which was the first time somebody strung them together like that in the UFC and it was UFC 31. There was Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in there before hand, but I just don’t think such an aggressive style was in there before. I’m proud of that. It’s almost like a pioneer in a way.
BE: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.
MS: So even though I didn’t win that fight, I did get the rematch years later on the comeback, but that’s a whole other story.
BE: Now I know in the Hughes fight, you looked to be in great condition. That was an excellent fight by the way. I know that some stated in the pre-UFC 98 articles, a couple of writers thought that stamina towards the end of some of your fights tended to be a weakness for you. They even stated a few times that it may even determine the outcome of the Hughes fight. Were you aware of these articles and what are your thoughts on that assessment?
MS: Not a ton of fights. I would say the Karo fight I got tired in, early. That’s the fight I got tired the most. I feel I could have been in better shape for the Montreal one, but I wasn’t gassed.
MS: I wasn’t in the shape that I was in for this fight, I’ll say that. I was really in fantastic shape for this last one. I trained very hard, did a lot of Muay Thai. I felt that I was just in really -- I could have fought him all night. I felt really good.
BE: Yeah. Well regarding your rematch with Hughes, I do think it was a close fight Matt. But both of you, like you said, looked great, and neither of you seemed gassed at all during the fight. However, you got the real knockdown and you continually pushed the pace, which I believe is a trademark of your style of fighting. I really respect that. Even on your back, you were continuously on the attack. I would like to give you just a few thoughts on each round, and then I would like to hear your opinions on your performance, as well as on Matt Hughes.
BE: Obviously, which I think anyone would admit, you decisively won the first round. You knocked him down. He scored a takedown but you showed really good composure and worked your way out of it. I thought that that round you really showed your skills, both offensively and defensively. I thought it was just outstanding. How did you feel about the first round?
MS: You know, I felt that I had him hurt. A lot of people make it a big deal about the head butt. I see where my head, we collided but he got knocked down with a punch.
BE: Yes he did.
MS: It was a legal punch. It wasn’t like on the top of his head. It was to the side of his head but it was a legal punch. I was facing him and the punch is what really floored him.
BE: Yeah, I thought that was pretty obvious.
MS: Yeah, you see it in the replays. After the punch knocked him down and I was on him, he did a good job of recovering up against the cage. Like I got away -- I’ve been spending the last three months getting pushed up against the cage. I really felt in this fight that I fought Hughes before because that’s how really smart my training camp was. I fought a ton of wrestlers. I had a ton of guys that had big ground knowledge and they were built like Hughes. They were anywhere from 195 to 220 and just guys that were just animals, so I was used to being pushed and smushed. I was used to all of the positions that Hughes does, that’s why I looked so comfortable there. I had been spending the last three months there. But I got away from the cage. He got me sleeping in the clinch where I got taken down. He did his homework. It was actually the same take down that Shonie Carter used, a knee block, on “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 4, to take me down at the end of that round. So I should have been a little more aware of that. But, just like with that Shonie Carter fight the second time, I did make the correction by the third round, taking it away. So I didn’t let him step on me and I learned my lesson in the first round. As far as him taking my back, I did not mind it at all. Even without gloves, I’m very difficult to choke from behind. I’m good at escaping and getting on top. I was very confident that as long as we were belly-up; I didn’t want to be belly-down, because that’s when he could just unload on you. As long as I was belly-up, I was very confident that I was going to end up either on top, in his guard or just escape. I’m pretty good from the back so I had no problem with that. You could even tell by my face, I wasn’t freaking out or nothing.
BE: No, you definitely were composed. I thought you did a great job, excellent job.
MS: Thank you. When that round ended I knew, I was like oh man, there are no surprises here. He had me in the worst position possible and I just got out without a scratch. I felt like I was going to get him.
BE: Now the second round was a little lackluster, I guess you could say. I’ll give it to Hughes because he had a lot of control, but nothing really happened. He really did no damage to you at all, I don’t think. But you were the one in the fight; you may think differently.
MS: No, I felt that nothing landed to me, nothing to write home about. I feel that he felt that if he would give me a little space, I’m either out, latched on to something or off my feet. So he was playing very tight and I couldn’t let him pass my guard, that’s the main thing. I could not get lazy with that. At the same time, you know in hindsight I will look at it and be like man, maybe I should have been more active, looking to get out. But a guy who is very good at playing on top in Jiu-Jitsu or just a good top game in general, they’ll play off your movements. You’re trying to make space, you’re kicking away, that will open them up to pass, to achieve a better position. So I had to obviously survive down there and not give him -- you know, he’s very good at certain things on top. You see the way he Kimora’s Joe Riggs; the way he works guys over from half guard. So I know the things that I had to watch out for and I took them all away from him. But at the same time, he was playing so tight where I didn’t feel the need to get reckless. I’m like all right, he’s doing absolutely nothing here, they actually should stand us up. I wasn’t taking anything. Defensively, I had everything set. I’m like all right, he’s not going to pass, he’s not really going to inflict damage. He’s either going to have to take a chance or get off or do something. I mean is he going to just sit here?
BE: Yeah, we were watching that fight wondering why they didn’t stand you guys up.
MS: The difference is this, in my opinion, not to jump rounds but you saw him on top of me. Now the second I got on top of him in the third round, I tried to finish it. I didn’t want to take his head off. That might have given him space to get back up, which I was looking for a Kimora. Again, you’ve got to go for it. In 30 seconds I landed more strikes than he did the whole fight. But anyway, that’s skipping rounds. The second round, even when they stood us up with 12 seconds left I still tried to take his head off.
BE: Now the beginning of the third round, I thought you would be ahead in points because the first round I thought was very decisive. Second round I figured they would give it to Hughes because he had control, which I’m not sure how I feel about that aspect of scoring. Hughes had the first takedown in round three but again, you defended very well and totally neutralized his efforts. You also threw him down and landed a few punches in the final minutes, which I really thought that was going to put you over the top and win that round.
MS: I felt the same way but I made a correction also. The one thing about having experience, you can make corrections in the fight. You don’t have to watch the tape afterwards. I knew I had to defend the takedown hard enough where if he does put me down and reach with my back against the floor, I’ve got to start tying him up. So the second my back hit the floor, I already had him neutralized for an omaplata. So I had his arm locked up, he knows -- he was just holding my far leg because he knows if there is any space, I’m putting him in that shoulder lock. That’s fact. I pull that off all the time in training. So he’s a smart guy on top. He knows he can’t go nuts because I’ll take that arm off. When he finally got out of the one side, then I went back to closed guard and boom, I locked him up on the other side. So he couldn’t do damage at all down there. So he puts me against the fence. The second he tried to try and pass my guard, to open up and look to get a superior position, I threw him in the triangle. So I was always keeping him more defensive, even on top.
BE: Exactly. That leads into another question I was going to ask you too. Back to the second round; I would love to have an opinion from someone on your level about this. Do you think too much weight is placed on top control? Especially when the person on the bottom, such as yourself in that round, is doing so much. You’re being offensive as well as being outstandingly defensive. And yes I understand they get the points for taking you down, but it just doesn’t seem like there is no weight given to the guy who is on his back, who is really totally neutralizing everything.
MS: If he took me down and landed any punches that had any outcome at all, I would say all right he worked me over some. I honestly can tell you there was nothing more than glancing blows in that round, I mean nothing. Third round I don’t think he hit me at all but the second round was nothing. I mean I was fine.
BE: Yeah, I agree. It’s almost like it was a tactic to get on top and be overly cautious. Which it’s kind of like the whole Sugar Ray Duran thing, where you dance around and you’re not throwing any punches or pursuing. I think they should score the ground game a little differently.
MS: Listen, every round ended with me attacking him. I mean you look before the fight, I don’t want to get into any kind of mudslinging because I put that at the end. But if you look at the stuff beforehand, where he was going to have his way, anything he wants to do he’ll do. It’ll be one-sided; I’m not top 20 or anything like that. I think there’s a lot of things we proved wrong with that, you know what I mean? That fight was so close that, hey man, if I’m top 20 then that means you’re 19 because that’s how close it was.
BE: Yeah, absolutely.
MS: But at the same time, the second the fight ended he told me that’s a close one, definitely close he said. I told him no matter what the decision comes down we’ll leave, we’ll end it. I think he seemed pleased with that. I mean I’ll leave it at what it was. I would love a rematch. I think that would be fun. I thought it was a fun fight. I felt that his style was good versus mine. Now I know that I tried to end it, I tried to take him out. I know that I tried to fight the good fight, you know what I mean?
BE: Yeah, well I think you did what a lot of guys expect of Matt Serra, and that is to go in and work. You’re not lying around, you’re not frickin’ just trying to control people. I mean you are out there to really finish that fight and work your ass off. As far as future fights are concerned, is there anybody you have your sights on?
MS: You know what man, I just turned 35; I feel great. I mean I came off of a fight right there where I probably never felt better, as far as endurance-wise and training. I just felt great in that fight so I’ve definitely got legs. I just want to see what makes sense to me. Again, I’m not one of those guys “oh, I have to fight now.” I mean I’m doing well. I’m not saying how I’m doing financially but at the same time I’ve got a few businesses, I’ve got a young family here. I mean I’ve got things on my agenda. Of course I’m not retired, I want to fight more. I’ve always had the attitude where I’ll fight anybody. Now you look at my career, at the roster of guys that I fought, man I’m just so privileged that I got to fight guys that are the who’s who of the UFC. Whether it’s B.J., G.S.P. twice, Matt Hughes, Karo, Shonie, Ivan Menjivar, Jeff Curran. I’m mean we’ve got so many tough, tough guys that I fought and I feel so privileged to know that I had all those experiences under my belt.
BE: That fight with Karo was excellent. I would love to see that again.
MS: That’s the one where I’m gassed in the first round. But that one got to display, if anything, some heart and maybe some escapes. I had to show some nice escapes. The Jiu-Jitsu actually saved my butt in that one. But at the same time man, I’m looking for more fights that really excite the people, excite me and that’s why I’m doing it. When I fight with Matt Hughes, I’ll tell you right now, I enjoyed everything about it. The preparation for it, even the stuff between us. I just felt it was building up to something nice. I’m glad the fight got Fight of the Night. It actually lived up to it, you know what I mean?
BE: Oh definitely. No disappointments. Now going back a couple of years to “The Ultimate Fighter 4,” what did you like most about being involved in that?
MS: I’ll tell you I liked everything about it. When I got the call for that, you know I thought I had missed the boat with that whole TV thing because they were getting guys that wanted to be in the UFC and I already was in the UFC. So when they had that comeback show coming out, I said to myself man, the exposure I can get for my schools, for my name, for everything to put me on the map; worst case scenario I fight and lose, but have a typical showing, it will be good to me. I know I’ll get good exposure because I know I’m not going to have a bad showing as long as I’m in shape and whatnot. So I put everything in to training for that. I just had the attitude like, look man, you’re going to get exposure either way. It ended up working better than I ever could have imagined because I ended up winning the show. Then I got the title shot that shocked a lot of people, which was awesome. Then that led to everything else. So all I’ve got to say is thank God for Spike Television; it changed my life.
BE: Absolutely. Is there anything about it that you liked the least? Anything that rubbed you the wrong way?
MS: I mean being away for six weeks, I’ll tell you right now that just added more to it. It’s almost like a boot camp, you know. I’m close still with a lot of the guys I was in there with. I made life-long friends. I mean Pete Sell has always been my guy, my buddy. But besides him, there are guys like Patrick Côté, Din Thomas, Chris Lytle, I still talk to these guys on a regular.
BE: Oh that’s cool.
MS: These guys, you feel like you went through a boot camp with them.
MS: So it’s cool.
BE: How’s your experience been with team Xyience?
MS: Xyience is going awesome. I enjoy the products; I love the energy drinks. I drink their protein drink in the morning, you know their protein meal. I’m a big fan of Xyience and I’m glad I’m working with them.
BE: Yeah, I’ve actually had the opportunity recently to try a few of the energy drinks and they are really good.
MS: The energy drinks taste like a diet soda. They are delicious and they don’t have anything in them. I’m a big fan of those.
BE: So where do you see Matt Serra in five years?
MS: Man, in five years who knows if I’ll still be fighting. That would be interesting. You never know. I might be like Rocky, I might still have some stuff in the basement. Besides that I definitely have a future just coaching future champions. I’ve got some kids that will be carrying the torch for me eventually. My schools will be up and running. I will be banging out seminars. I’ll be still living the dream five years from now.
BE: You run your MMA camp out of your school. Is this correct?
MS: Yeah, I’m in alliance with Ray Longo. We have the Serra/Long fight team. We do all of the hard core sparring down there. The guys come to me for Jiu-Jitsu and it’s all good.
BE: Right. Well Matt, I really, really appreciate you taking the time man.
MS: No problem. Good timing too because I’ve got to jump. Make sure you throw in mattserra.net
BE: Oh absolutely.
MS: Now you’ve got my number so if you want something in the future just give me a call.
BE: All right. Hey, you have a great day buddy.MS: All right. Good talking to you.