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Matt Serra: The Underdog…Again


By CagePotato Guest Contributor Brian Knapp

Matt Serra had never finished a fight with his fists until April 7, 2007. Talk about perfect timing. On that night, Serra shook the mixed martial arts world to its foundation, as he overcame seemingly insurmountable odds to topple a man who had been universally received as the planet’s premiere 170-pound fighter.

A full year has passed since the 33-year-old Long Island, N.Y., native clubbed Georges St. Pierre and stopped the favored French Canadian by first-round TKO to capture the welterweight championship at UFC 69 in Houston. Goliath had met his match inside the hallowed Octagon, and the sport sat in stunned silence.

With less than a week to go before their rematch at UFC 83 on Saturday night at Montreal’s Bell Centre, pundits lend little credence to Serra’s flawless performance 12 months ago. Many consider it a fluke, a stroke of luck, a hiccup in the space-time continuum. A coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter and a back injury have kept Serra out of the eight-sided cage since his historic upset, and St. Pierre has been nothing shy of impeccable in back-to-back wins over welterweight contender Josh Koscheck and future Hall-of-Famer Matt Hughes. Serra’s odds are long, but he embraces them nonetheless.

“They can look at it any way they want,” he says. “I know I’m the underdog, and I feel very comfortable in that role.”

St. Pierre, the thoroughbred who had all but cleaned out the UFC’s 170-pound division, never got out of the gate the first time the two met. Rocked repeatedly by Serra’s heavy hands, he wound up on his back, where he ate punches in jackhammer-like succession and was unable to mount a defense. Even so, Serra’s respect for St. Pierre’s physical capabilities runs deep.

“He’s dangerous on all fronts,” Serra says. “Georges is very well-rounded. He’s got very good wrestling besides the striking. Standing up, off my back … everywhere, basically, I have to be on my A-game.”

Having long compared himself to the lead character in the Rocky series, Serra figures to be confronted by the most hostile of crowds as he ventures into St. Pierre’s backyard in Montreal. His support will likely be limited to his cornermen.

“I don’t expect to get cheered walking out,” Serra says. “It’s not a problem. I think I’m finally going to feel what Tim Sylvia feels when he fights anywhere.”

More than 20,000 fans are expected to attend the UFC’s first event in Canada, as tickets sold out in record time.

“I think it’s going to be an historic event,” Serra says. “This is the first time ever in Canada, and I’m in the main event. How could I not get excited for that? There’s only one first time, and I’m honored to be part of it.”

The hype machine was thrown into high gear months ago, and while the magnitude of the match has not been lost on Serra, he has done his best to approach it like any other fight.

“The mental outlook is so important,” he says. “I try not to get caught up in all the hype and the fluff and what the so-called experts’ opinion is because they’re not in there with us. It’s just me and Georges, and it’s a fight. And when that cage shuts, it’s just us two. I’m the one who controls my destiny.”

What was perhaps most startling about the first encounter between Serra and St. Pierre was the fact that the fight never went to the ground. Though St. Pierre is clearly the dominant wrestler, few pose the threat Serra poses from his back. The first American to ever achieve black belt status under Renzo Gracie, Serra — a former Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion — has proven himself as an accomplished ground fighter. He has been stopped only once — by Shonie Carter’s infamous spinning backfist at UFC 31 — in 13 professional bouts.

Still, question marks linger as Serra approaches his return to the cage. He was slated to make his first title defense against Hughes at UFC 79 in December but withdrew after he suffered a herniated disc during training. Though back injuries are notoriously slow to heal, Serra claims to be at full strength.

“I feel great,” he says. “I would never have taken this fight if I felt that I couldn’t beat Georges.”

Serra scoffs at the idea of ring rust despite the fact that 378 days will have elapsed since his last appearance when he steps into the Octagon this Saturday, and “The Terror” believes he has effectively simulated live combat in preparing for the rematch.

“I judge how I’m going to fight by how I fight in the gym and the academy,” Serra says. “I do what I do in the academy, and I don’t make a big difference between that and the fight. To me it’s just another day of hardcore sparring. People are going to say I haven’t fought in a year, but I’ve been fighting three to four times a week with multiple opponents. What I pull off in sparring, I should be able to pull off in the fight. That’s where my confidence comes from.”

Many analysts see St. Pierre minimizing the stand-up exchanges and utilizing his considerable wrestling skills in an effort to ground and frustrate Serra, just as he did in previous match-ups with Koscheck and Hughes. Serra, slingshot and stone in hand, welcomes the challenge and thinks history can most certainly repeat itself.

“No matter where it goes, I’m going to be a dangerous person,” he says. “Anybody on any given night can be the better fighter. My style looks good for this match-up, and I’m prepared to prove it.”

Cagepotato Comments

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Jonathan- April 15, 2008 at 8:10 am
in response to the comment that GSP has no chin:

in their first fight, GSP ate about 5-6 heavy shots to the head before he finally went down and couldnt recover... i would say that qualifies him as a "fighter with a strong chin"!!
Rich S.- April 15, 2008 at 2:30 am
He's going to get boo'd because he made comments on GSP somewhere along the lines of "Frenchie" and other personal remarks.. which is another reason why you can't tell GSP doesn't like him any more.. and it's another reason why GSP's going to send him to the hospital..

and Grif.. that WASN'T a knock out.
mmmiles- April 15, 2008 at 2:01 am
“I don’t expect to get cheered walking out,” Serra says. “It’s not a problem. I think I’m finally going to feel what Tim Sylvia feels when he fights anywhere.”

That's sad, Serra is a great guy and was a great coach. I sure don;t want or expect him to win on Saturday, but he shouldn't think people are booing him because they dont like him. Matt, don't you get it that we just want GSP to have his belt back? It's nothing personal against you, you just need to get exploded and that frustrates some people. Sylvia's just ACTUALLY a fuckbag.
Grif- April 14, 2008 at 9:50 pm
What about in Serra/Karo Fight, Serra almost knocked him out in the 1st round.
Rich S.- April 14, 2008 at 8:37 pm
Hey Grif,

first of all.. you said the significant striking advantage was to couture?? i don't care how complete his stand up is [which, it really isn't] he doesn't have a striking adv. over Chuck freaking Liddell, ok...

second of all.. Matt Serra doesn't have this striking power that everyone keeps talking about.. he got GSP w/ a rabbit.. a shot to the back of the head.. and knocked off his equalibrium.. and when we're talking about a shot to the back of the head, a 10 year old girl could KO GSP.. i mean, does no one see that the KO over GSP is the ONLY KO ON SERRA'S RECORD.. i mean, that alone should tell some of you that that shouldn't have happened..

yes, Serra has good submissions... and yes, he's a wild puncher..
but GSP is stronger.. and bigger.. he will be able to completely control the clinch.. and completely control the wrestling aspect.. Serra will be fighting off his back all night.. this one's going to look alot like GSP/Hughes 3.. quick takedown.. and some significant damage distributed evenly throughout the round.. but i obviously don't think it will end like GSP/Hughes 3.. the fact that Serra caught GSP w/ that punch is going to be in the back of GSP's mind ALLLLLL NIGHT.. and that's why i think GSP's going to play it safe, smart, but still aggressive.. and get the 5-round-decision..
either that.. or eventually [like 3rd round'ish] Serra's will and stamina will break and GSP will be able to pound him out..
Sol- April 14, 2008 at 7:57 pm
The feeling going into this one is pretty much as it was before except that now Serra holds a KO victory over GSP.

I'm a big GSP fan as are alot of MMA fans because he has the all-around game, but even I think that lightning can indeed strike twice.

Even though Im not Matt Serra's biggest fan if he beats GSP again, regardless of how, you have to say he is the best.
Noah- April 14, 2008 at 6:55 pm
@ cw and bundy

GSP won the interim title, Serra still has the real title. An interim title is just a bs title that gets made up to make the fight sound more important. Serra was never stripped of his title, if he was, GSP vs Hughes would have been for the actual welterweight title. Although GSP would still have to beat Serra to prove he was the real champ imo.

Look at it this way, Penn vs Stevenson was originally going to be for the interim title, which would mean Sherk is still the champion. But because the CSAC decide Sherk cheated, Penn vs Stevenson became a fight for the vacant title. Sherk is no longer the champion.

So there's three ways to win a title:

1) Do it the real way where a challenger beats the champ.

2) Win the vacant title in which the champ retired or was stripped of the title (for cheating, being injured for too long long, etc.)

3) Win the interim title, which really means jack shit.
hm- April 14, 2008 at 6:52 pm
i know people dislike serra as a person because he may come as cocky, but really he's just being straight-forward, and speaks his mind modestly but with respect
Bundy- April 14, 2008 at 6:33 pm
@ cw
Yeah I guess technically that's correct, but the way I look at it GSP won a vacant belt. He did not beat the champ to take it. Serra on the other hand did beat the champ, so in my mind that makes serra the champion going into this fight regardless of who has the belt around their waist. I agree with grif that gsp will be a little hesitant to trade with serra. Does anyone know exactly how the " interim " title works. Who will be intorduced as the champion?
ksgbobo- April 14, 2008 at 4:50 pm
Warcraft...freaking warcraft dork!
Fuct- April 14, 2008 at 4:32 pm
Hey Grif, I agree Serra is dangerous and should be taken seriously, but as far as the Penn fight with GSP, the damage done by Penn was more of a result of GSP getting poked in the eye and not being able to see, and he still hung in there without crying foul ( matt "the whiny bitch" hughes style). Also as far as GSP not doing much stand up in his last couple of fights, well first of all he's only fought twice and both Kos and cry baby are grapplers when the hell do they stand and trade, I've seen Kos stand once against diego and that was more strategy against diego than a show of skill.
cw- April 14, 2008 at 3:40 pm

Isn't GSP the champion? He took the belt in the match against Hughes a few months ago after Serra couldn't defend the belt? I guess GSP is like the 'disputed champion' or something.
cw- April 14, 2008 at 3:38 pm
"I don’t expect to get cheered walking out,” Serra says. “It’s not a problem. I think I’m finally going to feel what Tim Sylvia feels when he fights anywhere.”

hahahahaha. Priceless.
Warcraft- April 14, 2008 at 3:29 pm
Matt Serra has +10 to his life already after defeating goliath.
If he does it again half you guys who still don't respect Serra should learn2watchMMA after you slam your shots of vodka or whathave you.

Can't wait for this fight either I have a feeling GSP going to takedown mode but soon we will see.
JoseMonkey- April 14, 2008 at 3:21 pm
Ok, this is sort of a meta-comment . . . but these guest posts really raises the bar for Cage Potato articles. I really enjoy the snarky, short posts that are chock full o' links, and everybody likes the constant stream of videos that are posted here, but Brian Knapp's writing is top notch. We need more writers like this posting more regularly!

(As for the fight, I think GSP will submit Serra in round 1.)
Grif- April 14, 2008 at 3:04 pm
Rich, All those advantages mean shit if Serra has knockout power. For instance lets take a trilogy of fights from the past.

Couture Liddell

All of those advantages you wrote fit in the situation.

"significant size advantage..(Randy was moving down from heavyweight and obviously bigger)
significant striking advantage..(A more diverse striker than Chuck, less powerful but more complete)
significant wrestling advantage..(Greco-Roman Wrestling Champion against Chucks college wrestling)
significant advantage in the clinch..(It's Randy of course he does)
significant strength advantage.."(bigger usually equals stronger)

And even though with those stats you would think Randy to win every time he would go on to lose 2 of the 3, because at that time Chuck had insane knockout power.

Serra doesn't have insane knockout power but enough to fuck you up. Personally I have to question GSP's chin. Looking at his record he's never fought a really dangerous striker other than BJ and his face was fucked up after that fight. I don't expect GSP to stand with Matt Serra, He hasn't stood with anyone for long since Serra Knocked him out but if he does I'm pretty sure it'll be a mistake.

The roles are strangely reversed in this fight. I think GSP has a significant advantage on the ground even though Matt's a BJJ Black Belt. I train BJJ and something you learn pretty fast from rolling with bigger guys, enough strength can beat any technique and even though Serra has a better knowledge of the ground GSP should be able to power out of any submissions Serra throws, pass his guard and probably submit him.

With the Stand up even though GSP has many more tools I think he's going to be wary to get into any exchanges. He says the loss doesn't bother him anymore but when Matt Serra's looking at him from across the octagon I think he'll get hesitant. Matt has the power advantage and it only take one punch for Matt Serra to win.

No matter what happens I'm really excited about this fight.
Peterw- April 14, 2008 at 2:55 pm
Everyone hates tim because hes boring to watch + takes steroids

On topic, will be good to watch, i think GSP will dominate him though by taking him down ect
Bundy- April 14, 2008 at 2:53 pm
Serra's a little ball of energy. He's tough to hit and he hits hard. He's also not intimidated by gsp, and even though he is the champ, he really has nothing to lose. All that makes a VERY dangerous fighter. I won't be surprised if serra knocks him out again.
Rich S.- April 14, 2008 at 2:39 pm
yeah... everybody hates big Tim...

here's what's funny about this fight..

the first fight was a mistake.. that shouldn't have happened..
but if he beats him AGAIN.. IN THIS FIGHT.. it'll still be a mistake..

there's just no reason on Earth why Serra should beat GSP..
significant size advantage..
significant striking advantage..
significant wrestling advantage..
significant advantage in the clinch..
significant strength advantage..
the only place Serra has GSP is submissions..

which is why it was a mistake that he got a KO..

i don't care if Serra beats GSP 3 TIMES!!!
it's not supposed to happen..
ksgbobo- April 14, 2008 at 1:35 pm
“I don’t expect to get cheered walking out,” Serra says. “It’s not a problem. I think I’m finally going to feel what Tim Sylvia feels when he fights anywhere.”

rofl...thats hilarious...