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Serra not afraid to play villainís role
Serra not afraid to play villain‚Äôs role - MMAjunkie.com
by Dave Meltzer [dave-meltzer] on Apr 15, 2008 at 10:54 am in - News -
UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra knows he isn't going to be the fan favorite when he steps into the octagon at Bell Centre in Montreal in front of the expected largest crowd in North American mixed martial arts history on Saturday night.
"I'm having my trainers and sparring partners boo me on a regular basis, so I'm getting used to it," said Serra, who defends the title against hometown hero Georges St. Pierre. "It's the same cage, it doesn't matter the city."
While others are talking about the expected noise level for the main event, Serra is thinking about how quiet the crowd will be if things go as he plans: a knockout or submission win.
But he recognizes they won't be silent at the start.
"It's not a problem," Serra said. "I'm just going to get to feel like Tim Sylvia feels in every city."
More than 18,000 tickets for UFC 83 were sold through a UFC Fight Club presale, with virtually no tickets made available to the public. Depending on how many new tickets can be sold after the building is set up for television production, the gate could exceed $5 million and end up in second place on the all-time North American list. It is guaranteed the biggest gate outside Las Vegas.
Not only is the largest crowd in UFC history a guarantee, but the expectation, stemming from the nature of sports fans in Montreal and the fact a competitor who lives and trains in the city is challenging for the title, is that it will be the loudest and most enthusiastic crowd in history.
"Montreal has always been a fighting town," said former champion St. Pierre, 26, who clearly recognizes the possibility of it being a night that goes down in history. "The people love fighting. They love hockey, which is a fighting sport. Boxing has always been popular. Pro wrestling has always been big."
Over the past few weeks, Serra, 16-4, has been watching DVDs of his favorite movies, "Rocky IV" and "Cinderella Man," envisioning himself as Rocky Balboa or James Braddock, physically outmanned, having nobody believe you could win, and then scoring the upset of a lifetime.
Except in the Long Island native's case, it would be two upsets of a lifetime.
"This is like Rocky IV," said Serra. "I don't get caught up in the hype, the so-called experts, the Internet; they're not in there with us. It's me and Georges. Once that cage shuts, I'm the one in control of my destiny."
Everything was the same one year ago, except they were in Houston, and St. Pierre was the champion. Many thought he was almost unbeatable. Serra wasn't even considered a legitimate contender, and most laughed off the idea of the match-up.
Today, well, almost nobody expects him to win. But nobody is laughing at the match.
Serra, 33, got his title shot by beating Chris Lytle in the finals of a tournament on "The Ultimate Fighter" reality show. It promised a title shot to the winner of a tournament of fighters being given a second chance after being dropped from UFC competition. Serra won a decision after a dull fight.
The difference between winning and losing was a $100,000 contract and a title shot vs. $10,000. As someone about to get married and purchase his first home, Serra's mindset was to not make a mistake and to get his hand raised.
"Chris I consider one of my best friends in the UFC," said Serra, explaining why it was a mentally difficult fight. "He's a great person. We spent six weeks in the (Ultimate Fighter) house together. We were main training partners. We had great sparring sessions and we knew each others' moves."
St. Pierre, on the other hand, had most recently stopped Matt Hughes, one of the most dominant MMA champions in history, with a kick to the head. A match with Serra, who had previously fought at lightweight, was criticized as being a joke, and Serra was listed as an eight-to-one underdog. He looked tiny in the ring next to St. Pierre. But a minute into the fight, he connected with an overhand right and St. Pierre was stunned.
Serra kept punching, knocking St. Pierre down. St. Pierre thought takedown, and Serra cracked him with a punch that sent him flying before landing. Some 19 punches later on the ground, and it was stopped just as St. Pierre began to tap.
There were two images that defined that night. One was of St. Pierre helpless for the first time in UFC competition. The other was of Matt Hughes, who was going to face the winner, smiling from ear-to-ear like he had just won the lottery because he was getting a title fight with Serra and not St. Pierre.
Serra's two jiu-jitsu schools on Long Island did great business off his exposure on the reality show. He got married, had a honeymoon, moved into a new house, and went to Las Vegas to coach on the Ultimate Fighter to build to a grudge match with Hughes, all in a few-week period.
But nobody's luck lasts forever, and in training for the fight with Hughes, he suffered two herniated discs in his lower back and had to bow out of the Hughes fight.
UFC created an interim title, not knowing for sure how quickly Serra would recover. St. Pierre stepped in for him, and like a year earlier, he dismantled Hughes.
"I'm 110 percent," said Serra after finishing a five-mile run in his final week of hard training. "I feel great."
"I judge how I'm going to fight by how I'm fighting in the gym, and that's how I'm going to perform," he said. "I've been fighting three or four times a week with multiple partners who are bigger and stronger. I've got some great stuff. What I pull off in sparring I should be able to pull off in a fight."
Serra notes his strength, heavy hands and a great jiu-jitsu bottom game, stylistically makes him a tough opponent for St. Pierre, whose strengths are great technical stand-up and even better takedowns.
"I'm not saying I'm a better fighter than (Josh) Koscheck (whom St. Pierre beat in August) or Hughes, but I'm a harder match-up for GSP. If he takes me to the floor, he's got long arms and I'll latch onto them. If he makes a mistake, I'll catch him."
But Serra says he's completely relaxed, feeling all the pressure is on his opponent.
"The worst thing that can happen for me when the match is over is that after two fights, we end up even."
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