When you look back at the post-2005 boom period in mixed martial arts, it's pretty incredible that Matt Hamill didn't get more national recognition for what he accomplished as a deaf professional athlete.
Over a 14-fight career spent almost completely in the UFC, Hamill competed against and beat some of the best the sport had to offer -- all while working with a disability.
Even with that incredible story that outlets like ESPN eat up and fans usually rally behind, Hamill was popular but never to the extent of a Chuck Liddell or Randy Couture. I think many thought of the college wrestling star as a gimmick of sorts, a fighter that was good enough to win some fights but could never get over the hump to true MMA greatness.
Fans and media alike treated him as a normal fighter, giving him the same praise and scrutiny as his peers, which if you ask Hamill, is probably exactly what he wanted.
Last year, The Hammer was released, a movie about Hamill's life, struggles and rise to fame. I had heard of the film several times, but for whatever reason, I wasn't that jazzed about seeing it because like many others, Hamill was kind of cold product as compared to his UFC peers. But when the film's producers offered to send me a copy to review recently, I was intrigued and put my aversions aside to give an unbiased review. I'm glad I did.
Had The Hammer (available on DVD/VOD) been released during the middle part of Hamill's career and if the UFC had got behind it as a must-see, I believe he would be a mega-star. While there isn't a doubt that some of the details were embellished for the big screen, Hamill's story is one that anyone that enjoys sports movies and tales of adversity will really get into.
If you're expecting Warrior, this ain't it. The only references to the UFC are in the beginning and end and there's nothing on why he went into MMA, outside one of the disc's special features. The main focus is on Hamill's upbringing and his struggles in an environment that wasn't hearing impaired friendly. The filmmakers do a great job at instantly making Hamill (amazingly played by Russell Harvard) a sympathetic figure and his grandfather (played by Raymond J. Berry, aka Arlo Givens on Justified) into a grizzled father figure who struggles to admit Hamill is different.
Read the rest of the review after the jump.
The meat of the movie is how Hamill got into wrestling, his high school accomplishments, his failures at Purdue, his admission to Rochester Institute of Technology and how the experiences change him. Along the way, he makes friends, gets his heart broken, meets a new girl and has to slay a beast as all heroes do: the reigning college wrestling champion from a rival school.
While the movie is around 1:45 long, there are a few plot threads that are skipped over. His mother and grandfather never go to see him wrestle or even bring him to college despite being important figures in his life. Purdue apparently is very non-accommodating to deaf students and the wrestling program comes off looking bad for letting him flounder. How he learns to eventually talk and understand language is barely touched from childhood to being a teenager. We go from little kid to high school senior in seconds.
Again, be warned that this isn't an MMA movie (even though Rich Franklin plays a small role) and the subtitling of dialogue during his R.I.T. days is heavy. The latter, however, is what rounds out the experience and the sound engineers do a great job at helping the viewer feel what Hamill felt everyday. It's not a big budget movie by any means, but they deserve some extra credit for pulling that off.
While in Philadelphia last August for UFC 133, I had the opportunity to cover what would be Hamill's final fight, a third round TKO loss to Alexander Gustafsson. It was on the Spike undercard and because of bigger stars like Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Yoshihiro Akiyama and Tito Ortiz, it went overlooked. He quietly retired shortly thereafter, owner of a 10-4 record with nine wins in the Octagon -- something many people would have once dreamed impossible.
After watching The Hammer, I wish I had that night back. I would have looked at things a lot differently.
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