For top-shelf MMA fighters, nothing is more humbling or disheartening than a high-profile defeat -- especially if it's remotely disappointing and/or successive. The resulting letdown has caused emotional, spur of the moment career choices, such as legend Randy Couture hanging up his gloves after Chuck Liddell won their trilogy or gritty veteran Mike Whitehead glumly professing that he just "wasn't a fighter" after dropping a decision to Rashad Evans on TUF 4.
Lo and behold: Couture re-emerged and soared to greater heights than ever before by regaining the UFC heavyweight championship and Whitehead proceeded to post 18 wins in his next 21 fights, falling respectably to A-listers Keith Jardine, Renato Sobral and Muhammed Lawal.
A similar see-saw effect was surely behind Matt Hamill's (10-4) retirement announcement, which came on the heels of consecutive defeats for the likable hearing-impaired fighter in 2011 (Quinton Jackson by decision, Alexander Gustafsson by TKO). "The Hammer" will swing again at Saturday's UFC 152 event, which is headlined by Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort, as the 205-pound wrestler welcomes newcomer Roger Hollett to the Octagon.
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Hailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Roger Hollett (13-3) has combat sports in his blood. His father Ralph was a boxing and kickboxing champion in Canada and thus Hollett was exposed to the striking arts as a wee lad, though he eventually complemented his stand-up base by earning a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Hollett seared to a 7-0 start as a professional, throttling all comers by 1st-round stoppage (3 via strikes, 3 via submission) and capping off the streak with the Maximum Fighting Championship (MFC) light-heavyweight strap around his waist. Unfortunately, double disaster awaited in 2007 with opponent Lew Polley, who was Junior dos Santos' wrestling coach on TUF 13: Hollett not only suffered his first career defeat but obliterated his knee in the process.
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The torn ligaments and meniscus shelved "The Hulk" for a year but Hollett returned in seemingly good form by thrashing Marcus Hicks by 1st-round TKO. The bum knee may have played a role in his next two, as Emmanuel Newton snared his MFC belt (unanimous decision) and former UFCer David Heath fitted him with a 1st-round guillotine. Rebounding from defeat, Hollett chalked up 5-straight wins to earn his shot in the big leagues and enters the Octagon having finished 11 of his 13 wins with 7 subs and 4 TKOs.
Matt Hamill isn't one for panache or style points, but his bare-bone basics, hulking strength and raw athleticism have served him well. On the feet, he's a bit of a plodding and predictable boxer with a fairly closed and front-heavy stance. He doesn't use angles or head movement during his advances and only throws simple rights and lefts, yet the head-crunching power of his short swipes have proven to be effective -- especially in the clinch, where the big fella prefers to grab the single collar tie and jack-hammer with uppercuts. Though his hands do most of the work, "The Hammer" does reel off a few mid to high-range roundhouse kicks.
Along with pocketing the silver medal in Greco Roman wrestling at the Deaflympics, Hamill was a 3-time National Champion wrestler, though only at the Division III level. As with his stand-up game, Hamill's wrestling is propelled by simple fundamentals, timing, tenacity and power rather than technical wizardry. His shots are rarely set up and he seems a little lost when he's unable to club his opponent standing or fall back on his takedowns. All of his stoppages are by TKO and Hamill pretty much stays in perma-pound mode unless he's pursuing a low single or dropping for double legs.
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Defensively, he has some bad habits. In addition to his aforementioned absence of head movement and angles, Hamill tends to avoid punches by ducking his head casually, dropping it low over his rear knee while hunching over in the pocket or just deflecting them with a high double forearm block while retreating in a straight line. The latter was directly responsible for his TKO losses to Rich Franklin (kick to the body) and Gustafsson (uppercut) and has been a longtime point of concern.
The Youtube clip above is Hollett's match with David Heath, who has the regrettable legacy of being caveman tossed by Tim Boetsch in the UFC but remains a wily and creative veteran. This snapshot was shortly after his knee injury and might not accurately represent Hollett's potential as a fighter, but footage was not aplenty and I'm forced to analyze this interaction objectively.
That being said, the ease with which he's taken down and his blatant inactivity from guard are the first things that jump out. Also, before the guillotine, Hollett scrambles to his feet, drops levels and penetrates too deep for a takedown and doesn't have his hands in the right position to defend the common counter choke.
This video of Hollett vs. Shane Biever seems to be indicative of Hollett's ruthless 1st-round stoppages. Like Hamill, he's mostly a no-flash boxer with short and heavy shots, but prefers to hang back and counter whereas Hamill trudges forward in the same gear. Hollett's hands are deceivingly fast for such a big brute and his left hook and overhand right are scary. He should be the quicker and more accurate striker.
While his short-range counter punching and power could easily find the holes in Hamill's defense by cleaving with uppercuts in the pocket or slamming home a body shot, his propensity for in-fighting leaves him more vulnerable to takedown attempts. It's not rocket science, but Hamill does well with barreling forward, hurling leather and then wisely dropping levels for takedowns if his opponent holds his ground and counters. He's also started to engage with crouching hooks and uppercuts, which mimic the beginnings of a takedown and throw the defender off track.
Hamill's predictability, significant defensive flaws and questionable motivation after his ephemeral retirement leave a legitimate chance for an upset. However, one would have to be pretty high on Hollett or low on Hamill to side with the underdog here, mostly based on past performance and prestige of opposition. Hollett is a worthwhile acquisition with talent and athleticism but came up short against all of the top competition he's encountered and I think Hamill is still at least a mid-tier 205er.
My Prediction: Matt Hamill by decision.