On Matt Hamill’s Unretirement and Firing: A Lament

Matt Hamill

(Who saw this coming? We did, that’s who. Photo via Getty.)

Until his initial retirement back in August of 2011, Matt Hamill was considered by most to be a perennial contender at 205 lbs., a fierce grappler with ever-improving striking and a positively inspirational member of the deaf community. While the latter accolade still remains true two years and one unretirement later, the former have seemingly (and sadly) all but vanished in Hamill’s recent octagon appearances.

Following his lackluster decision loss to Quinton Jackson at UFC 130 and a second round drubbing at the hands of Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 133, Hamill quietly stepped away from the sport, stating:

I was ready to make this decision after UFC 130 but my friends, family coaches and most importantly my daughter encouraged me to give it one last chance. My career has been plagued by injuries starting with The Ultimate Fighter and disrupted my training ever since.

There hasn’t been even one training camp where I’ve been able to train without training around an injury. I have not been kind to my body and it has nothing left after 28 years of non stop competition. It’s time to finally give it a rest.

I have fallen in love with the sport of Mixed Martial Arts and I will continue to coach at our gym Mohawk Valley MMA along side my teammates and help the next generation of fighters make it to the UFC. 

You see, that’s the thing that has irked us most about Hamill’s decision to unretire (and we’ve mentioned this before) — his retirement, this statement, was just so, appropriate. Hamill seemed self-aware, he seemed content, and most of all, he seemed comfortable with the legacy he had left behind while understanding that his time — as a fighter, at least — had come and gone. It was a mature, thoughtful decision not often reached by most combat sports athletes, let alone MMA fighters. It was closure.

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Less than a year after making said decision, Hamill recanted on it. And now, rather than retire with the aforementioned sense of closure, it appears that Hamill has been released by the UFC following his disheartening loss to Thiago Silva at Fight Night 29. God only knows what lies in store for “The Hammer” now.

Although Hamill insisted that he had *finally* recovered from the nagging training injuries that had affected him for years upon returning to the sport in early 2012 (sound familiar?), his “comeback” performance against Roger Hollett — who holds the distinct honor of being brought in as a late-notice injury replacement for himself — at UFC 152 spoke quite to the contrary. The fight was tough to watch for a multitude of reasons, the most damning of which being Hamill’s sloppy, tired performance against a similarly gassed fighter he would have rolled through less than a year prior.

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We tried writing off Hamill’s performance as the result of ring rust, but don’t we always with guys we generally wish the best for? When he was paired with Thiago Silva at Fight Night 29, however, we reacted with legitimate fear. To borrow a much-overused phrase, Hamill had nothing left to prove. Likewise, the beating he was surely set to endure would only tarnish the legacy he had worked so hard to build.

It was by the grace of God that Silva showed up in as poor of shape as he did, because we can only imagine what he would have done to Hamill had he put a good training camp in. Within two rounds, Hamill was literally staggering around the octagon as a result of Silva’s leg kicks, his hands on his hips, too tired to even return fire. While happening upon a replay of the fight at a bar some two days later, my father could only muster to me that “the white guy looks like he just stumbled out of here and into that ring.” It was a surprisingly accurate assessment.

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To put it politely, Matt Hamill never should have unretired. Neither should most of the fighters who choose to do so.

Of course, the obvious counter to my long-winded lament is, “Who are you to decide when a fighter should retire?” And I have no counter for your counter, other than to simply ask, ”Have Hamill’s past two fights done anything to *improve* your image of him?” Were the last couple paychecks he received worth the abuse and humiliation?

I write this as a fan, Matt. I write this as someone who has followed your MMA career from the beginning. Hell, I write this as a fellow human being. Please, see this as a sign. See this as a sign to be the exception to the rule, as you have been your entire career, and retire (again) before you inflict anymore unnecessary punishment on yourself. Because the last thing this sport needs is another fighter who simply refuses to accept his mortality.

Oh yeah, and it looks like David Mitchell and Nandor Guelmino have been fired as well. Their career eulogies are forthcoming.