Just two fights ago, Matt Serra (9-6) was UFC welterweight champion of the world. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt under Renzo Gracie had scored big by winning the fourth season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "The Comeback," then surprising most by TKOing Georges St. Pierre in the first round of the young champion's first-ever title defense.
But that was a long time ago.
Now 35 years old and coming off back-to-back losses, "The Terror" is fully content with taking his career one fight at a time.
He'll look to get back to his winning ways at UFC 109: "Relentless" this Saturday, February 6 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nev.
Standing in the opposite corner will be another veteran coming off a tough loss. Frank Trigg (19-7), himself a former two-time challenger for the title, is 37 years old and admits this is, in all likelihood, his last run at glory. A second degree black belt in Judo, "Twinkle Toes" was welcomed back to the Octagon, after four years fighting in outside promotions, by Josh Koscheck at UFC 103: "Franklin vs. Belfort."
And it wasn't the welcome he'd wanted. It's never nice being on someone else's knockout highlight reel.
Trigg has his eyes set on Saturday night as perhaps the last "make or break" fight of his career, if things don't go his way, admitting he'll likely be cut from the UFC if he loses back-to-back fights, and that means retirement soon after.
Although he doesn't put himself in the same boat, Serra understands the importance of winning this fight if he ever wants a rematch against arch rival Matt Hughes, who came out on the winning end of their close unanimous decision at UFC 98: "Evans vs. Machida."
We recently caught up with the New Yorker to ask what he makes of his opponent's trash talking, gauge how important a rematch against Hughes is, and get his opinion on if Hughes is dodging AKA welterweights, Koscheck, Jon Fitch and Mike Swick, all of whom have called out the future Hall of Famer.
And surprising to everyone - including himself - Serra sticks up for Hughes.
Let's get after it.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You last fought Matt Hughes to a close, but unanimous decision loss - also the Fight of the Night. I know you disagree with the judges and asked for a rematch. Were you surprised the UFC didn't offer you a rematch given how close the fight was?
Matt Serra: Was I surprised? No, I guess it was kind of up to Hughes and he said he wanted to move along. You know, what are you gonna do? You can't just bitch about it. We move on. I would have liked to have a rematch. I thought it was an extremely close fight. It should have had a clear-cut winner, rather than just an opinion as a result, you know?
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Given how much Hughes' has accomplished in the sport, do you think that can kinda weigh in on some judges' decisions when scoring a fight? Meaning, do you think it's possible to win a decision against Hughes?
Matt Serra: You know, I really don't know. I think answering that could be like sour grapes. I'll say this much. Before the fight, some people - the critics can be pretty brutal - but some guys thought I was a fluke. They thought I had a fluke win over GSP and I never belonged in there with Matt Hughes.
And even though I didn't get the decision, you can't look at that fight and say I didn't belong in there with the guy. You gotta look at that fight and say, "Hey, that fight coulda went either way." So if anything, at least it showed, hey, you know, I'm not no one-hit wonder.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): You're now set to take on former two-time title challenger Frank Trigg. There's been a little bit of a war of words between the two of you. I believe Trigg called you an "angry midget," and you called him a "bad professional wrestler."
Matt Serra: (laughing) Yeah, he comes off like that bad professional wrestler schtick. Awful.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): He's said that he just trash talks to make the fight more interesting for the fans. Is that true for you, or is there any bad blood there?
Matt Serra: Nah, I mean is it (like) me and Hughes? Is it what we had? Nah, it's not as personal. But him saying that kinda like defeats the whole purpose. What are you sayin', dude? Do you mean it or not?
I react. I'm not the guy that usually initiates, you know what I mean? A guy calls me a "short guido," a "foot-stomping midget," an "angry foot-stomping midget" - I think that's freakin' hysterical.
But don't expect me not to come back atcha. Don't think I'm not going to point out to the world that he's got a tramp stamp, and I don't want to lose to a guy who has a tramp stamp. You know, this guy's got a lower back tattoo, I don't know if you know what a tramp stamp is.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Yes, yes, I do.
Matt Serra: It can be very attractive on a girl. But on a guy, with the nail polish in there, it's very creepy.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): From everything I've read, Trigg even admitted that the painted toenails and the "Twinkle Toes" nickname are "kinda gay." Are you surprised he says that?
Matt Serra: Well, that's good the guy's secure with himself. So more power to him, I guess, I don't know. Eh, different strokes, you know what I mean?
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Trigg has said repeatedly that he thinks he'll be cut by the UFC if he loses to you, putting him at 0-2 in his most recent UFC run. You're coming off back-to-back losses yourself. Do you share any of that same worry? Do you think the UFC could release you with a loss to Trigg?
Matt Serra: Nah, they coulda released me with a loss to Hughes. But it got "Fight of the Night." We're not coming off the same type of losses. I fought one of the best guys whoever fought in the sport, Matt Hughes, one of the best champions, in a fight that coulda went either way. A lot think that I got it.
(Trigg) is coming off a first round knockout from Josh Koscheck. Getting knocked out, I don't think it's the same thing. I still think it's pretty crappy that I have to say I have a loss to Hughes, again without sounding too bitter about the decision. So I don't think it's the same thing at all.
Am I going to sit there and dwell on it? No, because that means I'm not concentrating on what I have to concentrate on. I'm in shape, man, I'm ready to rumble. I've been training for three months. I'm ready to go to war. That's it, that's what I concentrate on. I've fought numerous times with back-to-back losses, and I've rebounded before. So I'll be fine.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about your training camp. How has it been going? Have you mixed anything up, specifically for Trigg, or do most of your camps stick to a particular game plan?
[Just then, Serra hollers to Pete Sell, who he's shopping with.]
Matt Serra: (off phone) Drago, also those drinks we were talking about - if you see ‘em.
I'm sorry, dude. Me and Drago, as we speak, are at Whole Foods. The camp went great. Actually, we're in Vegas now. I get here a couple weeks early to get acclimated and just to sharpen the knife, you know what I mean?
So right now, we're just going out, getting all our food and we're gonna cook at the hotel. I'll be eating every few hours, just making sure I'm putting the right fuel in the machine, man.
But the training camp went great. It was smart, sparring was awesome, some rolling. I can't complain. Another hard week, then just keep increasing till the fight, man, I'm ready to rock.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): In addition to being a second degree black belt in Judo, Trigg is also a southpaw, as was Hughes. Does that present any challenges for you?
Matt Serra: No, you know what, I'm very fortunate in that before this, the last guy I trained for was Matt Hughes. Wrestling background, southpaw. Basically it was the same kinda camp, except I feel this will be more of the fight I was expecting outta Hughes.
I thought Hughes was going to be a little bit more aggressive with the ground and pound. A little more aggressive with everything. I see Trigg being more that guy, you know? Which is good because it makes it exciting.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): When you were gearing up for the Hughes fight, I read that Trigg reached out to you with interest in serving as a wrestling coach for you or your camp?
Matt Serra: You got that wrong. That was for Season 6, he asked if I had a wrestling coach to help out for the show. I think Trigg likes the limelight, you know? He was even on that show, dating Jerry Hall. What does that tell ya?
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Yeah, I know, I read that today. I also found out today that his first name is Dewey?
Matt Serra: Yeah, I know, that's awesome. (Laughs)
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Renzo Gracie will get the chance to avenge your loss to Hughes at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi.
Matt Serra: I think that's exciting, man, I think that's awesome. Renzo's an icon of the sport, the guy's a legend. He's doing it for the love of it, and I think that's awesome.
It's going to be the opposite - usually it's the student avenging the teacher in those old kung-fu movies. This will be the opposite - it'll be the teacher avenging the student. So it's going to be good.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Okay, last question about Hughes. He's been called out by a lot of fighters at AKA, including Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch and Mike Swick - all contenders in the division. But Hughes says he's not interested in fighting guys like that. The guys at AKA have stated that they think he's dodging them and that Hughes shouldn't be considered a contender in line for a title shot without first fighting one of them.
Do you agree with that statement? Do you think that before he can be considered for a title shot, he should first have to face one of those younger, up-and-coming guys - like a Koscheck or a Fitch or a Swick?
Matt Serra: Yeah, I mean, if he wants to fight for the ... I mean the guy has done so much for the sport. This is crazy, I'm sitting here defending Hughes.
I don't blame those guys at all, because I think all the guys you just mentioned have the ... I mean I don't think Hughes is an easy opponent by any means, but I think Koscheck, with the wrestling, and Fitch - I think those guys can be a bad match-up for him.
So I think Hughes is going to be smart. He's probably only going to fight certain guys, where, maybe he thinks Renzo's a little older and this and that, but he's got a name still. Who knows? He's gonna probably be smart about who he fights at this point. Those guys are going to be dangerous for him.
But I think they're smart, because obviously Hughes is a legend in the sport and a win over him is great on the resume, and I think Hughes is actually being kinda smart too. I mean technically he should beat one of those guys if he wants to get another title shot? That would make sense.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Other than the Trigg fight, what else do you have on your agenda for 2010? Do you have any plans in terms of where'd you like your fighting career to go, or plans that involve your gyms?
Matt Serra: Actually, I'm opening up a new school. It's going to be huge, it's going to be right next to the school where I'm at now in Huntington, Long Island. It's going to be 8,300 square feet, it's going to be big, it's going to be beautiful, and I'm really excited about it.
That's what I'm going to concentrate on right after this fight. And again, I got no five-year plan, I take it one fight at a time. That's how I roll.
Adam Wagner (MMAmania.com): Right on, Matt. I again thank you for taking the time to talk with us. I'd like to give you the opportunity to thank any sponsors or provide some parting words for your fans.
Matt Serra: You know what? Tokyo Five and Xyience. Tokyo Five has the coolest looking shirts out there, man. I'm very happy to be sponsored by them. That's not just because they give me free shirts, but that's a big perk, because I love their clothing.
Also, Xyience. Not only is it tasty, but it keeps you going, man, I love Xyience. So that's my sponsors.
Besides that, just all the fans, check out http://www.serrajitsu.com/. I appreciate it, man, I really do. I'm a guy that no matter what I accomplish or continue to do, I'm still that guy who's just happy to be here. I'm having a great time, I'm very fortunate.
(Special thanks to Tokyo Five for coordinating this interview)