Hearing disability doesn't hold back fighter
Hamill to face Franklin in UFC 88

ATLANTA - One of the driving forces for the Ultimate Fighting Championship has been the backgrounds and personalities of its fighters.

There are the brash fighters like Matt Serra or the charming and witty Forrest Griffin. Then there's the former math teacher, Rich Franklin.

But none are like Matt Hamill.

Hamill does not hear the roar of the thousands of fans that fill arenas, nor can he hear his fans chant his name.

That's because Matt Hamill is deaf.

A disability for some people, Hamill has never let it hold him back. He'll fight Franklin on Saturday at Philips Arena in UFC 88 as he continues to prove doubters wrong.

"It's good to fight Rich Franklin," said Hamill, who was born deaf and does most of his media interviews without a translator as he reads lips to answer questions. "He's more experienced than me and more well-rounded. A lot of people don't see me as a great fighter, but I still stay positive and I'm going to battle every time I fight."

The Hamill vs. Franklin fight is part of the main event, which features former light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell vs. undefeated Rashad Evans in UFC 88. It's the first time the UFC has ever come to Atlanta.

"They see me as a handicapped fighter, but it's whatever you want to call it," Hamill said. "I'm not like a lot of fighters. You don't see other deaf fighters around in the UFC."

Like many UFC fighters, Hamill got into mixed martial arts after his college wrestling career ended. Hamill was a three-time NCAA Division III national champion at Rochester Institute of Technology where he earned his associate's degree in electrical engineering.

The 31-year-old won gold in freestyle at the 2001 Summer Deaflympics and took silver in the Greco-Roman competition.

Then in 2006 Hamill got a chance of a lifetime when he was selected as a cast member of the popular Spike TV show "The Ultimate Fighter 3."

With his excellent wrestling background, Hamill caught the attention of his coach, Tito Ortiz. The former light heavyweight champion in the UFC was impressed with how talented Hamill was despite only six months of MMA training. Forget the fact that he is deaf.

Ortiz took Hamill under his wing, but after the inexperienced fighter's first-round win, he had to bow out of the competition with an injury.

Hamill still trains with Ortiz's camp, Team Punishment, and holds a 4-1 record in the UFC. After winning his first three fights, Hamill lost a controversial split decision to Michael Bisbing a year ago.

"With my first fight in the UFC it was the TV show and I was very raw," Hamill said. "I wasn't really a great fighter. But two or three years later I've gotten a lot better. I'm more composed, calm and a lot better."

Hamill defeated Tim Boetsch in April by technical knockout, but Saturday he will have his greatest challenge, in the octagon at least. Hamill will take on Franklin, the former middleweight champion, who will fight his first bout at light heavyweight.

The two are Cincinnati natives and former training partners, so the typical trash talk that goes on amongst fighters before a fight likely won't happen. Just respect for one another.

"We have a great friendship, we just have to leave the friendship at the door," Hamill said. "But there's no enemies, no rivals or anything. We are cool up to then."

While Hamill may not be able to hear the roar of the crowd in the venues he fights in, that's just fine with him. He's just happy to be fighting in the UFC.

"You can't hear with all the people screaming anyway. I'm just going in smiling and stay focused," Hamill said. "My goal is to be in the top 10, that's really my goal. I don't know what I'm ranked right now. I just know I have to win the fight."

SideBar: UFC 88

What: UFC 88: Breakthrough

When: Saturday, 8 p.m.

Where: Philips Arena

TV: Pay-Per-View

Fight card:

· Chuck Liddel vs. Rashad Evans

· Rich Franklin vs. Matt Hamill

· Karo Parisyan vs. Yoshiyuki Yoshida

· Dan Henderson vs. Rousimar Palhares

· Martin Kampmann vs. Nate Marquardt

· Thiago Tavares vs. Kurt Pellegrino

· Tim Boetsch vs. Michael Patt

· Dong Kyun Kim vs. Matt Brown

· Jason Lambert vs. Jason McDonald

· Roan Carneiro vs. Ryan Chonan