UFC 121 and Beyond: Matt Hamill May Be a Winner, But He Is Not a Contender
First off, let me explain that I for one am a Matt Hamill fan. Sadly, what I am not is a Matt Hamill believer.
There is a time when, as a fight fan or analyst, you really have to take an unbiased look at a fighter and his competition and make a reasonable assumption of his title aspirations. Though Hamill is undoubtedly a skilled fighter, he lacks a certain amount of expertise that other fighters in his weight class have.
While he has shown improvements in his game, Hamill is part of the UFC's deepest talent pool in the light heavyweight division. To be quite frank, as a member of such a richly talented division, Hamill has only been truly impressive in fights against its lesser skilled combatants. Look to Hamill's two most recent victories in particular against Tito Ortiz and Keith Jardine.
Heading into the bout with Hamill, Ortiz had not won a fight since 2004 against an aging Ken Shamrock. Ortiz has since gone through numerous back and neck surgeries, leaving him a shell of his former self. Though Hamill showed impressive resilience, takedowns and action in the top position, he did so against a weak opponent.
Similarly, in his fight with Jardine he was put against an opponent on a three fight losing streak. Though he won the fight, he showed many offensive weaknesses. Jardine pummeled him with kicks throughout Round 1 and kept him at a distance with effective jab placement, and at one point rocked Hamill.
Rather than sticking to his bread and butter and taking the fight to the mat, Hamill decided to stand and bang with Jardine. Although he began to overpower Jardine, every time he tried to capitalize on his offense he was effectively countered. While he showed power in the clinch towards the late seconds of Round 2, it was an incidental eye poke that would give Hamill the advantage as Jardine subsequently lost a point.
A takedown in Round 3 would give Hamill the decision.
Though these wins are impressive on paper, both were against fighters that were on a losing streak, aging and ineffective at high levels of competition.
While many point to Hamill's head kick victory over Mark Munoz as proof to his skill, all he really did was frustrate a fellow wrestler, then land a solid kick. Munoz's later fights also proved this to be far less of a reputable achievement as he was rocked and almost knocked out by two middleweights in Kendall Grove and Yushin Okami.
When we start throwing Hamill's name around the top of the UFC's Light Heavyweight Division we run into more issues. He was completely dominated by Jon Jones and won only by DQ.
Fellow wrestler and heavy-handed (yet unskilled) striker, Ryan Bader, was able to knock out Jardine while totally gassed.
Rich Franklin, who holds a dominant victory over Hamill, was demolished by top contender Lyoto Machida, who also holds a victory over a far superior wrestler than Hamill in Rashad Evans.
Toss in the always dangerous Rampage Jackson, who would ensure any openings would see Hamill put to sleep, and we have a bad recipe for Hamill.
Even if he succeeded at this level, Mauricio Rua would be waiting for him and I'm not sure anybody looks forward to that.
Hamill's issue is that he nullifies the power and wrestling skill that he has with sloppy striking and lacking head movement. These inefficiencies would be trounced on by those at the top of the weight class in a much more efficient fashion than Jardine or Ortiz ever could.
While I hope I prove to be totally wrong and Matt Hamill becomes a legitimate threat to the championship (which is possible but not likely at the moment), I see him floating around the middle ranks of the division for some time.
I like Matt Hamill a lot, and I love watching his fights. However, this does not influence my overall opinion of him as lacking in his ability to be a true title contender. That being said, I think he deserves the chance to make it to the top and fail or succeed accordingly.
If I were a betting man, I'd put money on a future fight against another accomplished fighter, such as the likes of Ortiz and Jardine in Rogerio Nogueira or the winner of the upcoming Thiago Silva vs. Brandon Vera fight. All of these men find themselves at odd positions in the light heavyweight division and pitted against each other could possibly prove a future threat to the title.
Should Hamill win a few more fights at this level, I might change my tune on the subject, but he seems destined to forever inhabit the spot he's in now.