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UFC 130:

Matt Hamill securing place among most influential, accomplished deaf athletes

Hamill feeds off of outpouring support from deaf community


Sam Morris

Christian Buserini smiles at his hero, light heavyweight fighter Matt Hamill, after Hamill gave him signed t-shirts and gloves during open workouts for UFC 130 Thursday, May 26, 2011. Both Christian and Hamill were born deaf.

UFC 130 Workouts

Brian Stann shadow boxes during open workouts for UFC 130 Thursday, May 26, 2011.  Stann will face Jorge Santiago in a middleweight bout on Saturday. Launch slideshow »

Dana White Fireside Chat UFC 130

Dana White holds his customary "fireside chat" with the media after the UFC 130 press conference at the MGM Grand. Among the topics White touched on Wednesday were the recent decision against Chael Sonnen by the California State Athletic Comission, Nick Diaz's chances of coming to the UFC from Strikeforce and the landscape of the light heavyweight division.

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Twelve-year old Christian Buserini is waiting impatiently, and no one can blame him.

His hero, Matt Hamill, is a few feet away in a conference room outside of the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Hamill, a UFC light heavyweight who faces Rampage Jackson in the UFC 130 main event Saturday, will chat with Buserini as soon as he finishes his media obligations.

Buserini’s eyes are wide open and he fidgets while anticipating the moment he’s thought about endlessly for the last three days. His father, Michael Buserini, says Christian has barely slept in that span.

Hamill has a chance to establish himself as one of the best mixed martial artists in the world with a victory over Jackson. Christian Buserini is a passionate youth wrestler who would like to become one of the best in Henderson. But they share one defining trait: They are both deaf.

“The excitement to have a deaf person that does what he does in a way with wrestling, to a 12-year old, it’s like he just met Elvis,” Michael Buserini said. “I don’t think he’s going to sleep for another week now.”

Hamill spent more than 10 minutes with Christian communicating through sign language about his upcoming fight and how he hopes to derail one of the biggest names in the sport.

Christian will be there every step of the way. The UFC has given the Buserinis tickets to the fight and access to Friday’s weigh-in. It’s a dream for Christian, but Hamill would say it’s just as meaningful to him.

Inspiring members of the deaf community, specifically children, is what drives Hamill to compete in the octagon.

“If I can give them hope or can give them a dream, that’s what I live for,” Hamill said. “I just want to help little by little. It makes me feel good. It’s great motivation.”

Hamill, whose life is the basis of a feature film entitled "Hamill" set to be released this fall, knows what that inspiration can turn into. It doesn’t feel like that long ago when he was in the same position as Christian.

When Hamill was in fifth grade, he met 1960 Olympic gold medalist wrestler Doug Blubaugh who became a lifelong mentor. Blubaugh, who also spent 11 years as the wrestling coach at Indiana University, was by Hamill’s side for many of the high points of his career.

He worked with Hamill while he was in college and became a three-time Division III national champion at Rochester Institute of Technology. Most recently, Blubaugh helped refine Hamill’s wrestling leading into a UFC 121 victory against Tito Ortiz last year.

“Doug taught me how to become successful in wrestling,” Hamill said. “He was influential in my life and gave me my wrestling skills.”

Blubaugh died 10 days ago in Tonkawa, Okla. The 76-year-old was killed in a motorcycle accident.

“He was legally blind as a kid and he never let that stop him in wrestling or whatever,” said Hamill’s trainer and manager Duff Holmes. “He really enjoyed his life and, until 76 years old, he was driving around on his motorcycle. He was that kind of guy. They don’t make a lot of guys like that.”

Hamill said Blubaugh would be on his mind heading into Saturday’s bout. The coach passed on proud of his protégé's accomplishments.

One could argue Hamill is already the most accomplished deaf athlete ever. A win over Jackson would only confirm his status among the elite.

Other recent well-known deaf sports figures include NFL linebacker Kenny Walker and MLB veteran outfielder Curtis Pride, but neither of them were ever stars or headliners like Hamill.

“There’s no one close, especially for Christian,” Michael Buserini said. “He relates to him. Christian doesn’t play football, he’s not going to be in the NFL, but with the wrestling, he connects to him.”

Even Jackson, who has said all week this fight doesn’t excite him, is impressed with how Hamill has dealt with his disability. Jackson remembered watching the third season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which Hamill appeared on, and being surprised to find out he was deaf.

Jackson said it immediately made him respect Hamill and that his opponent deserves “big ups”.

“I’m looking at Matt Hamill the same way I look at everybody else,” Jackson said. “I get upset when people make deaf jokes on my twitter. That’s not who I am. I’m not going to show any prejudice. I’m going to try to knock him out like I try to knock out everyone else.”

Hamill will try to use the wrestling techniques he learned from Blubaugh to prevent any chance of that. He’ll likely shoot for takedowns, which Christian said was his favorite part of Hamill’s game.

If Hamill becomes more powerful with more support from the deaf community like he says, then Jackson should be concerned. Lately, Hamill said he averaged 3,000 pieces of mail per week from fans.

“I can’t keep up with all of them,” Hamill said. “The problem is so many different languages. They are in Russian, Swedish, Japanese, Portuguese. I can’t read those.”

“I’m getting more deaf fans and that gives me more motivation.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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