Matt Serra: The People's Champ Gives Tips to Local Fighters

Ann DainCorrespondent IApril 7, 2008

In preparing for my interview with Matt Serra, I had read that he was just 5'6" tall.  That was not, however, my impression when I met him.

He emerged from his driver's car at the Douglas County Fairgrounds on Sunday where he was to give a training clinic to about 70-80 serious students. He was so much bigger than I expected—both in demeanor and also, seemingly, in stature.

His neck was as wide as his head and he exuded solid strength and power.

The promoter for this event, Rick Mann of MMA Stars, had arranged for us to interview Matt before the clinic began. He suggested that we “snag” him as he arrived, before he was surrounded with the fighters who had come to work with him. 

As he pulled up to the Fairgrounds, I worried that he might be annoyed that a journalist was meeting him at his car, almost before he could emerge with his coffee and gym bag. 

Instead I was surprised and delighted that he greeted Dan Magnie of ColoradoFightEvents.com, our photographer Kathie Framarini, and me warmly as we escorted him to an interview room.   

He graciously posed for photos with us and seemed to catch the contagious nature of our excitement. We were thrilled to be spending some quality one-on-one time with him.

I had done some research leading up to this interview and had found that another man named Matt Serra was the CEO of Foot Locker. The age spread made me think that perhaps Matt Serra the fighter might be the son of Matt Serra the CEO. 

In spite of the similarity in name and the fact that both men are involved in the athletic world, there is no relationship between the two. The father and hero of our Matt Serra is a retired New York City Policeman.

I’d like to go on record here as seeing a cosmic lunar connection over Matt Serra when the calendar rolls into the end of May or the beginning of June. 

Matt was born on June 2, 1974.  He was the first American to win a Black Belt from Renzo Gracie on May 23, 2000 and he was just married to Ann Serra on May 25, 2007. 

I teased him that if he and his wife got pregnant during the end of August or beginning of September, that this pattern would truly be set.  Matt laughed and said that as a newlywed, we might be moving a bit fast for him.

We discussed family for a bit as Matt confirmed that his younger brother, Damien, had just been awarded his Jujitsu Black Belt from the representatives of Renzo Gracie. 

That makes four Serra men who have earned their Jujitsu Black Belts—Matt, his father, and his younger twin brothers, Damien and Nick.  Matt and Nick own two martial arts school together in East Meadow, NY. 

Matt also has an older brother and an older sister, but I neglected to ask him if they were also students of the martial arts.

Matt had been a scrapper since he experienced the receiving end of a bully in both seventh and eighth grades. Although he “took care of” his antagonist in eighth grade, he knew even then the importance of channeling his fighting in a more disciplined environment. 

His father first introduced him to martial arts, but when he saw a tape of Renzo Gracie the young Matt knew that this was a man with whom he wanted to train. 

He started working with Gracie’s partner Craig Kukok, but when the two split their working partnership, Serra stayed on with Gracie. 

The rest is history—all the way up to season four of the Ultimate Fighter in which Matt came out on top, giving him a guaranteed title fight against Georges St. Pierre.

We spent some time discussing the George St. Pierre match as it really catapulted Matt into the big leagues. He was already popular following his wins on the Ultimate Fighter, but he was a 14–1 underdog when he stepped into the cage with St. Pierre. 

Matt knew that he was probably the more powerful student of Jujitsu but he saw St. Pierre as being a better wrestler, bigger and more powerful. 

He told his cornermen, as he waited for the opening bell, that he was going to give it all that he had. Well, he sure did.  He knocked out the much favored St. Pierre three minutes and 25 seconds into the first round. 

We all laughed as he spoke of the resulting win in terms of “what fun it was to disappoint a lot of people” who all thought Serra did not have a chance.

As the interview was winding to an end, Matt talked of his fondness for the underdog.  He is a huge fan of the Rocky movies and he raved about Cinderella Man.  Although he also told us that really likes Bruce Lee movies, he doesn’t identify with Lee in the same way—Lee was never the underdog.

As Dan Magnie and I left the interview, we commented on how friendly and approachable we found Matt “The Terror” Serra. 

We stayed and watched the clinic for the first half hour and were impressed by how Matt, the Jujitsu teacher, was able to impart individual knowledge and technique to such a large audience. 

He moved between the pairs of fighters, helping them with positioning and leverage.  ColoradoFightEvents.com had sponsored 12 fighters from the Denver area to participate in this clinic and we were warmed to see them enjoying their time under the tutelage of such a master. 

One of our sponsored participants, Lauren Sugihara, told me that this clinic was one of the best times she has ever had in her life—ever!


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