Matt Hamill was was one of Tito Ortiz's prized pupils on Season 3 of "The Ultimate Fighter." On Saturday in Anaheim, Calif., they meet nearly five years after filming the show, and their careers couldn't be going in much more opposite directions. Yet most eyes are on Brock Lesnar-Cain Velasquez and Jake Shields-Martin Kampmann.
Ortiz is far removed from his days as one of the most dominant champions in UFC history. He hasn't won a fight in four years. Hamill, on the other hand, has won four straight. But Hamill isn't looking at the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately side of his former coach, now adversary.
"Tito has fought a lot of good fighters and he has had amazingly close fights," Hamill told MMA Fighting. "But I'm not thinking about his record or what his own mindset coming into this fight is. I'm just focusing on fine-tuning my own skills and my own mindset."
This won't be the first time Hamill has had to put personal past relationships aside in a fight. At UFC 88, Hamill fought fellow Ohioan Rich Franklin – whom he had trained with several years earlier. Franklin wound up being instrumental in pushing Hamill, a collegiate wrestler, toward MMA. Hamill lost that fight by third-round TKO thanks to a Franklin liver kick. But he gained new perspective on turning off the friendship switch when it's time to touch 'em up.
"This is a big test for me and what I am capable of," Hamill said. "I had to get the mindset of our friendship out of the door when I learned who I was fighting. It's business. I don't want to make the same mistakes I did with Rich Franklin. In the cage, (Ortiz) will be my opponent – nothing else."
Hamill said he has only had sporadic contact with Ortiz after taping the show, but he still considers him an MMA mentor. "We were pretty close back then, but life gets in the way," Hamill said. "We lost touch the last couple years, only touching base once in a while. And since learning of this fight, there has been no contact. I'm a friendly, open-minded person. When it comes to business that night, I will put everything aside until after the fight. I can't predict what the outcome will be between us after the fight. Hopefully, there will be no bad blood – I do have a level of respect for Tito as my former coach and mentor."
Hamill's four straight wins have included a pair of victories that were anything but ordinary. He beat Reese Andy at UFC 92, then delivered a Knockout of the Night performance against Mark Munoz in front of his home state fans at UFC 96 in Columbus, Ohio, with a vicious head kick.
But against Jon Jones last December, he was dominated – but walked away with a win in the books when Jones was disqualified for illegal 12-6 elbows to the head. And against Keith Jardine in June, his win was a majority decision after Jardine lost a point for an accidental eye poke. Hamill said he's about ready for a less controversial outcome on Saturday.
"It would be good to have a straight, clear fight this time around," Hamill said. "But in this sport, anything goes. We'll see."
Hamill believes he's not far from that upper echelon in the UFC's light heavyweight division – and that a win over Ortiz would help get him there. Though Ortiz doesn't have a win in his last four fights, only one of those – a TKO loss to Chuck Liddell for the light heavyweight title at UFC 66 – has seen him overmatched.
He fought Rashad Evans to a draw at UFC 73 thanks to a point deduction for grabbing the fence. He lost a unanimous decision to Lyoto Machida at UFC 84 that was probably closer than the 30-27 scores would indicate. And at UFC 106, he lost a close split decision to Forrest Griffin.
"Fighting Tito is a big stepping stone for me," Hamill said. "My goal is to be one of the top 10 fighters in the world. A win over Tito would be a huge boost in my career."
Hamill, who was born deaf, carries with him the extra burden of being an inspirational figure in the deaf community. But he doesn't look at being deaf as a disability or that it puts him at any kind of disadvantage in the fight game.
"I don't think of it because I don't know any different," Hamill said. "I don't know what it's like to be able to just hear and listen. This is what I've dealt with since birth, so it's second nature to me. Survival instincts just kick in when I need them, and I don't think of anything else or how much of a disadvantage I'm at. It just is, and I do what I can. Follow your gut in what needs to be done."
In 2011, a movie, "Hamill," based on Hamill's life will see its release. Hamill said he hopes the movie brings inspiration to people, but that it brought out plenty of emotions for him when watching scenes from it.
A win over Ortiz on Saturday might make the producers consider adding one more scene.