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UFC 96 Morning After: Matt Hamill
Steals the Show

When Matt Hamill first appeared on The Ultimate Fighter, he was an aspiring mixed martial artist whose method of fighting was fairly simple and fairly boring: He was a big, strong college wrestler who beat his opponents by holding them down and overpowering them.

But Hamill, who now has eight UFC fights under his belt, showed at UFC 96 on Saturday night that he has evolved in MMA to the point where no one would call his fighting style "simple" or "boring."

Hamill knocked out Mark Munoz with a brutal kick to the head on Saturday night, earning his sixth UFC win and, for the second straight fight, dominating his opponent on his feet. Even before landing that impressive finishing kick, Hamill looked more like a kickboxer than a wrestler: His stand-up game is powerful and efficient, and when facing a good wrestler like Munoz (who was an NCAA wrestling champion at Oklahoma State), Hamill can keep the fight standing and do it well.

It's been awesome watching Hamill's evolution as a complete fighter in the three years since he was introduced to reality TV viewers, and especially in his two fights since losing to Rich Franklin last year. At age 32, he's still improving.

"I'm getting better and better every time I fight," Hamill said in the Octagon afterward. No one could dispute that.

When writing about Hamill, I always hesitate to mention his deafness, because I don't want the fact that he's deaf to overshadow the fact that he's a great fighter. By showing that deafness couldn't stop him from becoming a professional athlete, Hamill isn't just a tremendous role model to young people with disabilities, he's a tremendous role model to everyone. He's also a complete mixed martial artist, and one I can't wait to see fight again soon.

My favorite sights of UFC 96:
1. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Rashad Evans talking trash in the Octagon after Jackson beat Keith Jardine in the main event. Jackson challenging Evans for the light heavyweight title would be an absolutely phenomenal fight, and I hope we get to see it soon.
2. Kendall Grove getting his hand raised after beating Jason Day. This was a must-win fight for Grove, who might have lost his UFC contract if he had lost to Day. I've always liked Grove, and I'm glad I'm not done seeing him in the Octagon.
3. Matt Brown and Pete Sell embracing and laughing together in a show of class and sportsmanship just moments after Brown whipped Sell with a first-round TKO in a fight that was stopped only after Sell took excessive punishment (more on that later). It was good to see that Sell appeared OK after the fight, and good to see Brown showing concern for his fallen opponent. I suggested in my preview of the fight that Brown wasn't good enough to fight in the UFC, but I was wrong: Brown showed a lot on Saturday night.

Awards:
Knockout of the Night: Hamill won the $60,000 Knockout of the Night bonus for that kick to Munoz's head. I thought heavyweight Shane Carwin might have earned the award for knocking out Gabriel Gonzaga, but Hamill is certainly a worthy recipient.

Fight of the Night: Jackson and Jardine each got $60,000 Fight of the Night bonuses, making UFC 96 the second straight card in which the main event was the Fight of the Night.

Submission of the Night: There were no submissions Saturday night. Are submissions on the decline in MMA? There weren't any submissions at UFC 92 or UFC 94, either.

Quotes of UFC 96:
"I want my belt back." -- Jackson after beating Jardine, making clear that he's eyeing Evans. However, he also indicated that he might not be ready to fight Evans at UFC 98 in May, which would mean Lyoto Machida, and not Jackson, will get the next crack at Evans.

"I thought I was going to lose my job, but I guess not." -- Grove in the Octagon following his win over Day, acknowledging that he knew he was fighting for his UFC career.

"After beating Gonzaga, there's nobody he can't fight in the UFC now." -- UFC President Dana White on Carwin, who could get the first title shot against the winner of the heavyweight championship fight between Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir at UFC 100.

Musical Notes
"Hang on Sloopy" was Matt Hamill's intro music. I wasn't aware of this, but in 1985 the Ohio General Assembly designated "Hang on Sloopy" as the state's official rock song.

Good Call
UFC announcer Joe Rogan noted that Muhammad "King Mo" Lawal was in the corner of Mark Munoz, and he referred to Lawal as one of the up-and-coming MMA fighters in Japan. I like it when the UFC announcers acknoweldge fighters in other promotions.

Bad Call
"Bad" doesn't even begin to describe Yves Lavigne's refereeing of the Matt Brown-Pete Sell fight. It was nothing short of disgraceful. Lavigne is usually a good referee, but he deserves to face some sort of discipline for what he did in the Brown-Sell fight.

Ground Game
Almost all the action in all of Saturday night's fights stayed on the feet, but I thought the most impressive ground work of UFC 96 came from Carwin, who calmly got back to his feet after Gonzaga -- a Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt -- took him to the ground. Carwin doesn't have Gonzaga's skill on the ground, but he's so physically strong that he more than makes up for it. In terms of pure strength, the only fighter in the UFC who can match Carwin is Lesnar.

Stock Up
Brandon Vera. After a series of disappointing performances, Vera did exactly what he needed to do Saturday night, defeating Mike Patt with a dominant second-round TKO. A student of the kickboxing great Rob Kaman, Vera showed off the great low kicks that Kaman was legendary for. I had been down on Vera recently, but I'm excited to see what he does next.

Stock Down
Jim Miller. I like Miller and think he has impressive submission skills, but Gray Maynard's unanimous decision win exposed Miller as a guy with limited stand-up ability.

Fight I want to see next:
Rampage Jackson vs. Rashad Evans. It would be a quick turnaround for Rampage to go from fighting Jardine on Saturday night to challenging Evans, who will definitely defend his belt against someone on May 23 at UFC 98. But if Rampage can possibly fight again with an 11-week turnaround, he should. Jackson vs. Evans would be outstanding.