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Matt Serra Not Retired, but Already Focusing on the Future in Al Iaquinta

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra fought one time every year in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009. He competed twice in 2010, but has not not entered the UFC Octagon since September of that year. If there's a direction to his career as a professional fighter, it's towards an exit.

But that doesn't mean he's throwing in the towel on his own days as a prize fighter. Not yet, anyway.

"I'm going to say if I have to lean one way I'm definitely going to say you're going to see me again," Serra told Ariel Helwani Monday on The MMA Hour when asked if he plans to fight again or retire.

Serra can't be certain about fighting. He's too busy living the moment. With the responsibilities of raising a family, operating a pair of jiu-jitsu academies on Long Island, New York, and training several UFC fighters, Serra's living life at warp speed. Even if he wanted to train for a fight - especially in what could be his final professional fight - he's hardly in a position to do so.

Serra, however, is ever the competitor. He simply can't let go of the idea of not returning to action. But therein lies the rub: there is no plan to return. No timetable, no opponent, no venue, nothing.

"I really got no answers for you as far as when and who and all that kind of stuff," Serra said. "I really think it's so official just to say you're done. Because you never know how you're going to feel the next day, you're never going to know if something comes up and excites you. But right now I've got my plate full."

At the top of the list: waiting on the return of Al Iaquinta, Serra-trained fighter who is the finals Friday night of this season of FX's 'The Ultimate Fighter Live Finale'. Iaquinta, Urijah Faber's top pick, faces off against fellow teammate Michael Chiesa.

Talk of Iaquinta is when Serra pivots emotionally. Where barely a minute is spent discussing his uncertain future in fighting, Serra beams with pride, confidence and a river of praise for his student's burgeoning UFC career.

"It's not about me. It's about these young kids coming up. Look at Al. What is he, 25, 24 [years old]?," Serra asks. "He's a young kid and I'm telling you. You gotta be impressed with that kid. There's not one fight where you could say one guy he face in [the TUF: Live competition] where you're 'alright, he's got a gimme to the next round'. That guy fought some studs on that show."

"Not only did he get tough opponents," Serra continues, "but he looked better each fight. The kid looked great."

Serra is effusive with compliments for Iaquinta even if he admits he wasn't sure if he did or didn't have the next great fighter when the curious upstart began training with Ray Longo. Serra told Helwani it's never really clear who is there when a wanna be fighter walks in the door and asks to train.

Is it the next great talent or the next guy to exit the premises when the day is particularly rough? The only way to tell is how they perform - or if they even keep coming back - as the days and weeks pass. And between the test of TUF: Live as well as the informal one of gym attendance, Iaquinta is passing with flying colors.

"He's tough as hell. He just doesn't give up," Serra contends. "He'll be there every week just training. if something happens and he gets caught he'll want to go again with the guy and learn."

In fact, Serra suggests there's a UFC fighter (one he refuses to name) Iaquinta sparred with and gave "fits" despite the more seasoned talent finding the idea of sparring with an unknown fighter a waste of time. Iaquinta, Serra contends, never complains about the training environment or the challenges. He only wants success and doesn't imagine it comes any other way than by the sweat of his brow.

"He's always been a great kid. He's a humble kid and I hope he gets all the success in the world because he'll be able to handle it," Serra continues.

When it comes to his own future in fighting, Serra is certain about very little. He doesn't want to close the door on his career, but he wants little more than that. The winner of season four of 'The Ultimate Fighter' doesn't even talk about his own future in fighting with nearly the same enthusiasm he shares for those he trains.

That is truly the real litmus test that underscores how much Serra has transitioned out of fighting. Fighters are selfish, both by design and necessity. They spend inordinate amounts of time mired in their own narcissism, self-focus and self-aggrandizement. They ask for the attention of others no matter their physical proximity.

These days, Serra is giving that attention a lot more than he's asking for it. And if the Renzo Gracie black belt is to be believed, the MMA community and media will be as focused on the next generation of fighters making their names at a jiu-jitsu gym in Long Island as we all were on his.

"He's one of those, man," Serra says of Iaquinta. "Those guys are the best and they go the farthest."

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