Can Serra Stand the “Heat”?

The Terror

By Steven Curtis Jun 2, 2005
He may be “The Terror” in the Octagon, but Matt Serra is a total class act outside of it. visited Renzo Gracie’s No. 1 American student recently at the Serra Academy in Huntington, New York.

Clearly jacked up for his UFC 53 fight with Karo Parisyan, Serra took time out from training to tell us about how he made it to the “big show” and equally important, how he overcame the roadblocks along the way.

Matt didn’t make any bold predictions about his battle with Parisyan, but one thing’s for sure … expect some fireworks. As we learned, Matt is all about giving the people what they want: an all-out war. First of all, congratulations on the Serra Academy. It seems to be getting bigger and bigger.

Matt Serra: Thanks man, we’ve got a lot of students at our two schools — one in East Meadow, Long Island and the other in Huntington. It’s been going really well, thank God. Your family also trains here, correct?

Serra: I have two other brothers that train. Nicky is a black belt. I’m the first American black belt under Renzo, he’s the second. He’s real good, and he’s fighting a month after me in Atlantic City in the WEF. My other brother Damian, who doesn’t fight competitively, is a brown belt. My father is a black belt also. Everybody’s rollin’. First American black belt under Renzo is a pretty amazing accomplishment. Did you spend much time in Brazil training?

Serra: I’ve been down to Brazil a bunch of times, beginning in1997, purple belt level, and I would stay there a month at a time and just train. And Drago [Pete Sell] is one of your students, too, right?

Serra: Yeah, man. Corso (Sherdog photographer) and I were talking about how that was one of the most impressive debuts in the Octagon in awhile.

Serra: To be honest I don’t think he got enough praise for that. He fought like he’d been in there ten times. But didn’t he take the fight on really short notice?

Serra: He took the fight on less than three weeks’ notice, and he trained well. Not just under me but also with our standup trainer Ray Longo. And he’d been at UFC fights before — he’d worked my corner so he kind of knew what to expect. So come fight time, he was pretty confident. We had covered all the bases and we knew going in that we had [Baroni’s] number that night. For the benefit of those fans who might be seeing you for the first time this weekend, can you give us a little background on your career in jujitsu and MMA?

Serra: I started with Renzo (Gracie) in the early-to-mid 1990s, but I started out originally training in jiu-jitsu in the early 90s right out of high school under Craig Kukuk. He was Renzo’s original American business partner and a black belt. Renzo came to the U.S. a couple of years later and he and Craig parted ways. I stayed with Renzo because he always treated my brothers and I really great and I have been with Renzo ever since. At what point did you decide you wanted to step out on your own and form your own academy?

Serra: I’m still with Renzo; I still visit him and we try to have him out here as much as we can. I didn’t just get a black belt and leave. I still was around his academy for over two years, and I was teaching a little bit. But then you get to that point where you start getting a little bit older and you start saying to yourself, “What am I going to be doing five, six, 10 years from now?” So I asked his permission. I asked him, “Is it alright that I do something on Long Island?” And he gave me full support. He was like, “Go for it.” You mention on your website — — at you have him out here for seminars and other events.

Serra: He’s been very generous to us— it seems like he’s out here all the time. His cousins have been out here; his Uncle Carlitos has been out here. Part of it is just giving back to the Gracies, helping them promote their art, but it is really good for everybody because the students here really enjoy when Renzo and his family visits. Now when did you decide that you wanted to get into MMA?

Serra: I always knew I wanted to fight ever since the first Ultimate Fighting. I was like everybody else watching it at home and thinking, “Man, this is fantastic.” I was just a fan at first and still am. But then I started to excel at jujitsu and do OK in tournaments, at first local tournaments, and then super-fights, and then I won the Pan American gold medal in ‘99, which was a bigger thing at the time because the Americans weren’t winning as much. So things were going really well. At the same time, around purple belt level, I was fighting in local mixed martial arts fights. So how many MMA fights before UFC?

Serra: I had eight MMA fights before UFC. How did you evolve your game beyond just grappling?

Serra: To be honest, everybody evolves. If I had no time constraints in the ring — say an hour to fight somebody — maybe I wouldn’t have to work so hard on the other stuff. Maybe I could just tire my opponents out to submit them. But you’ve got three-five chess game, but it’s almost like speed chess. You’re trying to pass a half-guard and the guy you’re fighting is latching on for dear life while the ref is saying, “Keep moving or I’m gonna stand you up!” Normally you might be submitting that guy left and right — but in the Octagon it’s different. You need the strikes to set up the submissions. You’ve got to adapt to the rules. But cardio is always a huge emphasis for you, maybe more than other fighters.

Serra: When I’m in the Octagon, I’m not worried about getting hurt. I never say to myself “Oh my God, what if I get cut?” or anything like that. I’ve been hurt before and most likely I’ll get hurt again. It comes with the territory and it doesn’t really bother me. But man, you do not want to get tired in there. You’re in a cage! (laughs) It’s a terrible feeling. It’s one thing if you get tired in a marathon or some other sport, maybe you could ease up a bit and recover. You get tired in the Octagon and you’ve got guys throwing elbows, punching, slamming you to the mat. So that’s the one thing I really, really focus on.
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