Serra busts chops, then gets down to business

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Mark La Monica Mark La Monica

Mark La Monica is the deputy sports editor for cross media at Newsday and writes about mixed martial ...

The Terror turned the corner, and business, as they say, picked up. Ladies and gentlemen, Matt Serra is in the building.

That building was Renzo Gracie's Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Manhattan, but for the next two hours, it may as well have been Caroline's Comedy Club.

Serra tore the place apart, busting chop after chop, familiar face or not.

"You wanna touch these bad boys?" Serra asked no less than four people, lifting up his shirt and showing off his abs. "You wanna touch these bad boys? I don't think so. Not gonna happen!"

Then there was the little matter of suggesting someone wears lifts in his shoes. This coming from a 5-6 guy.

Don't even ask about some of the other things the 35-year-old former UFC welterweight champion from East Meadow said. Please. The ribs still hurt from laughing so much.

"That's the way it's always been," said Ray Longo, Serra's longtime striking coach. "We have to bust each other's chops for half an hour before the training starts."

Thirty minutes later, the jokes were gone, replaced by boxing gloves and the deepest of stares into Longo's mitts.

And with that, we have Matt Serra in a nutshell.

A jokester by nature, a focused fighter when needed. Sure, Serra smiles and laughs during his walk to the Octagon. But once that cage door closes and the T-shirt comes off, he's a different man.

The only thing that matters then is beating the guy in front of him.

"Every time, he cracks me up so much," said Gracie, who gave Serra his black belt. "His jiu-jitsu and his tongue are the same level."

On Saturday at UFC 109 in Las Vegas, Serra fights Frank Trigg in the lead-up to the Randy Couture-Mark Coleman main event. (combined age: 90).

"He's like a bad comic book character, you know, like a villain," Serra said of Trigg. "He's got the tattoos. He's big, he's bold, he's arrogant. You're going to pay me to fight this guy? Thank you. I'll smack him for nothing."

Serra lost his last two fights to Georges St-Pierre and Matt Hughes. While some fighters in the UFC may start to feel a little uneasy about their future status with the promotion after a few losses, Serra is in no danger. At least he shouldn't be.

He is good for mixed martial arts. He's a good-natured guy, not a punk. He's a professional fighter with successful MMA schools in East Meadow and Huntington, not a Neanderthal who punches people in a bar for the heck of it. He is the perfect ambassador for the sport.

"He's one of those guys that's been with us since we bought the company [in 2001]," UFC president Dana White said. "Matt Serra is good TV, and Matt Serra is fun to watch fight. He's got nothing but heart."

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