It's not easy for Matt Serra's mom to sit and watch
On one side loomed a man, "a giant, giant of a man," she said. Dreadlocks down to his waist. Those unforgettable purple and black tiger-striped pants.
On the other side stood a teenager, far smaller, inside a fighting ring for the first time.
"I almost had a heart attack," she said.
Sitting in the bleachers at the old Vanderbilt (now OTB's Race Palace) in the mid-1990s, she calmed down after the smaller boy submitted the giant man.
And that's how Janice Serra was introduced to what would become her son Matt's mixed martial arts career. A career that saw Matt Serra win Season 4 of "The Ultimate Fighter" and become the only man in the world to knock out Georges St-Pierre and win the UFC welterweight title.
"I was so glad he was getting paid for something he could do so good," Janice said.
Far better than getting into scraps in school or the streets of the East Meadow. Janice still lives there. Matt lives in Massapequa.
"He had his share in school," Janice said. "When someone tried to bully him, that was the end of it. I knew people who had kids in the high school, and they said when he walks down the hallway, everyone gets on the other side. But if you weren't a bully, you didn't have to worry about him."
MMA moms have it rough. They must watch their sons, the ones whose first names they still pronounce every syllable of, get punched and kicked. They see their baby boys get cut on the face, blood flowing onto the mat, and they can't run in to save them, cuddle them and put a Band-Aid on it.
Matt, 35, made his UFC debut in 2001 and has never left the organization, one of the few UFC lifers still active. In his 13 fights over the past nine years, Janice has not watched a single one of them in person. While her husband, four other children and their families, cousins, friends, aunts, uncles, etc., have all seen "The Terror" perform live, Janice stayed home. Not that she won't go. Rather, she was the one to stay home to take care of other family members.
Besides, someone has to cook the homemade pizza for when "Matthew" comes home the next day.
"When he won the belt from Georges St-Pierre, you could have put a revolving door on my house," Janice said. "Everyone just kept coming over."
Janice still has managed to develop her own fight night ritual.
She sits on the floor: "If anything, God forbid, happened, I don't have far to fall."
She keeps the party small: "I can't have a crowd of people."
She gets nervous: "I don't talk to anybody, I just sit there."
She banned post-fight text messages from Matt: "He knows I want to hear his voice."
These are the habits of a mother whose son fights for a living. The nail heads poking through the ceiling in her living room from years of upstairs jiu-jitsu with Matt and his brother Nick have earned Janice these rights. The trips to plastic surgeons for stitches, too.
One evening this past week, Janice was mulling about Matt's brand new Serra Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy on West Jericho Turnpike in Huntington. Only her second time there and she already knows everyone. Talk about family. Janice and Matt were chit-chatting when she looked at the "Jungle Jiu-Jitsu" banner hanging from the ceiling.
"Oh, which fight was that?" she asked.
"The Kelly Dullanty fight," he said.
"That was the one where you rolled over and . . ." she said, making hand gestures to convey what she couldn't fully explain. "I like that fight."
Matt submitted Dullanty in the first round. Moms remember everything about their boys.