Maybe a dozen people gave East Meadow’s Matt Serra a chance, and they either trained with him and Ray Longo, or owned one of their last names.
“Do you realize that everyone thought I was walking to my certain death?” Serra said about facing Georges St-Pierre for the UFC welterweight title in 2007. “Talk about facing your fears, man. I was whistling to that ring, and I don’t even whistle.”
Serra knocked out GSP for what 11 years later remains the greatest upset in UFC history. It cemented Serra’s legacy in MMA, and it carries him now into the UFC Hall of Fame.
Serra will be inducted this July in the Hall’s Pioneer Wing, reserved for fighters who debuted before Nov. 17, 2000, the UFC announced Saturday night.
“UFC Hall of Fame, that’s not exactly like Joe Schmo Karate Magazine Hall of Fame,” Serra said. “This is the best fighting organization in the world saying you’re a Hall of Famer. That’s big. That’s pretty big. That’s huge, actually.”
Serra was texting with UFC president Dana White earlier this week. That turned into a video chat where White dropped the news on Serra.
Several days later, Serra still was humbled by the notion.
“I’m always like, ‘Ah, do I deserve it?’” said Serra, who won season four of “The Ultimate Fighter” to earn the shot against GSP. “I’m always that guy . . . I may say ‘Do I deserve it?’ but I still think I’ll take a kimura on anyone.”
“‘Do I deserve it?’ I go ‘No, but who cares?’” Longo said, offering a glimpse into the comedy portion of a relationship that long ago transcended that of fighter and trainer. “Let’s just enjoy it.”
Serra was the first American to receive a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Renzo Gracie. His first pro fight was in April 1998. He made his UFC debut on May 4, 2001.
He began his fighting career at a time when the sport was illegal in his home state and barely was allowed on pay-per-view, let alone cable television. He came up in a 4x3 world, with grainy VHS tapes from the video store. Yes, they had those back then.
Serra (11-7) last fought on Sept. 25, 2010, a career long enough to see his sport reach unimagined heights from when he first started. The UFC went from banned on cable and pay-per-view to a mainstream sport, multiple MMA promotions have television deals, fighters are known entities. Serra competed at a time where you could win a title on a Saturday night, come home Sunday and not be recognized by people in your neighborhood pizza shop on Monday.
Serra fought legends in the sport, including Hall of Famers Matt Hughes and B.J. Penn and St-Pierre, a future Hall of Famer. He didn’t win every fight. No one in this sport ever does.
“I’m not in there for one specific fight, even though God knows that fight helped me out,” Serra said. “I fought a lot of these Hall of Famers, or guys that are going be in it. They all knew that they were in a fight. I feel good about that”
Serra runs his BJJ academies in Levittown and Huntington. He co-hosts the “UFC Unfiltered” podcast with Jim Norton and stars on White’s “Lookin’ for a Fight” web series. He corners dozens of Serra-Longo MMA fighters, including five active UFC fighters in Chris Weidman, Al Iaquinta, Aljamain Sterling, Merab Dvalishvili and Matt Frevola. He also is raising three daughters with his wife, Ann.
But for most fans, it comes back to one night in Houston when the improbable man accomplished the impossible feat by beating the unbeatable.
“For the up and coming fighters on Long Island,” Longo said, “he really did give everybody hope and a vision of becoming a champ some day, and believing in yourself and staying the course and never quitting.”