The mold is still in place for Urbana grad Matthew Semelsberger as he heads into his next UFC encounter | Professional: all sports

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The fireworks Matthew Semelsberger has produced so far in his Ultimate Fighting Championship career are real, but the accompanying smoke may mask another truth.

And it is: The mold is still very much being set for Semelsberger as a fighter.

In many ways, the Urbana High grad looks set to establish himself as a name to know among UFC welterweights.

He reached his second contract with the promotion, having recorded four fights – including a pair of ridiculous insta knockouts that propelled him to some fame – in less than two years since the dizzying turn of events that saw him land. with the promotion during the pandemic. He endured a three-round battle that went the other way. He gained a better understanding of what it is, in and out of the cage, to be a professional mixed martial artist.

Still, there’s a prevailing feeling that at 29, just 12 fights into his professional career, Semelsberger still has plenty of room to grow.

As he said last September, before his final Octagon appearance ended in a 15-second victory: “I’m still getting used to fighting at the highest level.”

His next portfolio-building opportunity comes Saturday, more than five months since that knockout of Martin Sano, when he welcomes undefeated AJ Fletcher to the world’s premier MMA promotion. Fletcher’s ticket to this three-round run generated buzz in August 2021, when his first-round flying knee knocked out Leonardo Damiani in a Dana White Contender Series bout.

So in one corner, “Semi the Jedi” will seek to cement its status as a known commodity and potential competitor. In the other, Fletcher hopes to make a splash by making his debut with the company in a preliminary UFC Fight Night headliner airing on ESPN+ from UFC APEX.

Semelsberger’s team thinks Fletcher (9-0) could push to make a good impression, and Semelsberger (9-3) will benefit from the experience he gained on that stage in Las Vegas.

“He’s used to the speed of the UFC,” said Jon Delbrugge, one of Semi’s trainers at Crazy 88 MMA in Elkridge. “There’s no [expletive] process of resentment in the [expletive] UFC. If you’re watching a championship fight, that’s one thing, or a main card. But prelim, UFC card? These guys get shot by a cannon.

The 6-foot-1 Semelsberger will try to make the most of his advantages. Not just the three inches tall he has on Fletcher. But also the fact that he’s been here, that he’s been in the UFC four times before.

Over the past two years, Semelsberger has been constantly searching for balance, whether in his repertoire of fighting skills or in the relationship between his mind and body.

“You have to have your body in order, your mind in order and your spirit to go out there and have the ability to let go of everything,” he said last year.

Realizing the value of unplugging, Semelsberger didn’t do much in the media prior to his meeting with Fletcher, possibly hinting at his focus during that camp. All Semi is doing now, Delbrugge said, is “staying on this list for many years to come.”

Semelsberger hasn’t fought since late September, but he deliberately pulled out the rest of 2021 so he could just train. “Tinkering” is what Delbrugge calls it – similar to how golfers take to the course every day to better understand how they can solidify the fundamentals of their individualistic swings.

Delbrugge is helping Semelsberger “hone and trust his instincts and explore the type of fighter he’s going to be and what he’s becoming,” the trainer said.

Semelsberger is best known for his striking, particularly the right hand which inflicted hard highlights. So Delbrugge said Semi saw a slight improvement in the work he did with accomplished grapplers Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Tim Spriggs and brown belt Sergio Vilas.

“For the first time in Semi’s martial arts journey, he’s surrounded by this everyday,” Delbrugge said. “It was a break from competition, but he did his thing and spent more time on the mat under his belt, training and refining his style and all his skills.”

A common thread in Semelsberger’s rise has been the professional development he has made between fights. This time it included a lifestyle change. He had noticed in December that his caffeine intake was interfering with his hydration, his sleep patterns and, therefore, the quality of his work at the dojo.

So he drastically cut back on his coffee habits in a different example of the “tinkering” high-level fighters might do to fortify their chi.

After making this final round of tweaks to his game, Semi gets a test of the compact Fletcher, a spring figure who has as many knockouts (four) as he has submissions. The 25-year-old Louisianan is undefeated, but he’s never faced anyone with UFC experience.

Fletcher prides himself on delivering “great performances,” as he recently said on the AllStar MMA Live podcast. “The Ghost” thinks he’s a more diverse fighter than Semelsberger and will be able to “separate” him the longer they stay in the cage.

“I think it hasn’t been tested in parts of it. Even in stand-up, I don’t think he’s been in there with someone like me,” Fletcher said of Semi on the podcast. “He’s been in there with a lot of brawlers. He did not go there with technicians. He hasn’t been there with people who can diagnose what you’re doing, see your patterns, set their own patterns and then break them.

Semelsberger seems aware that his UFC record, while sparkling with one-punch results, lacks victory in a prolonged sizzle. Which is to say, the kind of fight that includes many leaps of momentum and forces the winner to grab the biggest one. His only UFC loss, a unanimous decision to Khaos Williams, came close to last June’s. But Semelsberger clearly stood out.

He has spent virtually no time on the court since his first UFC win over Carlton Minus, when Semi picked up two knockouts in a three-round clash that was largely a kickboxing affair. Fletcher, who has won three times by choke, likely wants to test Semi’s grappling.

“I want to show my ability to fight three rounds or fight it both ways, being the hammer, being the nail,” Semi said earlier this week in a UFC promotional video. “I also think it’s a rite of passage as a UFC fighter. You have to have fights where you show your ability to persevere, face adversity and take control of the fight.

Delbrugge says Semelsberger and Fletcher are nearly equal in athleticism, skill and strength. But he thinks Semi’s height advantage, which includes an eight-inch reach advantage, could be the difference.

Either way, Semelsberger — a minus 200 betting favorite, according to DraftKings — expressed his excitement at meeting a well-rounded prospect who he said has “a lot of steam behind him. “.

As usual, he was also happy for the challenge of putting his recent work into action. Saturday’s prelims start at 7 p.m.

“Every time you level up in anything, especially MMA and UFC,” he said last year, “every step of your ascent, it’s going to get even harder. .”

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