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Frederick County’s Matthew Semelsberger signs contract with UFC, realizing childhood quest

From left, Julius Park, Sebastian Ramirez, Matthew Semelsberger and Jon Delbrugge pose for a photo. Semelsberger realized a childhood dream when he signed a multi-fight contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship Friday at his training facility, Crazy 88 Mixed Martial Arts in Elkridge.
From left, Julius Park, Sebastian Ramirez, Matthew Semelsberger and Jon Delbrugge pose for a photo. Semelsberger realized a childhood dream when he signed a multi-fight contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship Friday at his training facility, Crazy 88 Mixed Martial Arts in Elkridge. (Crazy 88 Mixed Martial Arts)

After four seasons as a strong safety on the Marist College football team and just one semester shy of graduating from the New York institution, Matthew Semelsberger faced a decision at the end of 2015 that could affect his future: stay in school, or pursue a dream that began when he was 10 years old of becoming a professional mixed martial arts fighter?

“The day that I decided to drop out, I was right in front of the registrar’s office and I was double-taking between the entrance and the exit,” he recalled. “I was like, ‘Dude, are you really about to do this?’ But my heart was set on it. Deep down in my heart, I knew that I would push until I either made it or I didn’t. I was 100% committed, and fighting has always been a passion of mine.

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“Football was my first love, and I went to college with the intention of getting to the NFL and play there, but fighting grew on me more and more over the years, and I kept training. Eventually, I said, ‘I’m just going to go for my dreams and become a world-class fighter.’ I promised myself that I would work for it and that I would give everything that I got.”

The risk Semelsberger took culminated in a much sought-after reward Friday afternoon when the Frederick County native signed a multi-fight contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship at his training facility, Crazy 88 Mixed Martial Arts in Elkridge. The Ijamsville resident is scheduled to fight Philip “The Fresh Prince” Rowe in a welterweight match as part of an undercard for UFC Fight Night on Aug. 22 in Las Vegas.

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Matthew Semelsberger realized a childhood dream when he signed a multi-fight contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship Friday at his training facility, Crazy 88 Mixed Martial Arts in Elkridge.
Matthew Semelsberger realized a childhood dream when he signed a multi-fight contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship Friday at his training facility, Crazy 88 Mixed Martial Arts in Elkridge. (Crazy 88 Mixed Martial Arts)

Semelsberger, who has been nicknamed “Semi” by friends and has a tattoo on his left arm bearing the Superman logo and the letters E-M-I underneath, called the journey gratifying.

“I had meetings with the registrar and my football coaches, and they were all like, ‘Semi, what are you doing? You’re so close,’” he said. “But it was all worth it. At the time, there was a lot of uncertainty, but with my personality, once my heart is set on something, forget it. I don’t care how long it takes. I will take the time to go get it. So that was just one of those things where deep down I knew I was going to get it. I just didn’t know when or how long it would take, but I was ready to dive into that journey.”

Dropping out of college was not a decision that Semelsberger or his parents Mike and Joy took lightly.

“When he called to say that he was going to drop out with basically 10 credits left to get his degree, we obviously weren’t very happy about that just because he had put so much time into school,” said Mike Semelsberger, a 56-year-old retired firefighter. “But we sat down with him to talk about and Matt being the way that he is, he explained how he was feeling and the goals that he wanted to achieve. He said, ‘I can always go back to school and finish up. But I really want to set my goals to do this, and I want to go for it.’ So we’ve been very supportive of it once we got over the initial shock.”

While continuing to train at Clinch Academy in Frederick, Matthew Semelsberger earned money by hauling bulk refuse, cooking pizzas, selling satellite TV systems at a wholesale retail store and working as a substitute teacher for grades kindergarten through 12. Semelsberger said his students quickly learned his background by inputting his last name in online search engines.

“Being around those kids probably toughened me up mentally,” he said. “Kids are savage. Some kids were like, ‘That’s so cool.’ Other kids were like, ‘Well, are you in the UFC?’ I’m like, ‘No. I haven’t been fighting that long.’ Then they’re like, ‘You’re not that good then.’”

After getting some advice from current ONE world middleweight champion and ONE world light heavyweight champion Aung La Nsang and welterweight contender and Walkersville native Josh Jackson, Semelsberger switched to Crazy 88 for training from Muay Thai coach Sebastian Ramirez. It is believed that Crazy 88 joins Lloyd Irvin’s Mixed Martial Arts Academy as the only schools in Maryland that have produced fighters inked to contracts by the UFC.

Ramirez said Semelsberger’s greatest attribute is his fearlessness.

“He likes to get into scrappy fights,” he said. “A lot of guys like to run away from tough, grimy fights, but he loves it. He thrives when things get crazy, and you see the best out of him when you see somebody try to challenge him.”

Semelsberger, who turned pro in April 2016, owns a 6-2 overall record and is 4-1 under Ramirez’s tutelage. He will face an opponent in Rowe, who is 7-2 and riding a seven-bout winning streak.

“He’s definitely a dangerous guy,” Semelsberger said. “He seems to be more of a striker. Likes to sit back and kind of lure people in and play that kind of game. But I’m ready for anything that he wants to throw at me.”

Ramirez said he thinks Semelsberger will impress fight observers.

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“I think a lot of people are looking at this as kind of a filler fight, but it’s absolutely not,” he said. “I think a lot of people are going to be surprised because we’ve studied this guy’s tape, and I think you’re going to see a new star out of Maryland.”

Limits on large gatherings linked to the coronavirus pandemic will prevent the Semelsberger family — which includes sister Lauren, 31, and brothers Michael, 29, and Samuel, 13 — from watching Matthew fight in person. But Joy Semelsberger has 12 siblings, and Mike Semelsberger said not being in the same venue as his son might not be such a bad thing.

“This one in particular, just because you’re at that top level with that competition, I’m nervous about that – probably way more nervous than he is,” he said. “But I think I’ll probably be more anxious because I definitely want to see him succeed because I know what a big dream it is for him. I’d like to be able to see him go on and do more fights.”

Matthew Semelsberger compared signing with the UFC to making a team in the NFL. But even after inking his signature, the achievement still had yet to fully sink in.

“Until I step into that cage and hear the bell ring and I’m throwing down, I’m really not going to believe it 100 percent,” he said with a laugh. “But I’m super excited. A lot of angst and a lot of anxiety, but the good kind. It’s definitely excitement more than fear or anything like that.”

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