MALTA — Rolling through an intense workout at Spa City Jiu-Jitsu one morning a couple of weeks ago, Matt Secor is sweaty, tired and showing no signs of slowing down.
Jiu-jitsu is a free-flowing, grappling style of martial art — moves and counter-moves flow one to another naturally. Secor recently got his black belt, and his skills are on display as he works with sparring partner Kirill Gond.
Secor, a 29-year-old South Glens Falls native, is a mixed martial arts fighter, in his sixth year as a professional. A welterweight at 6 feet and 170 pounds, the bearded fighter with the ready grin is as accessible a professional athlete as one is likely to meet.
In the relatively new world of MMA, Secor is near the top of his game.
“I learned a long time ago that you can do anything with hard work, consistency and inspiration,” Secor said. “I get inspired every day in here; it’s an awesome, awesome thing.”
“For the past six months or so, he’s really gone to the next level in terms of his training, his abilities and technique. The recipe’s really coming together,” said Eddie Fyvie, Secor’s jiu-jitsu coach at Spa City. “So now he’s really prepared for anyone at the top level.”
The rugged workout is typical for Secor, who trains six days a week in various disciplines — not only in jiu-jitsu, his primary sport, but also in boxing and wrestling, assuring that he is a well-rounded MMA fighter — the “mix” in mixed martial arts.
“It’s not about the hours you put into training, it’s about the training you put into the hours,” he said. “That’s everything in life.”
Secor is coming off the biggest year of his life — he married his wife, the former Jean Whalen, and the couple had a son, Ian Matthew, who was born in November. They also bought a house in South Glens Falls. Secor works part-time as a direct support associate for the state Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.
On top of all that, Secor gained more attention in MMA, improving his professional record to 7-2.
After three consecutive wins, including a big victory over Jeremie Holloway in October, Secor was scheduled for his first nationally televised fight on Spike TV on Jan. 29 at Bellator 148 in Fresno, California. However, that was canceled when his opponent, Josh Koscheck, pulled out with an injury.
Now, Secor is tentatively scheduled to fight on April 22 against a different, as yet unnamed opponent at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. He’s not concerned about who he may face next.
“It’s not the opponent — it’s you,” he said. “I’m trying to be a better me, and that’s what it’s about. It’s not about what he’s doing, it’s about what I’m going to do.”
Even with his national cable television fight delayed a couple of months, Secor said everything is going according to plan for his career.
Eight years ago, Secor set out on his journey to be the best he could be — in jiu-jitsu, in MMA, in life.
“It was all planned — to be here, it’s not a surprise,” he said. “It’s what I’ve been working for since I started.”
Secor has been working toward a major fight since turning professional with Bellator in 2011 after a tryout. Like the more well-known UFC, Bellator is an MMA promotion that is growing. Bellator broadcasts fights on Spike TV.
He also earned a spot on the reality TV show “Ultimate Fighter” in 2012, which he called “one of the best opportunities and craziest situations I’ve been in.
“That was seven weeks of nothing but fighting,” Secor recalled. “You ate, slept and trained.”
A few months after the show ended, Secor broke his leg in January of 2013, which set him back for much of that year. Since then, he has been building back to contender status in Bellator.
“The interesting thing with this fight — whoever the opponent ends up being — this is absolutely crucial to the community here,” Fyvie said of Secor’s upcoming bout. “Matt is the first person from the Capital District area to make it to that level. Guys have made it to UFC, but I’m talking main event, cable TV, millions of homes — he’s the first guy.”
Saved by jiu-jitsu
Secor said learning jiu-jitsu brought him out of what he called a “troubled” background.
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“I didn’t do things the right way growing up,” he said. “I kind of just did my thing and didn’t listen well, I learned everything the hard way. Luckily I got put on the right path.
“Jiu-jitsu saved my life,” he added. “It’s a good self-defense art — it teaches you so much, it’s such a positive environment. If jiu-jitsu can change me, it can change anyone.”
Secor likened jiu-jitsu to “a fine wine” compared to its cousin, wrestling.
“Wrestling is brute force; jiu-jitsu is loose, it’s a feel,” Secor explained. “In wrestling you try to pin the opponent; jiu-jitsu you don’t pin, it’s more of a flow and submission. Wrestling, once you hit your back, you’re done — wrestling is more holding and explosiveness, because there’s a time limit.”
He pointed to the quote painted on the far wall of the Spa City Jiu-Jitsu gym: “Jiu-jitsu represents the triumph of intelligence over brute strength.”
“That quote says it the best,” Secor said. “Jiu-jitsu is about using leverage, using angles, using pressure, and smaller guys can beat bigger guys. We’re the first martial art that attacks off our back. ... You can roll around or spar at 100 percent and not hurt each other, because you can tap out.”
Fyvie said Secor’s excellence in jiu-jitsu is crucial to his MMA success, but so is cross-training.
“Jiu-jitsu is the core of all MMA, it’s where MMA comes from — the ground game, the psychology, the principles of fighting all started here in jiu-jitsu,” Fyvie said. “But now in modern MMA, where it’s more about the athlete and less about the discipline and the martial art, you have to know and train everything — and you have to train everything at the highest level, that’s what makes it so difficult. (Secor) has to spar with professional stand-up fighters, he has to spar with Olympic-level wrestlers, and grapple with the best black-belt grapplers in the world to compete at the level he’s competing at.”
Secor has incorporated all of that into an eclectic fighting style, though jiu-jitsu is his foundation. He has also proven to be durable.
“My style, the way I fight, I don’t take too much damage,” Secor said.
Secor counts on Fyvie’s coaching from the corner.
“Eddie is a wizard when it comes to game-planning,” Secor said. “I’ve had probably 20 fights counting amateur, and Eddie’s called probably 18 of them.”
“Like Nostradamus,” Fyvie quipped.
“Seriously, I’m fighting this guy named Josh Key — I’m just coming off a broken leg — and Eddie’s like, ‘Dude, you’re going to arm-triangle this guy quick, in the first minute,’” Secor said. “I take him down and I arm-triangle him in 47 seconds, something like that. ‘Eddie, how’d you know?’ ‘Well, he does this move and this move, it’s easy to see,’ Eddie says.”
Secor said he relies on the great support from those in his corner. Gond is his sparring partner who helps him cut weight for his fights. Darin Rafferty, a former Warrensburg standout, is his boxing instructor. Former South High wrestling coach Jason Spector is his mental coach, Mark Bertrand is his dietitian. Secor also drives to Hoboken, New Jersey, a couple times a week for wrestling instruction.
“If you want to be successful, surround yourself with successful people,” Secor said.
Secor lost his father — his biggest fan — in 2011, but said his whole family has been supportive.
“We have a two-month old and my wife allows me to leave the house,” Secor said with a smile. “I’m blessed.”
Fyvie is a big believer that Secor is just getting started.
“It’s just a matter of time now. He’s training with guys at the top level and doing very well, and proving a lot to himself, as well,” Fyvie said. “Now he’s in a position where he can start taking these guys out and making an even bigger name for himself.”
Fyvie also said Secor could be an inspiration to a new generation, and not just in MMA or martial arts.
“It’s good to see somebody from your hometown do something; it makes it that much more realistic,” Fyvie said. “When that kid lives down the street and you can see firsthand what the process was — he took these steps and he got there; I can do that — you’ll see this will create some ignition in the community. I’m not talking just MMA, but inspiration for kids that want to do something bigger than getting done with school.”