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For UFC newcomer Ron Stallings, last-minute call to fight was divine

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Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

BOSTON – When the UFC Fight Night 59 media day was wrapping up at the Ned Devine’s at Faneuil Hall, the Irish fans chanted in lively unison for their fighter Conor McGregor. McGregor, with a tyrant’s eye cast at something beyond the room, soaked it all in.

At the other side of the room, there was Ron Stallings, almost completely unobserved, tucking the name plate the UFC had put out -- the very nameplate that allowed that media to put a face on Ron Stallings -- under his arm. He was taking it back to Maryland as a keepsake. A souvenir to capture the moment. As a little something to pinch himself with later when his UFC whirlwind weekend begins to seem unreal.

Stallings was called on a week’s notice to step in and fight Uriah Hall on Sunday night at the TD Garden in Boston. That’s a murder mission if there ever was one. To get his UFC debut against Hall, the Night Terror of The Ultimate Fighter 17 -- the guy who gave the ambulance driver a cameo role in the taping -- with only a week to figure out how to beat him.

Not that those circumstances are bothering him. If Stallings’ task is daunting, he didn’t show it at media day. He was loose and happy and, one might even say, still a little in disbelief at how he ended up talking about fighting Uriah Hall amid a throng of Irish fans.

"Man, that was a crazy day when I heard," he said. "I woke up Sunday morning, went to church, and -- as a matter of fact, I had a little time during my day when I was just reflecting that I really needed to tighten some stuff down. That I have goals to reach. I was a little disappointed in some things I let drop through, but I’m here for the long road. That night I get the call [from the UFC]. And it was like 12 o’clock in the morning when it got confirmed. I was like, oh my God. I was pacing across the house. I couldn’t believe it man. What a day."

Stallings trains under Lloyd Irvin in Maryland, and runs an affiliate school in the northern part of the state. At 31 years old, he’s been living in hope of this moment for a long, long time. Though he’s faced some known names in his career, his highest profile fight might have been his lone appearance in Strikeforce back in 2011, when he dropped a split decision against current UFC fighter Adlan Amagov.

In his last fight, which happened in November, he lost a unanimous decision against Tim Williams in Cage Fury. Fighters don’t usually get called up to the UFC after a loss, but the UFC was in a pinch after Louis Taylor -- who himself was a fill-in for Costa Philippou -- injured his back last week. But Stallings had won five of six before the Williams’ loss, so his scaffolding was sound.

Somehow, the fight fell to him. And he’s not asking questions.

"There were some people ahead of me trying to get in, probably more qualified, but for whatever reason -- answered prayers -- it worked out for me," he says. "The UFC was always the goal. And for the longest time I was like, man, it’s so hard. I feel so bad for hating on other guys I guess who got their shot, when I was like, ‘man, who are these guys? They don’t have the skill,’ and then I get in the way I do, and I was like, ‘ah, I take that back.’ You take your blessings and your opportunity and you thank god, that’s it."

Stallings mentions his blessings a lot because he’s a church-going man. In fact, he’s a pianist at the Love Fellowship Christian Center in Belcamp, Maryland, where he’s been the ivory behind the hymns for years. It’s how he earned the nickname "The Choir Boy." If there was a moment’s hesitation in taking the fight with Hall, it wasn’t because of the spinning kicks but because this is the rare fight that occurs on a Sunday, the day of worship.

"If the fight was on Saturday, I would have got an early flight on Sunday and would have been at church playing," he says. "But we’ll make do."

So, what does he know of Hall who, after a couple of awkward fights where he appeared to lose his killer instinct mid-bout, has won back-to-back fights over Chris Leben and Thiago Santos?

"Of course I’ve seen the [TUF] show display, other than that I haven’t really kept up with him," he says. "We came from the same region prior to him getting signed. I knew his name a little bit back then.

"But we train for everything really. I got guys who do high-level karate, I got all that stuff, jiu-jitsu. So I’ve got my own spectacular stuff that I’m going to show off on Sunday."

And if Hall loses his edge in the fight, and keeps his guns holstered like he did against Kelvin Gastelum in the TUF 17 Finale and John Howard the last time the UFC visited Boston, Stallings says that his blessings will just keep piling up.

"If that happens, that’s a gift for me. That’s a kind gesture for a newcomer," he says with a smile. "I’d imagine that he’s a real cool guy. To tell you the truth, my aim is not to go out there and hurt somebody. I like to win, it’s like a game for me. But it doesn’t really thrill me to go out there and maim somebody."

The new goal, he says -- and these goals are being revised and realized on the fly -- is to make good on the opportunity, which appeared out of the blue just a week before fight night.

"Being in the UFC, that’s not enough," he says. "I want to get to the top. I want to make up for lost time. So I want to go out there and shock the world on Sunday. I’m going for the spectacular show, the spectacular performance."

And here he falls into reflection for a split second, not unlike he did last Sunday before the call came.

"It would really put the icing on the cake to get one of them bonuses," he says.

Either way, he has the UFC nameplate that reads "Ron Stallings," and you should have seen him counting his blessings as he smuggled it out of there.