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At 4-foot-11, Tyler ‘Hulk Hands’ Freeland is standing tall in the cage


When Tyler Freeland steps in to fight at Bellator 155 in front of his native Idahoans, he’s hoping to come up big. Freeland, who is afflicted with dwarfism, stands 4-foot-11, but is built like a strongman. He doesn’t have a fantastic wingspan, but they call him "Hulk Hands" because he has massive fists. His arms are ripped. A wrestler from an early age, he can bury people through the cage floor.

He will fight Joe Hamilton on Friday night during the Bellator prelims, which will stream across the country on the promotion’s site. If you tune in, you’ll see a man who knows how to turn a profit. 

"I totally find more advantages in fighting because, for one, guys are punching down at me and that takes away their power," Freeland says. "And two, I can take anybody down at will. When I was out in California, I double-legged Dan Henderson. I was like, if I can double-leg Dan Henderson, I can double-leg anyone."

Freeland is 32 years old, a landscaper by trade who is seeing just how far he can go in prizefighting. With Bellator visiting Boise, he was a shoo-in for the card. Behind him will be hundreds of throaty partisans who have known about "Hulk Hands" going back to his days wrestling at Capital High School, where he took state a couple of times. 

After a nearly four-year layoff, Freeland -- who will be competing as a bantamweight for the first time, after going undefeated as a feather -- returned twice in 2015, and he won both his fights. The gap in his resume was a rough time. He was hounded by injuries, some of which might have kept lesser-hearted men away.

"I ended up tearing my ACL, and I had surgery," he says. "And due to that surgery I had drop foot, where I can’t raise my left foot. So I’m fighting with drop foot as well as my dwarfism. So, I just feel like I’ve been dealing with a whole, huge, different game. I took some time out to get my ACL healed up. I got back in the gym about a year-and-a-half ago, and then I finally made it back. Now I’m at Bellator."

One of Freeland’s purposes for competing is to inspire people to make the most of the hands they are dealt.

"I feel very, very motivated and it inspires me a lot because I see kids always coming up to me asking, ‘how do you do this?’" he says. "And I just say, you know what, I stick my mind to it and I do it. I’ve come a long ways. I don’t make excuses for myself. I just go to practice, get up, put my clothes on and go. People ask, 'well how?' I’m like, how do you get up and go to work every day and put a suit on? You just do it."

Freeland, whose father was a wrestler at Idaho State and has worked in lumber for 30 years, says that he endured plenty of torment growing up. Kids picked on him for being a dwarf. Some of the louder mouthed kids got under his skin to the point that he felt compelled to do something about it. He fought early and often. He settled scores. He stood up for himself so that some of the jeers became cheers of admiration.

And his antagonists, perhaps some who will pay the price of admission to watch him fight at the CenturyLink Arena on Friday, became the catalysts in his love of fighting. He scrapped so much growing up that when a buddy asked him if he wanted to make some money at it, he had to wrap his head around the idea that somebody would actually fund his passion.

He ended up knocking out a cat named Cason Bowen in his first amateur fight, a first-round blue-blur adrenaline rush TKO. That’s when the "Hulk Hands" first made a statement. And off he went.

Through it all, Freeland says he’s carried the same chip on his shoulder, only these days he’s learned to harness the power that comes in proving people wrong.

"Growing up, a lot of people doubted me," he says. "A lot of people were like, you’ll never make it in this sport, you’re little, you’re short, you’re going to get head-kicked and kneed all day. But that inspires me. That gives me the drive because people don’t think I can do it, so I prove them wrong."

"Hulk Hands" Freeland doesn’t know how long he’ll do it. He just knows he wants to keep going. He says it’s a dream that he gets to fight in front of his family and friends, and to do it in a big national promotion like Bellator. He’s hoping to make an impression to end up on future Bellator cards. He quit his job as a landscaper to focus full-time on fighting. He is all in.

He has his eye set on greater heights.

"My ultimate goal is to get on The Ultimate Fighter," he says. "I’ve always wanted in the house, that’s my all-time goal. If I can get into the house, and I do well? Yeah, I’ll be done."

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