Ryan Hall looks at the camera and shrugs, like he’s just as surprised as you that this jiu-jitsu stuff really works in the cage.
Maybe, in a sense, he is surprised. Since he’s gone from grappling standout to UFC featherweight, the gesture has become a signature as well as a statement.
“Ah, well, that happened,” Hall said on The MMA Hour. “You can win, and you can lose. Every single fight that I ever won, I could have lost.”
At this point, that’s no longer theory. After winning The Ultimate Fighter 22 and then his next three fights over a nearly three-year period in which prospective opponents systematically refused to take on his quirky, leglock-focused style, Hall was violently knocked out by Ilia Topuria in July.
But then again, it just as easily could have gone the other way.
“I could have easily knocked him out with the first spinning kick,” Hall said. “He got super lucky. He’s got this like, baby deer legs thing, blocking a spinning kick that hits him right [in the jaw area]. If I’d have been better or luckier and it came [to his temple], that’s goodnight. But the shots that he landed were, frankly, lucky. He couldn’t make that happen. I made that happen. But they were on purpose, and they definitely weren’t pleasant, I can tell you that much.
“It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t deserve to win. He fully deserves to win. But if he was able to hit me on his own, he would have done it prior.”
An obsessive technician with a fiery distaste for losing and a passion for arguments, Hall sought out new teachers to challenge his methods in the octagon. He wound up training with Greg Jackson, one of the most famous tacticians and fight philosophers in the game. Many a theory was tested (and debated) as they worked to refine his approach to minimize danger and maximize effectiveness. And it worked. The next time out, he smothered Darrick Minner en route to a unanimous decision win at UFC 269.
“I would say I’ve had times in fights where I’ve been lucky. You step this way instead of that way, and I’ve gotten good outcomes and I’ve gotten bad outcomes. ... So I guess what I would say is I’m here to learn, I’m here for the challenge, I’m here to fight with everything that I have and face the best opposition that I can. I just need to get the experience and need to keep pushing forward.”
To that end, Hall hopes 2022 is the busiest of his octagon career; if he could fight four to five times, that would be ideal, though he doubts that’s realistic. The most important thing is that he doesn’t have any more long layoffs.
That’s not entirely in his control, of course. Opponents still have to agree to fight him. But he may have given them more incentive by improving his record.
“But win, lose, or draw, I will push forward,” he said. “I recognize the volatility of the game; I recognize the seriousness of the game. When you win, you’re like...”
“I hate losing a lot more than I like winning,” he said.