As Ryan Hall continues his own climb up the featherweight ranks as one of the UFC’s top grapplers, he can’t help but pay homage to those who came before him.
Of course, the UFC was founded in large part as a way to expose the world to Brazilian jiu-jitsu by way of the famed Gracie family but that tradition hasn’t stopped as the sport of mixed martial arts has continued to evolve and grow over the past 30 plus years.
More recently, grapplers such as Demian Maia and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza carved impressive paths through multiple divisions in the UFC, which never goes unnoticed in the jiu-jitsu community.
While it appears both Maia and Souza are reaching the end of their respective careers, Hall praises them as a shining example as the best of the best when it comes to grappling being represented in MMA.
“Having success in one sport is difficult enough alone but for those guys to have done what they’ve done across two sports is really amazing,” Hall told MMA Fighting. “It’s an immense achievement. They’ve paved the way for everyone that’s come after them. I’m a big fan of ‘Jacare’ but Demian Maia, I always felt like a little bit personal connection towards.
“We were both on Brasa team in the jiu-jitsu world at a period of time. It was cool to see two people in Demian Maia and ‘Jacare’ and B.J. Penn similar thing, going over from the jiu-jitsu world where they were incredibly successful. They could have stayed there and been safe. They could have stayed there and been respected. They could have stayed there no question in my mind but they’re real martial artists and they ventured out for future challenges and bigger challenges. In a world where they didn’t know if they were going to be successful. I’m sure they believed but they could have fallen flat on their face.”
While Hall obviously respects the vast achievements Souza amassed over the years, he can’t help but put Maia into a category all his own when it comes to the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioners to compete in the sport.
“Demain Maia, in particular, I think he’s the greatest jiu-jitsu player, the greatest grappler in the history of mixed martial arts,” Hall said. “‘Jacare’ has obviously done amazing things as well. Charles Oliveira is a fantastic [grappler], he’s got tons and tons of various skills. But I think Demian is my favorite elite jiu-jitsu to mixed martial arts crossover.
“I think he’s an example for all of us. He’s a gentleman. A mixed martial artist. A competitor and it’s just someone that I’ve really been privileged to watch his career develop. If I could ever walk in any of his footsteps at any level, I would be very, very grateful to be able to try to do that.”
With Maia saying he has one fight left in him before he calls it a career, Hall might be one of the fighters most likely to carry that torch forward as the top grappler in the UFC but don’t expect him to ever say that.
It’s hard for Hall to even put his name in the same sentence as Maia, especially because he admires the Brazilian so much for his accomplishments as well as the way he’s carried himself as an example to the entire martial arts world.
“I don’t know that I would ever claim that sort of thing,” Hall said. “Demian’s done a great deal more in the mixed martial arts world as well as the jiu-jitsu world than I have but I think or I know my skills are greater than my accomplishments or reputation would imply.
“I want to do my best to take everything I’ve learned from my time in the jiu-jitsu world and the mixed martial arts world to marry them together. If people feel I carry that banner, that’s very flattering.”
While he’ll never try to tout himself alongside Maia or “Jacare” for that matter, Hall is happy to follow in their footsteps as he continues to rely on his own grappling game every time he steps into the octagon and don’t expect him to ever abandon it.
“I’m going to conduct myself with dignity and with courage and play with everything that I have,” Hall said. “I believe in my jiu-jitsu. It’s going to become a factor in every single fight that I’m ever in and I know it will be there the most whenever I need it to protect me.
“As great as Demian was, he was only a steward of that role for a period of time and he’s inspired so many people and he carried that banner for a long time at an incredibly high level and I’m sure he’s going to continue doing that as a coach and an influence later on down the line. If that’s something people think about me, I can only say that’s very kind of them and I’m going to do everything I can to play with what I have.”