For the past four years, if you wanted to see Uriah Hall, you’d most likely find him teaching a kids’ class at the Tiger Schulmann’s MMA school in Manhattan. Occasionally, you’d even see him in the cage in Atlantic City, more often than not winning via some form of knockout. Nowadays, however, if you want to see the towering 28-year-old middleweight, all you have to do is tune into SpikeTV. Hall, you see, is a competitor on the seventeenth season of The Ultimate Fighter – and of the 14 who’ve fought their way into the TUF House in the season’s first episode, he’s the one who earned unabashed glowing accolades from coaches Jon Jones, Chael Sonnen and UFC president Dana White.
The day after the first episode, Fighters.com caught up with the New York native to get a little insight into this promising TUFer. What’s changed for him since his national television debut? What was it like the first time he fought? Who was his toughest opponent ever? Read on.
How does it feel to know you impressed Jones and Sonnen and Dana White the way you did?
“It feels good. Fighting out there, I wasn’t thinking anything about impressing them. My game plan was to win, of course.”
Now that the first episode of TUF 17 has aired, has anything changed for you?
“You know what, the only that’s really changed is my Twitter and my Facebook, ‘cause that thing does not stop blowing up. But I feel the same. I feel pretty good. My friends were all, ‘Oh, people are going to stop you in the street.’ And I’m like, ‘I hope not.’ After last night I’ve had to hide because people are calling me more a little bit, but my friends said this is something I’ll have to get used to.”
Do you regret doing the show, then?
“No, I don’t, actually. I don’t regret it all. It’s just a little bit overwhelming, and I have to get used to it.”
You’ve done some kickboxing bouts, and you’ve done quite a few MMA bouts in New Jersey. Talk about the first time you ever stepped into the ring. How did that come about?
“I ended up competing because of [coach] Will Hamilton, he was the first person who taught me. I think my first match was ‘FDNY vs. NYPD’, and I fought a police officer. I was scared to death – really nervous. I ended up winning the fight by knocking the guy out. That was my first actual competition.”
And then you did kickboxing?
“I did the WCL (Chuck Norris’ World Combat League, which was team-based kickboxing competitions) and I was undefeated in that, and I did Combat at the Capitale kickboxing.”
You had your first MMA bout back in 2005 at Ring of Combat. What was it like doing MMA for the first time? Were you nervous?
“It didn’t hit me at all, actually. I was warming up and felt fine, but it didn’t click that I was there. Then I remember I got into the ring, and as soon as the guy punched me in the eye, I woke up. I was like, ‘There’s a ring, there’s a guy in front of me,’ and it hit me. ‘Oh my God, I’m in a fight!’ And I just kind of acted off that and ended up knocking him out. I think I work a lot better when I’m not thinking.”
Compare that first fight in Ring of Combat to your fight to get into the TUF House.
“The first fight I had in Ring of Combat, I didn’t really know much. I was inexperienced. I felt new to the whole sport. Mentally, I just felt like, whatever, I didn’t care. The fight to get into the [TUF] House was a lot more like, I guess I was aware that I had to get out there and win this and make it far. I was thinking about that, but at the same time, for some reason I just had this confidence to say ‘This is nothing, man. I can do this. I’m going to win this fight.’ But at the same time I tried to remain humble.”
The camera showed you and your opponent Andy Enz exchanging some words post-fight. What were you saying?
“After the fight I went over to his family and said, ‘Hey man, good job.’ There were a couple things I said off-camera, I don’t think they caught it. I pretty much told him he was the toughest dude I ever fought and that he definitely has a career in this, and if he fights like that every time he fights, there’s no doubt in my mind he’d be a champion. I just told him, ‘Don’t quit, don’t let this loss stop you.’ I was actually really impressed. The fact that he broke his arm, in a think the first round, and he kept coming, that reminded me of when I broke my hand in Ring of Combat and kept going. It was a warrior’s spirit, and I just really respected him for that.”
You’ve lost twice in your professional MMA career – once to Chris Weidman and once to Costas Philippou. Who were tougher opponents, them or Andy Enz?
“You know, I’m not going to smack-talk or down-talk anyone, but those fights between Weidman and Philippou, there was nothing tough about it. It was more of a mental state that I was in. The fight with this guy, I put a beating on him and he kept coming. I fought Weidman and Philippou and I didn’t let go of myself. I was more thinking about finishing the fight and getting it over with than actually being in that moment. It was totally different… As far as Weidman and Philippou, I felt if I let myself go, it would’ve gone a different way. But the beauty about that is it turned out a different way. I think I needed those losses. It made me appreciate things a lot more, and it made me look at fighting a lot differently. It made me go back and polish those tools.”
A lot of people say being cooped up in the TUF House is a living hell. How was it for you?
“It was different. It was right where I needed to be. I think I’d recommend it to a lot of people – not the fighting part, but the part where you stay in one place and only have your thoughts. You know, you’re locked in a house and there’s no TV, there’s no outlet but your thoughts. Sometimes you can’t just talk with someone else because that’s the person you might be fighting. So it was good for me to kind of have my thoughts. I had to talk to myself more, and it made me have a little more depth to myself. I understand things a lot better. In the end, I only had myself to rely on, so I had to be positive, I had to be confident, to give one hundred percent. Going to train every day was the best feeling. Going back to the house, I was like, ‘Oh shit.’ When I trained it was a release.”
Did you make any friends?
“I made friends on the show, I think. But in the back of everybody’s mind they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m going to have to fight this guy.’ I actually made friends with a guy from the other team – Dylan Andrews – who taught me to kind of control my emotions. He said, ‘If stuff is bothering you, anything you’re thinking about, just write it down.’ I started writing stuff down and it made me feel a lot better. It’s almost like having a therapist.”
“Him and Clint Hester, they were cool. And Bubba McDaniel, he was cool, too.”
What was the worst part of the experience?
“I don’t think there was really a ‘worst’ part of the experience. I think everything happened the way it should have, and I got a lot from it. I feel like I grew more as an individual. Same thing about the ‘best’ part of it. It was right where I needed to be, it was perfect. I needed that distraction from the world. I needed it to focus on that one thing… I can’t really say anything bad about it.”
From what we’ve heard from fighters who took part in past seasons, you can eat almost anything you want there. What was the best thing you ate?
“The best thing I ate over there… man, I had a lot of stuff, to tell you the truth. The chicken fingers were awesome. Maybe it was because I was hungry and I had to eat healthy for a while, and junk food tastes so good, but I liked the chicken fingers.”
You got to spend a lot of time with Sonnen, Jones and White. What did you learn about them that you didn’t know before?
“I definitely didn’t know that Chael Sonnen was such a good guy off-camera. I’d seen stuff that he says on-camera, but maybe that’s his way of building up a fight or whatever. But the Chael that I met was the complete opposite. The guy, just the way he spoke, the way he motivated us, it kind of showed he wasn’t there for himself. He was there for us. That really came across in how he taught us and how he motivated us, and tried to bring us to the next level.”
So you were glad to be on his team?
“In the beginning I said I wished I had been on Jon Jones’ team, and a lot of people at home said, ‘Man, you should’ve been on Jone’s team, you have the same fighting style.’ But Jones couldn’t have taught me what Chael did. Jones would’ve probably taught me physical stuff, but Chael got in my head, and I think that was exactly what I needed. I needed someone to get into my head and take me to the next level, and that’s what happened. Jones, he’s a cool guy – the coolest guy I’ve ever met. Just talking to him, I feel like I’ve known him forever. I wasn’t there to just hate anybody, I was there to learn and grow as a fighter.”
And what did you learn about Dana White?
“I definitely know that when you hang out with Dana White, you’ve got a walk around with a clicker for how many times he says the ‘F’ word… But other than that, he seems like a really cool guy. I think Dana could tell you a simple story and make it exciting. Like, ‘Wow, that’s the best story I ever heard.’ But he’s very passionate about what he does.
Tune in to FX Tuesday Night at 9pm for a new episode of The Ultimate Fighter 17.