(Photo courtesy of Kinya Hashimoto via MMAFighting)
[Ed. note: This is the third in a series of interviews with the fighters and promoters behind Metamoris II: Gracie vs. Aoki, which goes down June 9th in Los Angeles. Stay tuned for more, and follow Metamoris on Facebook and Twitter for important event updates. You can purchase tickets right here.]
By Elias Cepeda
Ryan Hall burst onto the public submission grappling scene much faster than most. As a young blue and purple belt, Hall was thrust into the public eye by a former coach when he starred in for-sale instructional videos, espousing him as already an expert. In competition, which Hall took part in with feverish frequency, the Jiu Jitsu player often used complicated-looking inverted, upside-down techniques.
To be honest, it was difficult for this writer to warm up to Hall from a distance due to all this. Sure, he was good, real good. But, what is this kid doing selling instructional videos in a world filled with black belt legends trying to make a living? What was all this spinning, upside-down crap he did? Surely he was a BJJ practitioner of the least compelling variety — the ones who focus on parlor trick positions and techniques that would get you in a whole lot of trouble in a real fight.
Of course, Ryan Hall the person and Jiu Jitsu practitioner deserved a more thoughtful look than my initial and judgmental cursory one. Hall separated himself from that former instructor, opened up his own academy, 50/50 Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and began to add major international titles to his resume.
Around the time he medaled at the 2009 ADCC (the Olympics of submission wrestling), it became crystal clear even to the most closed-minded, like myself, that Hall was the real deal. He wasn’t some kid winning regional tournaments with inverted triangle chokes, anymore. The techniques Hall used to win world titles were far from gimmicks and interviews showed him to be thoughtful, bright and humble.
“For better or for worse I was put out there in public when I was younger, a lower belt,” Hall tells CagePotato on a recent Saturday afternoon.
As for the sometimes esoteric-seeming techniques that Hall became notorious for in his youth, he says it was just about finding something to work for him against more experienced opponents. “Of course the best way to win is to take someone down, mount them and cross choke them,” Hall says.
“But I started competing against black belts, high level black belts, as a blue and purple belt. There was no way I was going to go in there and dominate in every facet against those guys. The only chance I had was to surprise them with an unexpected transition or an angle they didn’t see from others too often.”
Hall’s intelligence, savvy and flexibility allow him to do some cool and creative looking things out on the mats, but to him, the mat is not just a canvas for artistic expression, it is the training grounds for war. “Jiu Jitsu is about fighting, about learning to defend yourself against someone who is trying to hurt you in real life,” Hall says.
Towards that end, Ryan doesn’t rule out any technique, as long as it proves the right tool for the moment. “People in Jiu Jitsu talk about techniques in ways people don’t in other fight styles,” Hall says.
“Someone asks, ‘oh what do you think of x-guard, or this or that guard?’ Imagine if you asked Oscar De La Hoya or Manny Pacquiao a question like, ‘what do you think of the left hook or right cross?’ They’d look at you like you were crazy and say, ‘well, when the situation calls for the left hook, I use the left hook and when the situation calls for a right cross, I use the right cross.’ Techniques are not magic tricks, they are for different situations. If a situation on the ground calls for a certain guard, use that guard.”
Simple as that sounds coming out his mouth, Hall’s lack of dogma and open-mindedness makes him a bit of an iconoclast. Lately, the 50/50 Academy head has focused his own training on Mixed Martial Arts.
Hall has a 2-1 MMA record and has joined Georges St. Pierre in training at Firas Zahabi’s TriStar gym in Montreal. Hall had promised Zahabi that he would focus one hundred percent of his competitive energy on MMA and so had taken a leave from submission grappling competition.
A call from Metamoris head Ralek Gracie temporarily changed Hall’s plans, however. “I got a call and was shocked when they offered me a match against [three-time BJJ world champion] Rafael Mendes,” Hall remembers.
“It was such a great opportunity that I spoke with Firas and he understood why I wanted to take it.”
Ryan was disappointed when that originally-planned match against Mendes fell through, but couldn’t say no to facing the man he is now set to compete against at Metamoris II, June 9th in Los Angeles, CA, Bill “The Grill” Cooper.
“I think Cooper is good enough to beat absolutely anybody in the world on any given day,” Hall says.
“He also sets such a fast pace and goes hard. I think that goes well with my style. The fact that he’s a bigger guy than me also makes it an even tougher challenge. Facing someone like Bill in a match twice as long as we usually get [twenty minutes] where the only way to win is by submission, that’s something I’m very excited about.”