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Becoming Dennis Hallman Again

“I’ve got to look at fights one at a time and if you look past somebody
like Karo, then you end up getting thrown on your head and your hand’s
not raised. So I focus on what’s in front of me and try to go
from there.”

The word was out on Dennis Hallman, and he knew it.

“I was a one round wonder,” said the 13-year MMA veteran of his rep for putting in a solid first round and then fading in the next two.

He fought according to form early in his UFC 117 bout against young gun Ben Saunders, winning the first frame, leaving “Killa B” two rounds to get things right and take the victory. The Floridian’s corner knew what was going to happen next – it was just the way Hallman fights went.

“Okay, he’s gonna gas now,” they told Saunders.

Hallman, more than three months removed from the bout, smiles at what he heard when he watched the fight back on video. “That was my favorite thing about that fight.”

That was because when he came out for rounds two and three, he was able to deliver the same fight and pace that he did in the first five minutes, and when the final bell tolled, he had earned a unanimous decision victory, his first in the UFC in nearly a decade. But his newfound cardio wasn’t due to some miracle workout or a few extra miles of roadwork – it was because he finally found out what had been holding him back for years and years. And it had nothing to do with anything in the gym.

“I’ve had years and years of chronic illness which has affected my performance,” said Hallman. “In May, after the John Howard fight (in December of 2009), I was having severe problems and I went and got checked out and I got diagnosed with celiac disease. Since then, the doctors have given me hormone therapy and put me on medication and it showed in my fight against Ben Saunders. That was only three months after being off gluten and being on the corrective medication, and in my fights I actually have cardio now and I can actually perform into the second and third round.”

Plagued by this disease, which is caused by an adverse reaction to gluten (which is found in wheat, rye, barley, and other grains), Hallman has managed to compile an amazing 65-13-2 (1 NC) record, and he hasn’t been fighting cupcakes, as the names Matt Hughes, Jens Pulver, Frank Trigg, Denis Kang, Caol Uno, and Dave Menne immediately jump out at you. But after this revelation, you have to wonder, if he’s been this good at less than a hundred percent on a consistent basis, how good could he have been?

“I don’t look at life like that,” he said. “I look at it like moving forward and learning from things that happened. I think that everything happens for a reason the way it’s supposed to happen. I have good faith in God and believe that he controls all things and so I think that was meant to be so I could learn the lessons in life that I need to learn.”

But it was a complicated puzzle for Hallman to solve, especially considering that he had been to doctors before about his lack of stamina over an extended period of time – like in a fight.

“I got misdiagnosed my entire life,” he said. “One time they told me I had a thyroid problem and then they had me on glucose for a while. It was just a bunch of misdiagnoses. They kept telling me that they figured out what was wrong with me, and none of it worked. I would still try to compete and then gas out in a minute or two. My adrenal gland would dump and not replenish.”

That was bad enough when he was winning fights, which he did more often than not. When he lost, it crushed him, and the whispers around the fight game that he was simply not training hard left marks as well.

“It’s devastating mentally,” said Hallman. “You start to doubt your own ability and I just wouldn’t know what to do, and then I would get criticized for being out of shape, but my training partners knew that I would train just as hard as anybody else, if not harder. I could be in really good practice shape and never gas out in the gym, but when it’s the real thing, your adrenal gland dumps and no matter what, I would just be done.”

In a lot of ways, the 34-year old hit rock bottom last December against Howard, another up and comer with designs on adding a high-profile name to his resume. Yet for over 14 and a half minutes, it was the old vet showing the youngster some MMA tricks as he compiled an insurmountable lead on the scorecards.  

“The John Howard fight, I take nothing away from him, he’s a superior fighter and a very tough guy, but I literally paced myself the entire fight because I didn’t want to gas out,” said Hallman. “So I held back when I actually could have done more. When I got him in a position, instead of going for a risky submission or trying to sit up and put him out with ground and pound, I just would try to hold position and win by points and it came back to bite me in the butt. I heard the ten second bell and I said ‘okay, I’ve got this won, I’m gonna go try for the knockout,’ and bam, I get dropped myself. Live and learn.”

With five seconds left in the fight, Howard scored the equivalent of a ten point touchdown or eight run homer, knocking out Hallman.

But that was then, this is now, and the native of Olympia, Washington has a new lease on his life and his fighting career. The Saunders fight opened a lot of eyes, and as he approaches his UFC 123 bout against Karo Parisyan this Saturday, he’s in position to end the year on a high note and set the stage for some big things in 2011. But first things first, and that’s Parisyan.

“I’ve got to look at fights one at a time and if you look past somebody like Karo, then you end up getting thrown on your head and your hand’s not raised,” he said. “So I focus on what’s in front of me and try to go from there.”

And despite all the top level names Hallman has been in with over the years, when asked about “The Heat”, he says that the Armenian “is probably the toughest guy that I have fought in the last 10 years.”

That’s high praise.

“If you watch all of his fights, he changes his style every single fight, so he makes it really hard to prepare for,” Hallman explains. “And if you watch his technique, he gets away with a lot of grappling moves that he shouldn’t be getting away with and I think that’s because he must be really strong. And the guy’s resilient. Even in the fights that he’s lost, he’s been on the verge of winning those fights as well. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a fight where he’s been dominated.”

It’s the recipe for an exciting clash between two longtime MMA vets. And the best part is, on Hallman’s side of the Octagon, we’ll be seeing him at his best, something he always hoped would happen.

“Without faith, nothing really matters,” he said.