Uriah Hall is still in the process of figuring out who he is as a fighter and what makes him tick. That might sound strange to some given that the 32-year-old is 10 fights deep into his UFC career and a fixture in the middleweight rankings, a day away from sharing the cage with Gegard Mousasi for a second time. But it’s true and the former Ultimate Fighter standout isn’t afraid to talk about it.
“One of the best things Chael taught me was ‘environment changes, but the act doesn’t,’” Hall said, referring to his coach on Season 17 of the long-running reality TV competition, former UFC title challenger Chael Sonnen. “You train so hard, you feel so comfortable, but then for me, I go in the cage and I get stage fright. It’s a mind thing.
“I’m glad I discovered that because I had to focus on it to work on my weakness and I have no shame saying it. It doesn’t make me weak and if people think it does, at least I’m doing what I can to make myself better.
“I know that when I get over this hump, it’s going to be a new day,” he added. “I think identifying your weakness and attacking it will definitely allow you to improve in whatever you do. This has been a journey and I’m not one to quit.”
RELATED: WATCH Hall defeat Mousasi in their first fight | Top 5 Media Day Moments | Hall-Mousasi - One More Time | Belfast Fantasy Cheat Sheet
Not that the thought hasn’t crossed his mind in the past and didn’t again fairly recently.
Before he got the call to face Mousasi for a second time, the Jamaican-born, Queens-raised striker thought about walking away. A two-fight losing streak and constant frustration over his inability to consistently translate what he does in the gym into his performance in the Octagon had Hall ready to pack it in, a decision he wanted to share with his younger brother.
“I called my little brother and I said, ‘Hey man – I think I’m gonna be done with this because there are certain things I can’t understand and I’ve been training for most of my life and I’ve lost something,’” Hall explained. “It was more to encourage him, to say, ‘Don’t waste the gift that you have and your opportunity right now to grow.’”
His brother, Malik Blake, is an aspiring fighter, currently chasing his dreams on the amateur circuit, sporting fast hands and a ton of promise. When Hall told him his decision, Blake threw a quick counter.
“He basically said, ‘Well, if you’re going to quit then I’m going to quit too,” recalled Hall, setting up the back-and-forth between siblings that turned into a “light bulb moment” for the UFC middleweight.
“‘You can’t quit.’”
“‘Why are you quitting?’”
“‘I kind of came to terms with myself that I can’t do this.’”
“’Well I’m gonna quit too because you’re the reason I got into this and if you’re not gonna do it, I’m not gonna do it.’”
The last one left Hall reeling.
“I just had a moment saying to myself, ‘If I quit and he quits, that’s not good,’” explained Hall, who obviously changed his mind and carries a 13-7 record into Saturday’s main event assignment against Mousasi. “You never know who’s watching you.
“I’ve had many times where people have messaged me saying, ‘Because of you, I didn’t quit’ and I didn’t really understand it until my little brother said he was going to quit too and I really had an emotional moment. That changed my mindset and then I got the call, got another opportunity.”
Hall and Mousasi first crossed paths just over a year ago, sharing the cage in Saitama, Japan.
The former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Mousasi, who first made a name for himself competing in Japan, entered on a two-fight winning streak and as the heavy favorite. Hall was coming off a quick first-round finish six weeks earlier and stepping into the Octagon for the fourth time in nine months.
After controlling the first round, the bout was over moments into the second frame as Hall uncorked a string of vicious strikes that would collect you scads of combination bonus points on your fighting game of choice. All that was missing was a fireball.
While the performance showed the mercurial striker at his best, many, including Mousasi, were quick to label it a fluke and the audio of the once-again surging veteran has become the featured element of the commercial hyping their rematch this weekend.
“Okay,” Hall said when asked his reaction to Mousasi essentially calling the jumping, spinning back kick that started the finishing sequence from their first encounter a lucky shot. “Someone’s opinion isn’t going to change reality, right?
“I’ve been doing that kick since I was 16 years old. I’ve mastered that kick. I’ve timed that kick. I can kick an apple off someone’s head with that kick, but I know why he said it. It wasn’t expected. It was expected of him to win, it was in a place where he had fought many times and he was highly favored, so sometimes reality hits you and you can’t accept it.”
Whatever the reasoning behind his statement and quest for a rematch, Hall is happy the loss lit a fire under Mousasi, who has won three straight in impressive fashion since their first meeting, and he welcomes the opportunity to replicate his performance Saturday night in Belfast.
“It gave him newfound motivation,” Hall surmised. “We’ve seen his fights after that and he’s more focused. He’s not out there wasting time, playing around; he’s taking dudes out. With that said, I’m sure when the last fight got cancelled and they called him, he figured, ‘Let me get the weakest link,’ but for me, it’s another opportunity.
“Good for him for saying all these things, but of course when I heard it, I know it’s not true. I’ve practiced so many years of doing this kick – it took me three years to actually learn it – so I’ll just do it again.”