Early one Saturday morning, around 6:30am, Jamahal Hill’s phone rang.
It was his head coach from Black Lion BJJ, Chad Pomeroy.
“What’s up bro?” said Hill as he woke up.
“What are you doing? Are you asleep?”
“Yeah, that’s what normal f***** people are doing on Saturday morning; they’re sleeping.”
“Nah, not you. Get the f*** up. I’m outside.”
“I look outside, and this dude is in my driveway,” Hill continued. “We went to Pinery Park. Anybody that’s from around Grand Rapids knows that Pinery Park has this big ass hill up it. I’m up there running hills with a weighted vest, weighted ankle weights and some other weighted s*** he had. So, I ran those, then we did clinch and knees up the hill. We just did a hard ass workout. That’s how we bonded.”
Hill and Pomeroy met back in January of 2010 ,when Hill saw a flyer outside a gym for 30 free days of mixed martial arts training.
“Here was this 19-year-old kid that showed up to the gym in basketball shorts looking to use the 30 days to stay in shape,” Pomeroy recalled. “He had run five miles to get to our gym and after practice he ran the five miles back to his house.”
“When I first came in, Chad was like, ‘We are going to evaluate you, and maybe six months down the line we will see how good you are,’” Hill said. “Then, in ten days, he offered me my first fight.”
Hill would go on to knock his opponent out in under 100 seconds and just like that, “Sweet Dreams” was born.
Today, Hill is 10-1-1 and just days away from a main event bout against Thiago Santos. His rise through the UFC light heavyweight rankings has been fast and furious, with statement knockout wins over Ovince Saint Preux, Jimmy Crute, and Johnny Walker proving that Grand Rapids’ finest is right where he belongs.
“The fact that we’ve reached this point that we’re headlining a card that was meant for us and everything that comes with that just means that we’re on the right track,” Hill said. “All those dreams, all those feelings that I had, they weren’t misplaced. That was the higher power talking to me, letting me know that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Hill’s road to this point was far from easy. After graduating high school, he faced a tough decision to pass up a partial scholarship to play college football in order to start working at a factory to pay bills. Hill took a year off to ponder what was best for him and avoid putting himself in unnecessary debt.
“My dad always told me to think about the whole board, don’t think just about the next move,” Hill said. “I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I just knew I wanted to be an athlete. I wanted to be in the NBA or the NFL; that was always the dream. That’s when I found MMA.”
Hill had always been into fighting, but it wasn’t until he watched the great Anderson Silva defeat Forrest Griffin at UFC 101 that he seriously considered utilizing his athleticism to pursue a career in MMA.
“I was like, ‘Oh s***, m************ really be on this level’,” Hill said. “I’ve always been into martial arts, I’ve always been into fighting, and I’ve been in hundreds of street fights. I just grew up fighting, but now I thought I could turn this into something.”
“From the 19-year-old kid in basketball shorts to where we are at now, it’s been a crazy rollercoaster, but it’s been awesome,” Pomeroy said of Hill’s success. “I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it. He’s fighting Thiago Santos in a main event for the UFC. It almost doesn’t seem real.”
With UFC Fight Night: Santos vs Hill just days away, Hill sees this fight as his opportunity to show people the greatness that Pomeroy has seen day in and day out for the last twelve years.
“I want the people to know who I am, I want people to be interested and wonder how good I am. I want people to see how truly great my mind is,” Hill said. “This fight with Thiago Santos is going to be fireworks. ‘Marreta’ comes forward, he wants to be the hammer and he wants to put a pounding on you. But that’s what I want to do. ‘Sweet Dreams’ wants to get up in your face. I want action, I want intensity, and I want it non-stop.
“Let’s get in there. I want to get in close I want to get in that phone booth, and I want that action. I think that’s what it’s going to be.”
As a matter of fact, Hill believes he’s known exactly how this fight with Santos is going to play out. He’s known for years.
“I always knew this fight was coming,” Hill said. “I knew this fight was coming years ago. I’ve been waiting for this fight for years and I’ve been preparing for this fight for years.
“I’m going to make this happen. I’m going to go out there hands up, locked in, sharp, with all the knives I learned at Black Lion and I’m going to handle business.”
From working in a factory as an aspiring athlete trying to make it to headlining a massive fight for the world’s biggest mixed martial arts organization, Hill knows he has plenty to be proud of.
FREE FIGHT: Jamahal Hill vs Johnny Walker
But, if he’s being honest, it’s not his record or his ranking as the number 10 light heavyweight in the world he’s most proud of. It’s that he’s always stayed true to himself and to the right people.
“The thing I’m most proud of where I’ve come from and where I’m at now is that I’ve stayed true to my people that have brought me here.
“I had all these doubts and all these if/ands and then I just said ‘f*** all that, I’m just going to go after this and see what’s going to happen. If it don’t work, then it wasn’t for me and then go find what’s for me.’ But it was for me, and I felt that it was. It was just validation.”
Hill credits Pomeroy with helping Hill fight through those moments where he may have doubted his abilities. When he needed someone to believe in him most, it was Pomeroy right by his side, teaching him how to be a better fighter and man.
That dedication and loyalty isn’t something that Hill takes lightly.
“Chad has been instrumental for me having success,” Hill said. “He’s put himself on the line for me at times he didn’t have to. He’s shown me what I mean to him and how much he cares for me. When you got people like that, you return that. You take care of those people.”
The best way Hill can thank Pomeroy for investing in his talent is to get the biggest win of his career on Saturday and continue his push for the UFC light heavyweight title.
And there’s no doubt in Hill’s mind that he’ll do just that.
“This is the next step. When I go in and put the exclamation point win on him like I expect 100% to do, I feel like next after that is another solid test, then let the king get his crown.
“We are going to go out there and do what the f*** we do.”
UFC Fight Night: Santos vs Hill took place on August 6, 2022 live from the UFC APEX in Las Vegas, Nevada. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses - and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!