In part two of our interview on MMA Nation with jiu-jitsu black belt and 2009 ADCC bronze medalist Ryan Hall, we talk about whether anyone can realistically beat Rafael Mendes, the depth of the 66kg division, how training with Marcelo Garcia's team is helping him to turn a corner and much more. Video and complete transcript are below.
Luke Thomas: You mentioned ‘A Perfect Storm.' Let's transition now to ADCC 2011. What's the proper nomenclature for that?
Ryan Hall: ADCC. Yep.
Luke Thomas: Ok. Just wanted to make sure. So, speaking of that ‘Perfect Storm,' one of the guys...first of all...state your age.
Ryan Hall: I'm 26.
Luke Thomas: Ok and you're fighting in which weight category?
Ryan Hall: Under 66 kilos.
Luke Thomas: Ok. The guy who is allegedly ‘the man' in your weight category, who you mentioned, Rafael Mendes, is on a tear. This guy's a five-time world champion. He won ADCC in 2009, where you took the bronze (medal) - a huge accomplishment for yourself - but the articles written about him, particularly in the Brazilian press, ask: ‘Can this guy be beaten?' And he has, what you described before, he's a great athlete. I don't think he's a Usain Bolt, but he's a great athlete. He started training when he was 12 or 13. Can he be beaten?
Ryan Hall: Absolutely. Everyone can be beaten, you know.
Luke Thomas: But I mean realistically, what's the probability of him being beaten?
Ryan Hall: I think pretty good, honestly. You know that's not out of a lack of respect for Rafael. I respect him as a person, he's someone who...you know he was always a belt ahead of me, coming up. Every single belt that I was. When I was purple, he was brown. I've gotten to watch him a lot. He's very, very good, but, uh, you know, for instance: I had a match with him, my first year I had a black belt. It was five-to-two in the quarterfinals of the worlds. He ended up submitting every single other person other than Cobrinha in the finals.
I was very inexperienced. I've been able to get a lot better since then. And, you know, no-gi is my game, not gi. Not that I don't enjoy the gi, but I feel a lot stronger and a lot better, and this time out, I've really been able to train hard. I feel that I've got a very legitimate chance in coming out on top and that's not a lack of respect, it's just knowing that everyone can absolutely be beaten and realizing that there's a lot of tough guys in this field and I'm looking forward to absolutely giving it the best shot that I have. You mention that, as you said, people start training at eight, nine, ten, eleven. My generation of jiu-jitsu guys, I started when I was 19. I didn't start training with top level guys. I started training with a blue belt with other white belts. I've never been in a room with a stack of black belts my entire life up until this training camp. You know, you're talking about guys that have been able to have the benefit of all that their entire career. So I feel like guys coming from a situation more, kind of like I am, you have a little bit more room for growth. Not to say, not to diminish the accomplishments of anyone else in the division, but uh, I'm looking forward to finally getting the same advantages they've had and really making a push to win.
Luke Thomas: Is your division, the 66 kilogram and under, is that the toughest division?
Ryan Hall: Uh, it's absolutely one of them. The 66 (kilo) and under is stacked. There's a lot of really good guys in there. Multiple world champions. The one directly above with Marcelo Garcia, Claudio Calasans, Murilo Santana, Kyron Gracie is incredible as well. There's a lot of really tough divisions. When it comes to ADCC, people are not there to play. It's the best, toughest competition in the world of this kind for jiu-jitsu and for no-gi grappling. So, I wouldn't say there's any cakewalk through any division. But I think, in my mind, the 66 and under and the 77 kilo's are the toughest.
Luke Thomas: Alright, um, let's rewind here a little bit. Your 2011, in terms of your competitive success, and by ‘competitive success' I actually mean on the competition trail, how would you characterize it?
Ryan Hall: I think that I've been pretty successful. Based on the time in and the disadvantages I've had, in the seven years that I've been training, I've been out for two with surgeries and injuries, I've been able to win at the top level and I've been competing professionally since I was two years into grappling, and I've had a lot of wins. I've had a lot of losses. A lot more wins than losses, fortunately. But, I feel that I've been able to compete at the elite level faster than almost anyone I know. I just wanna work hard and do my absolute best and I just wanna accomplish the goals that I made when I set out on this whole thing. When I started, I had no interest in competing. The big thing was, don't look back and say: ‘Man, I could've worked harder. I could have done this. I could have done that.' I feel like that would be the saddest thing in the world. If I'm not good enough, then I'm good enough. But I'm going to take advantage of every last ounce of talent, every last ounce of ability that I have and really push it beyond anything that I thought I had in the beginning.
Luke Thomas: In your division, I don't have the list in front of me, but I've looked at it, it's primarily, maybe totally, but it at least primarily could be described as: ‘Some Americans...mostly Brazilians.' That's a pretty fair characterization, right?
Ryan Hall: Yeah, with a couple Europeans and an Australian and a Japanese guy thrown in there.
Luke Thomas: The Japanese guy's gonna get smashed, but, that being said, how do the games differ, today? Certainly your game isn't the same as Justin Rader's. I understand that. But are there trends in the American games versus trends in the Brazilian games?
Ryan Hall: Absolutely. I think that, for instance, I can speak to myself as having a little bit of a Brazilian style, with the exception of a lot of the leg-lock angle, which I feel is a significant edge that we have here, that some of the Japanese have as well. Trends in the American grappling is stronger wrestling. That's a huge edge that this country (America) has because we have that entrenched in that wrestling background, that wrestling culture. Not necessarily in Northern Virginia. The wrestling's not so strong here. But places like Oklahoma, like Pennsylvania, New York, California - tough, tough wrestling and that's just a huge edge. You'll notice that the top Brazilians now, those guys are no slouches on their feet. Cobrinha, Marcelo Garcia, Mendes - these guys can wrestle as well.
Am I gonna be able to make up, in two years, the 15 years of competitive wrestling experience that someone has that maybe they've been doing since they were a child? Hell no! No way. That would be completely unrealistic and arrogant to suggest. But the idea is: ‘Can I get better? Can I have to good coaching?' Absolutely. I think that that's a big trend going for, particularly Abu Dhabi, where it's not always easy to score. Based on the rules, you really...you know, the takedown edge, the conditioning edge, the striking...it really, really matters. As a result, you notice that, for instance, that a lot of the guys, whether they're guard oriented or not, they really, really work their wrestling very heavily, before coming into ADCC, because it's just so important. I really view that as a trend jiu-jitsu as a whole, but particularly in the Americans. I think they're noticing that, in the no-gi, that's really a big edge that you can have. Just like in MMA. You can kinda control where things take place, and that's not to be underestimated.
Luke Thomas: Assuming that you're gonna say that you're one of the four, I'm just gonna assume you're gonna say that, who are the other three that make it to the semifinals in your weight division for Abu Dhabi this year?
Ryan Hall: I think that there's a lot of really guys in there. It's hard to just select three but you have Rafael Mendes - it's really gonna depend on the bracket, but Rafael Mendes is gonna be a tough nut to crack for anybody. Ruben Charles, Jeff Glover, Justin Rader, Bruno Frazatto, Rani Yahya, Robson Moura, I think, all have very strong chances of making it in as well.
Luke Thomas: That's a hell of a division.
Ryan Hall: Yeah.(laughs)
Luke Thomas: Do you believe that, in terms of the media, going in and what people are talking about, that there's too much focus being made on the rivalry between Mendes and Cobrinha because of how their match in 2009 ended? I believe that was the 40 minute overtime match, correct?
Ryan Hall: That was an epic, hell-of-a final.
Luke Thomas: Ok, so going in now, they've had this rivalry, and I believe they're even friends or at least to some extent...is that overshadowing the other competitors?
Ryan Hall: It may be. Honestly, I don't pay any attention to that. All I care about is getting out there and performing as well as I can and showing that, not just that I belong but that I belong on the podium, at the top. I've put in the work to do it. I feel that people are gonna talk about what they're gonna talk about. Mendes gets a lot of press, which is great. He's the champ and he deserves it, but I don't think that anyone who has any designs on winning that tournament is giving any second thoughts to that.
Luke Thomas: In 2011, you mentioned you had two years out, due to surgeries. I remember, every time I went to see you, you had your thumb wrapped. It was like a whole long period where that went. You're 26 though. You should be, when you're not profoundly injured, generally healthy. How is your health today?
Ryan Hall: Incredible. I feel better than I've ever felt. As I've said in the past, I've never worked with a sports nutritionist/dietician before. I never thought that I could be this lean and feel this good. In the past, I made the weight, but I fet like garbage doing it. Physically, health-wise, I feel incredible.
Luke Thomas: Would you look to anyone in this tournament and say: ‘Wow, I really wanna see how this guy does. I don't think people are properly paying attention to him.'
Ryan Hall: Absolutely. I think that jiu-jitsu news reporting is laughable. It's just, pretty much, whoever happens to be paying them at the time are the people that generally get reported on. I think that, aside from the favorites in the division, I won't even worry about my own, you know, you have in the 77 kilos, you have Murillo Santana, who's incredibly good. Clark Gracie just got an invite. He's very, very tough. Antonio Peinado, ‘Batista' is his nickname...MAN that guy's good! You don't really hear a lot of talk about these people but he's someone that you're really gonna have to watch out for. It's always hard to say how things are gonna turn out. There's so many of the best guys in the world there. I think it's kinda funny the way the way that people, often times, get overlooked, as if they just happened to sneak in the back door. I'm looking forward to, not just people who I happen to know or that I'm friends with or anything like that, but guys that I'm looking forward to seeing. There's always gonna be a lot of interesting shake-ups in a tournament like this.