I had the opportunity to talk with jiu-jitsu black belt and ADCC 2009 bronze medalist Ryan Hall at his 50/50 BJJ school in Arlington, Virginia before he flew to England for ADCC 2011. At 26 and finally with a major grappling team under the leadership of multiple ADCC and Mundial champion, Hall believes this is the year he achieves his highest grappling goal.
In part one, we talked about the state of jiu-jitsu in MMA, same-day weigh-ins for ADCC 2011, good jiu-jitsu players who could transition to mixed martial arts and much more.
Luke Thomas: Luke Thomas here with SBNation talking with Ryan Hall, a jiu-jitsu black belt and a competitor at ADCC 2011, Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling world championships and we're here at , Virginia at his school 50/50. Ryan, how are you today?
Ryan Hall: Doin' great Luke
Luke Thomas: Now Ryan, you just came back from New York where you were training with Marcelo Garcia. There's a lot to get to but first, give us a heads up. It's not just that you've been training with Marcelo Garcia but what is the plan in training to prepare for 2011 that you didn't do when you got the bronze medal in ‘09
Ryan Hall: It really, there's been a lot of changes to ADCC this time around, one of the biggest being the way that they're setting up the weigh-in and orchestrating things there. In the past we had just similar to a professional MMA fight, we had a 24 hour cushion wherein let's say we were supposed to fight on Saturday, we could weigh in on Friday afternoon, you could dehydrate, make the weight, weigh back in, eat, drink, do what you need to do, fight on Saturday, fight on Sunday but this time around they've taken that cushion away.
You have to weigh in on Friday just to see if you're in the ballpark, weigh in on Saturday matside before walking on and actually again on Sunday so in addition to just the amplified training and really bringing up the intensity because now I feel at this point and time I'm not really surprising anyone, I've really had to take my nutrition very seriously, take my conditioning very seriously to really be more disciplined than ever before to get down to the proper weight so I can manage things and feel my best.
Luke Thomas: In MMA, it's a serious concern when you have same day weigh-ins but there's obviously a lot more damage that can be inflicted on a person at least from a concussion or brain traumatic injuries standpoint. Are you at all concerned about potential health hazards from having same-day weigh-ins?
Ryan Hall: Not for me, although to be honest, when I was initially thinking about it, I was a little bigger the last time because I wasn't under the same restriction having to be under 145 pounds the entire weekend and staying at that weight but I've been working with a sports nutritionist dietitian and I've safely gotten down to 141 pounds so I'm not gonna be dropping water. For guys that think they can come in at 147, 148, 150 maybe, drop five or six pounds of water, a couple percentage points of their body weight, that's when you're talking potential health hazards. If you're taking it seriously like a professional, you should be fine but I can absolutely see where it could be a problem and it can be tough for some of the big guys for the weight.
Luke Thomas: Relative to mixed martial arts, you mentioned you're using a sports nutritionist and other sorts of experts in their fields to compliment and sort of enhance your training. Do you believe that in the sport of jiu-jitsu among the world class competitors that that approach to the game of having specialists enhance your ability, is it as common in jiu-jitsu as it is in MMA?
Ryan Hall: I believe that it's not, mostly because, generally speaking, is it as common in MMA as it is in, say for instance, the NFL? I would say no or professional boxing at the highest level. Obviously the professionalism of MMA is coming up big time, the professionalism of jiu-jitsu is coming up big time but MMA is leading that curve because of the money involved, because the stakes are higher. You have more people, there's more money to throw around. If I'm going to a tournament, a non-professional event where I'm not getting paid, I'm fronting all bills and everything like that, maybe it doesn't even cross my mind to pay out what it takes to really enlist the best help possible that money can buy.
Even when it's not expensive, to some people that can be tough. When you're talking about millions of dollars or hundreds of thousands of dollars on the line for an MMA fight, really, obviously your job is to get in there and win and you're gonna do everything that you can to pay professionals. It's not my job to glean some diet from the collective unconscious, it's find a professional, do what he says, listen to what he says. I don't teach myself how to box, I didn't teach myself jiu-jitsu. You go to professionals and you learn from the best and I think that jiu-jitsu is coming along but I think it's behind the curve.
Luke Thomas: Let's talk about mixed martial arts for a minute. We'll get to your Abu Dhabi tournament, it's in Nottingham, England this year on the 24th and 25th of September, but for mixed martial arts, and I'm not saying this is you but I certainly hear it a lot. I talk to a lot of professional grapplers and they talk to me about MMA and they see fights and they just groan. It's almost like boxers, these guys, they just don't know jiu-jitsu and they just don't have basics and fundamentals. Talk to me in your judgment, what is the state of jiu-jitsu in mixed martial arts in 2011?
Ryan Hall: Well, I think it's tough. It's certainly not, you're not sneaking up on anybody anymore. Say for instance, one walks into mixed martial arts with a pedigree in jiu-jitsu or a pedigree in wrestling of a really high level. There's, at a certain point where you kind of reach diminishing returns I feel. Let's say I'm in the 95th percentile of jiu-jitsu in the world but in order to get to the 99th, it's gonna take an excessive amount of work and obviously I'm deciding I'm gonna try to do that as well as I can but if my interest lies in fighting top level MMA, is my time better spent developing striking, legitimate striking that I can actually aside from being technical, I can be confident and I can believe in when I'm tired, believe in when I'm hurt, believe in when I'm in that fifth rounds, that's much more valuable.
I feel like a lot of guys, they kind of say, "Oh, I've been successful in this corollary sport, let me try to make a cross-move and go and jump in and start getting paid right away." I don't think that that's the way to go and I think that that's where you see a lot of high level wrestling, just in Strikeforce the other day, you saw the best jiu-jitsu guy in the world have a really tough run. You saw one of the top freestyle wrestlers in the world have a really rough run and the fact of the matter is MMA is a different sport. There's a lot to learn and there's no way that I can have a ton of experience, even if I have an incredible level of skill or one has an incredible level of skill in a certain discipline, there's no way that you can directly transfer that ability into a new realm reliably when you only have four, five or six fights. So I think that yeah, the level of jiu-jitsu in MMA is pretty low in a lot of cases, but do you have the experience, do you have the skill to take advantage of it? Some cases yes, other cases no.
Maybe Roger Gracie ends up on the ground with King Mo, it's a totally different fight but can he get the fight there? That's the difficulty and so I see a lot of room for development. People look at George St. Pierre and talk about how incredible he is and he is incredible. He's the next generation of MMA fighter, Jon Jones and Anderson Silva, people think these guys are good. What's the Jon Jones, what's the Anderson Silva of 40-50 years from now gonna look like? Wrap your head around that.
Luke Thomas: These guys you describe, Silva with the exception in the Chael Sonnen fight had no choice but to play guard, but none of these guys really play guard anymore. Demian Maia plays a little bit of guard but then he sweeps to on top or reverses or whatever you want to describe it as. What is the state of the game, not at its level but what direction is it headed in?
Ryan Hall: I think, in my opinion from watching a lot of fights and training a lot of MMA, I think that obviously it takes a lot more skill. I can speak just from a jiu-jitsu perspective, it takes a lot more skill to work from an inferior position like the bottom than it does from the top. The scoring in MMA obviously rewards top position. For instance, if I'm trying to pass your guard and I'm making active attempts to move forward, it's a lot easier for you to sweep me, it's a lot easier for you to finish me. I'll actually pass and I'll get somewhere potentially but I'm putting myself at risk as well. If you look at collegiate wrestling, if you look at international wrestling, I can't even start taking steps backwards without getting penalized. If you notice the way that the rules are set up in MMA, I can flee the grappling and wrestling portion of the fight but I can't flee the striking portion of the fight.
The idea is, say for instance I'm wrestling someone but I'm just hand-fighting, pushing them away and walking backwards, I'm not penalized for that in MMA in the same way that I would be in wrestling. As a result, you see an entirely different sport and people try to use the guard in MMA the same way they would use it in jiu-jitsu and you obviously aren't going to have any success because the people, anyone with a brain, if they realize that you're incredible on the ground, they simply won't engage you in that. Not engaging could simply be curling up into a ball and just throwing hammer fists every now and then. Yeah, they're not going to knock you out in any likelihood but you're not going to catch them in a triangle either and you're losing the round, you're losing the fight. I think it's going to take a lot of innovation, a lot of extra interesting developments. It's really hard for me to say exactly where that's going but definitely the striking and the implementation and the execution of jiu-jitsu from the bottom is going to change. I think there's going to be a lot of leg entanglements, a lot more leg locks, things that are going to allow you to not necessarily finish the guy but use it to get on top and control. I'm, as a fan, really interested in seeing where things go.
Luke Thomas: It's strange, mixed martial arts, if you ask fans who the best jiu-jitsu players are and these guys are accomplished, it's typically guys who have a proclivity for the guard. Guys who can submit people off their back like B.J. Penn or at least who has good flexible dexterity, guys like Shinya Aoki who are known for their guard play. You don't see guys who are known for their top game get associated with jiu-jitsu players. Why the misidentification?
Ryan Hall: I think the fact of the matter is there's a lot of casual fans in MMA. Where do you draw the line between wrestling, jiu-jitsu, in my mind.
Luke Thomas: Where would you put Josh Barnett? He's a catch wrestler but where would you put him?
Ryan Hall: I don't even know what catch wrestling is. People can look at the way I grapple and call it catch wrestling very similarly. I leg lock tons of people, I go for a lot of less orthodox style movement and in my mind, fundamental movement is the same whether it's football, whether it's baseball. Football is different to jiu-jitsu than boxing in the way that your body generates force. Things always come in and out of vote based on a particular fighter's style and what not and in addition to that, where are the holes in the game right now? What are people doing? Everyone back in the day said, "Oh, there's no way, don't kick to the head. Don't do it because you're gonna get taken down."
Now, you've got to watch yourself because some people can take your head off with that kick. When blind spots develop, that's when you'll see certain things come in. When I see Josh Barnett, I see solid wrestling and solid jiu-jitsu. Basically, the idea is, people look at a jiu-jitsu guy and they see a double-leg. It's not jiu-jitsu, that's not a jiu-jitsu double leg, it's wrestling. It's whatever the highest level expression of that particular movement is, it doesn't matter if I'm throwing a curveball in this room or throwing a curveball at Yankee Stadium, it's a freaking curveball. It's from baseball and that's the way that it is. I just don't draw the distinction in my mind. A lot of people are like, "Oh, he's on top, it's wrestling!" or, "Oh, he's on bottom, it's jiu-jitsu!"
The thing that I think jiu-jitsu is most useful for based on my experience training and watching MMA is the finishing of a fight. Not just submissions but being able to hold a person down and ground and pound them in a way where they're not able to move rather than say I'm holding but I start to flurry but you see them get up a lot. Where can I use my jiu-jitsu to control this person, not just stay on top but tie them up where I can wrap up their arms and hurt them, not just hit them. It will be interesting in my mind to see how things develop over the course of time.
Luke Thomas: Going back to Abu Dhabi or ADCC 2011, among professional jiu-jitsu players and maybe they have no interest in MMA, but if you're looking at the current crop and you're looking at their game and the way they approach it and the things they can do, who in your mind would make a great candidate for a potential MMA fighter?
Ryan Hall: There's so many good choices to be honest.
Luke Thomas: Give me five
Ryan Hall: I think it really, I'll give you this list but basically this is totally independent of the people's motivation and desire to do something. A lot of the times you're talking about guys who are 28, 29, 30 that are incredible in their field and yeah, if they really had the desire to go become a great MMA fighter, they could do it but they have to go through the bumps and bruises like the Roger Gracie situation. Could he come back and be a great MMA fighter? Absolutely. Does he have the desire to do it? Maybe he's like, "Man, I'm just the man of my sport. I don't need this in my life. I can make a ton of money doing something else," so it's hard to say.
I think Jacare is coming along really well. I think Marcello Garcia could be an incredible MMA fighter based on his style and based on his control. Roger Gracie I think going forward. I think it would be interesting to see Rafael Mendes fighting MMA and honestly I want to fight MMA and I want to take it seriously. I don't put myself in the Roger Gracie league by any stretch of the imagination.
Another great guy, maybe a Claudio Calazan who has excellent wrestling, excellent judo, really good control, excellent athleticism, I always look at the guys that have the right combination. I see like a Demian Maia and I see someone who can be a great fighter because not only do they have great expression of jiu-jitsu but the reason for their success is not a high degree of athleticism in a sport that is less athletic. Whereas when I see collegiate wrestling, because wrestling is more developed than jiu-jitsu, it takes a higher breed of athlete generally speaking at the top whereas sometimes you see guys get away with things in jiu-jitsu and you're like, "Yeah, that guy's getting takedowns but he's getting takedowns on a bunch of guys that don't know how to wrestle properly." He's not going to be able to make that transition to MMA because you can't pull that bullshit on an All-American that is just as athletic as you if not more and has much more skill.
When I see guys like that being successful for that reason, I don't, it doesn't mean that I don't think they're really good, just I don't think they're going to be able to make the transition into a sport where they're no longer the super athlete, they're now the norm. So I see Demian Maia as someone who is so fundamental and just plays so well that he's been able to make that transition because of the way that he fights.
Luke Thomas: Last question and we could go forever on MMA but I promise this is the last one. Obviously, Marcello Garcia had an early run in mixed martial arts, did not go so well and I think, I don't present this as an informed criticism I present it as one of the most prevailing one of his game which is he has a style in jiu-jitsu particularly surrounding the x-guard that simply will not allow for high level applicability in mixed martial arts. How do you respond to that claim and you mentioned he was good for MMA or could be good in MMA. Why, in your judgment?
Ryan Hall: Basically, in my mind, when I see, for instance I've taken a lot of criticism in the past of, "Hey, you play inverted guard and that's not applicable to MMA." That's like me looking at Manny Pacquiao and being like, "Bro, you can't stand like that in a stand-up fight." People think that some guys in the UFC can box a little bit. Get out of here. There's not even, you can't even hold a candle to the level of striking of a Floyd Mayweather or a Manny Pacquiao.
They have the delivery system. They have the reflexes, the timing, the skill, the understanding of mechanics and movement and angles that takes a lifetime to build and as a result, this person could be successful in any form of striking. Maybe no immediately, but if you give a guy like Pacquiao 5, 10, 15, 20 fights, you're talking about a level of striking that is terrifying and basically, for instance you have Marcelo Garcia. Yes, he's identified with the x-guard, yeah he's identified with the arm drag. Having trained extensively with Marcelo and guys on that level, I can tell you it's not the moves that they do, it's their application. It's how they apply, he's got a great closed guard, he just doesn't use it because I have the build for a closed guard. Marcelo does not have the build for a closed guard. He still has a great closed guard and could still make it work.
In my mind, the biggest problem, the biggest drawback for these guys is they're getting into the game late. They're not 19, they're not 20, it's not like they have nothing to lose, everything to gain and they're out there trying to kick everyone's ass. They've got a lot going on, they've got other things in their head and maybe that's not the most responsible situation to fight in if that's how I know I am mentally. The other things is, a lot of times people say, "Hey, you're Marcello Garcia. Why don't you go fight, let's put you in K-1, let's put you in front of a crowd of 30,000 guys and fight a guy, that no, he's not as skilled as you in your sport, but he's got 15 fights."
Like if I fight, I don't need to fight a guy with 15 fights. Maybe I can win one, two but I'm gonna get in over my head really quickly and I'm gonna be in situations that there's no way I can be properly prepared for. Let's say like a Roger Gracie or even like a King Mo. It's tough, he's taken a loss. Look at Jacare. Jacare fought Jorge Patino and he got knocked out in his first fight. Is he a better fighter than Jorge Patino? Absolutely. Was it ludicrous to fight someone that experienced in your first fight? That horrible management. That's beyond horrible but I think a lot of times, it's just where they are in their career. Like if Chael Sanderson wanted to fight MMA. Could he do it? Yeah. Is he going to get to the top, no. I don't think he would want to do it but say if you take someone with that level of skill, put it in a 21 year old that wants to kill everybody and is gonna spend 10 years taking this seriously, take their bumps and bruises because no one gets through undefeated, even GSP lost to Matt Serra.
Matt Serra's a great fighter but imagine if GSP quit after that and he was like, "Fuck, I just don't need this," we wouldn't see the GSP that is today pushing the level of the sport so I think there's so many factors and a lot of times these guys won't have success not just because of maybe a style thing but just because they don't have the time and maybe don't have the desire, but when you get that skill and you get that age and everything comes together kind of in a perfect storm, that's when it's gonna be scary. That's where it's coming in the future in my mind.