Las Vegas, NV — Ryan Hall won The Ultimate Fighter 22 back in 2015 — and has fought just three times since.
That snail’s pace has confounded many, none more so than Hall himself. As the jiu-jitsu ace returns at UFC 264 against Ilia Topuria, he admitted that so much time on the sidelines has “been frustrating, to be honest.”
“Obviously no more than everybody had to deal with for the last year. Fortunately the gym’s been fine, everything’s been fine, family’s good, everyone else is good, so no complaints there,” he told media outlets during Wednesday’s UFC 264 media day.
Recapping the fights that didn’t happen over the past year or so, Hall noted that “COVID cancelled the first event, the one against Ricard Lamas. That was a shame obviously for everybody. Rescheduled in August, everything good to go, training training training, bogus medical test cancels that. Get yanked from the card like ten days ahead of time. And then of course like a week later they go ‘oh yeah, oops, sorry about that.’ Of course ‘oops’ doesn’t fix anything. And then wait wait wait, train train train, finally get a great opponent in Dan Ige, another ranked fight that I was looking for, waiting for for a very long time, and then for the first time I get hurt. And I go ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.'”
That said, Hall sees the injury as a blessing in disguise. It allowed him to heal up a lot of nagging injuries while in physical therapy. He also managed to avoid surgery. “I really took the time to get everything right physically, and I feel a lot better, and it was extra opportunity to continue to improve tactically, technically. That’s been a fantastic thing.”
Hall had hoped to land a top ten opponent upon his return. Instead, he’s up against undefeated Georgian fighter Ilia Topuria. “I think Ilia’s a great opponent, he’s very tough, he brings a lot of skills to the table,” stated Hall. “I was initially told when I got bumped from the rankings due to inactivity that was beyond my control — I wasn’t turning down fights, I was asking for, I was begging for fights and got crickets for the most part, and then the ones that did come up were torpedoed for frustrating [reasons] and not my doing — but anyway when I was told I would be able to fight back in the rankings, I was excited.”
The only problem was that due to timing, Hall couldn’t get a ranked opponent anyway. He was then offered Topuria, and looked up who he was. “I’d seen him fight prior, he’s a very tough guy. I came here to fight the best. He represents a great challenge and a great opponent, and that’s why I signed up immediately. I don’t turn down fights. If you’re good, if you’re tough, I will fight you. If you’re yelling about me and you’re not very good, you can buzz right off. But as far as Ilia, he’s a tough opponent, I think he’s top class, I think he’s as good as many people in the top 15 already.”
If he gets the right outcome at UFC 264, added Hall, he plans to get right back to work. And he considers himself in the top ten as it stands. “Because, you look at how many people who have been bumped out, where I was ahead, you’ve got people that beat guys who were outside the top ten that are now nine, ten, eleven, twelve. That’s fantastic, I’m glad for them, but I’m effectively at that same spot were it not for circumstances.”
Like many, Hall has noted the number of submission-related injuries of late. Primarily, a broken arm suffered by Jacare Souza, and the dislocated arm that Jamahal Hill suffered against Paul Craig. Hall gave his perspective, sticking up for referees who, at the end of the day, have a difficult judgment call to make.
“I think a lot of times, people end up blaming the referee. The refs have a tough job. You stop it too early, people freak out. You stop it too late, people freak out,” observed Hall. “Obviously this is a serious business and you are getting hit in the head, you try to limit that. You have the possibility of having a joint injured. But I would always prefer to have extra time to fight. I don’t want anyone stopping my fights.”
“If that means I take an extra five, ten punches — I would love for that not to happen, but I’ve got to be honest, I want the opportunity to continue.” Hall pointed to Robbie Lawler vs. Ben Askren as a prime example. “What a fight. You could have easily stopped that one without any complaint partway through when Ben was in trouble, and they didn’t. And then look, he managed to rescue himself, come out in a good situation, then they stopped it in that case, but I think that was probably a reasonable stoppage that wouldn’t have impacted the outcome. But I guess as an athlete, I would always prefer for the opportunity to bail myself out.”
Watch the full UFC 264 media day scrum with Ryan Hall above. The event takes place this Saturday, July 10 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.