The future UFC middleweight would move furniture, pop in a VHS, hit record, mimic the game’s moves and then replay the tape. He practiced each move all day long, such as his viral spinning hook-kick on Adam Cella from The Ultimate Fighter season 17.
Driven by fear, Hall’s motivation to fight stemmed from bullying, from which he was a victim of as a young teenager, even to the point where he’d cut school at an alarming rate.
“The bullying started when I was 16 years old, and I didn’t have an outlet for it” Hall said in a phone interview last Tuesday, ahead of UFC 226 in Las Vegas. “I didn’t tell my mom, of course, just like a lot of people that get bullied.”
Hall, now 33, was fighting in school without knowing how to, and wanted to learn karate, but his mother couldn’t afford classes. When the bullying grew overwhelming, Hall truly took matters into his own hands and kept it secret for as long as possible.
“I remember one day specifically where I cut school. I didn’t realize they’d call your house. They called my mom and she confronted me,” he said. “I broke down crying because she was yelling at me.”
I said, ‘I’m being bullied and I hate school. I don’t want to go,’” reflected Hall, who then paused for two seconds and let go a deep sigh. “Woo, that brought back memories.”
Hall, with the help of his mother, then got his wish to begin practicing karate, but the idea of bullying –– which led him to training and subsequently dropping out of high school –– remained jarring.
Hall lacked a father figure as a child and his mother worked as a nurse. At 13 years old in 1997, Hall immigrated from Spanish Town, Jamaica, to Jamaica, Queens. Upon arrival, and until he moved to California and later Las Vegas, the present-day UFC middleweight hated New York.
He resented the idea of New York because it introduced him to bullying and racism, neither of which he knew existed through his first 13 years on earth in Jamaica.
“I thought it sucked. I thought New York was the worst place to be at the time,” Hall said. “Coming from a tropical island, no one ever bullied me. I didn’t understand the culture of New York.”
“It’s such a stressful environment that you get stuck in it and you just become a natural piece of [cr*p]. I didn’t even know what bullying was,” he added. “I didn’t even know what racism was until I got to America and someone told me, ‘Hey listen, you can’t do this because you’re black.’ But as much as New York was an a**hole environment, it taught me how to be a tough person at the same time. I’m a realist, man. I’ve gotta thank New York for that.”
Hall had to be tough to make it. He had one set of clothes for most of his life, and only wore shoes on special occasions, like church or school. He used to make his own toys in Jamaica, so when he received his first toy car in America, he protected it like it was his child.
Participating in Season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter was not only a key opportunity in an MMA career he was reluctant to pursue –– before being pushed by his sensei in training –– but it introduced him to life away from New York, and a life that afforded him a chance to grow and fully focus on his craft.
He had decided to become an assistant at his gym, a Tiger Schulmann’s in Rego Park, to help pay for his classes. He would clean school and help teach, later running his own classes as a head instructor.
At one-point Hall was told he could make a career out of fighting, to which Hall replied, ‘Hell no – that’s way too hard.’
Hall admits to being born without a killer instinct, and had struggled with what he called “an unnecessary evil” for years. He once knocked-out an NYPD officer in his first amateur bout, which he jokingly called, ‘the best feeling in the world,’ at the time.
After losing his job, he purchased a one-way ticket to The Ultimate Fighter tryouts, in which he outlasted 800 other hopefuls, made it into the TUF house and finished as the runner-up in the middleweight division. It was there once, but he’d been struggling to regain it.
“I think for me, I had to question why [losing] it was so terrifying. I was afraid of how I would look and I had to question why would I care about that,” he said. “I was afraid of how people would view me. I was afraid of how [UFC President] Dana White would look at me.”
“I had to go deep in myself to understand, why did I feel that anxiety from competing? I know I did well outside, but what was the problem that was holding me back?” he added. “Because I know I can beat anybody –– that’s why I was so deadly on the show because I decided I wouldn’t lose, and I think I later got comfortable. There were things I had to be honest of myself with. I said, ‘I’m not hungry anymore.’”
Part of the soul-search included a social media cleanse, where Hall has a combined 300,000 followers between Instagram and Twitter, while only following 33 accounts in return.
“People would make a mockery of you –– I didn’t understand it because I’m like, ‘Why am I working my ass off, and you don’t even know me and you criticize me?’ I didn’t get that, and it’s actually a job for people,” he said with a chuckle.
“I decided to reprogram my mind. I was so far into it, scrolling away for no reason. I was like, ‘How could I put myself in a position where even if I’m scrolling, I’m seeing some positive reinforcement?’ he added. “A lot of people just can’t understand but it’s controlling the world, bro. People can’t recognize it. So I thought, ‘I don’t need this s***,’ and I wanted out.”
Three days later, Hall made the 185 + 1 non-title rule, weighing in at 185 pounds six months after fainting at the UFC St. Louis weigh-ins resulting from a rigorous weight cut.
Hall, who entered the UFC’s 9th ranked middleweight, was matched up with undefeated rising prospect Paulo Costa, who was ranked 10th, and defeated Hall by second-round knockout. But Hall had many moments of brilliance and left an impression on the aforementioned White, even in defeat.
“The guy that I thought Uriah Hall was gonna be at the end of The Ultimate Fighter was the guy that I saw fight tonight,” White said at the UFC 226 post-fight press conference. “He fought an incredible fight tonight. He was in his face, every time he’d get hit, he’d punch back with two or three punches, kicks, it was awesome, great fight.”
With the loss, Hall’s record now stands at 13-9 overall, but he insists we have yet to see the best of “Prime Time.”
“I just know I haven’t seen my best and to me that’s more important,” he said. “Let me at least see my best before I could say I’m done.”