UFC

Munoz explains Hall’s deep troubles

Uriah Hall reacts after knocking out Robert 'Bubba' McDaniel in their quarterfinal fight during filming for season seventeen of The Ultimate Fighter
Uriah Hall's opponents have been lining up, but he's no longer knocking them down.
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Mike Chiappetta

Mike Chiappetta has documented the fast-growing sport of mixed martial arts since 2006 for news organizations including SB Nation, NBCSports.com, FIGHT! Magazine, AOL and ESPN. He appears regularly as an analyst on countless television shows and radio programs, including CBS Radio and MMA Beat. Follow him on Twitter.

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Mark Munoz has coaching in his blood. For nine years, he’s run an amateur wrestling camp for middle school and high school kids that’s become one of the elite camps in the nation. As the owner of Reign Training Center in Lake Forest, California, he has begun to also mold the careers of amateur and professional fighters. Among those who’ve worked with him are UFC welterweight star Jake Ellenberger, heavyweight Brendan Schaub and moneyweight Chael Sonnen

A recent addition to the team is Uriah Hall, the talented yet inconsistent star of season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter. During the show, Hall looked like a world-beater, with a series of spectacular knockouts that led him to the finals, but since then, it’s been a struggle. Hall has lost back-to-back split-decisions to Kelvin Gastelum and John Howard, respectively.

In both performances, Hall came off as lackluster. Against Gastelum, he was taken down three times, had his guard passed five times and threw 20 fewer strikes than his opponent. Against Howard, he was out-landed 92-59.

The latter defeat, against a short-notice opponent no less, was so discouraging that it led UFC president Dana White to publicly question whether Hall had the right mentality to make it in the sport. Despite that, and partially because of Hall’s insistence that White had lit a fire under him, White offered him one last opportunity. As motivation, he paired Hall with a fighter who won’t let him coast, Chris Leben. And just to make sure his point was crystal clear, he recently added this: “No, I don't ever think of matches as ‘loser leaves town,’ unless you're talking about Uriah Hall's next fight. Uriah Hall needs to win a fight or Uriah Hall will be leaving town.”

Why has Hall stumbled so far, so fast? No one seems to have any definitive answers except to say that he sometimes has trouble flipping the switch to attack mode. For Munoz, the answer to Hall’s struggles lie in his mind, not his body.


Hall's performance issues began at the TUF 17 Finale against Kelvin Gastelum

“When he steps into the Octagon, he’s not the same person that I see in practice,” he told FOX Sports recently. “I’ve gotten to speak to him on a number of occasions and there’s some things he’s going to work on as far as preparedness and preparation, mentally and physically. Those are some of the things he’s going to work on.”

So what exactly is the issue? That’s still up for debate, but it seems that White might not be far off the mark when he suggests that Hall is simply too nice.

Munoz, who has a reputation as one of the true gentleman of the sport, can at least partly identify with that. While he said that he couldn’t even remember the last time he lost his temper in his everyday life, he is able to compartmentalize that from his job, allowing him to compete ferociously in the cage, even if he occasionally has doubts outside of it. Moreover, Munoz recently overcame his own mental struggle, this one with depression in the wake of a knockout loss. It’s something he’s spoken openly about, and the experience will no doubt help him relate to Hall and perhaps assist him in getting past his own issues.

“Being a fighter, I think you always have in the back of your mind, ‘Should I be doing this? Uriah definitely has that in the back of his mind,” said Munoz, who will fight Lyoto Machida at UFC Fight Night on Oct. 26. “He thinks, ‘Should I be doing this? Should I be teaching for a living?’ Even before his last fight, he was like, ‘I don’t know if I’m cut out for this.’ So you can tell there’s some psychological warfare going on in his mind. I think with those fights in the TUF show, it did kind of affect him a little bit. Not big-time, but having respect and honor for your opponents in martial arts, he’s had that for a long period of his life. And I think after seeing those devastating KOs just one after the other, I think it did give him a little bit of some feeling of uneasiness. For the most part, I think he’s got to get past it and have that killer instinct. Once he gets past it, I’m telling you, he can be at the top of the podium for sure.”


Munoz's win over Chris Leben at UFC 138 put him in title contention

But how does he get there? Munoz said it’s about training the mind as much as the body. In his view, pro athletes must deal with physical issues, emotional issues and psychological issues, and all three of those must be in harmony in order to put yourself forth as your best product. The way he sees it, that’s what’s been lacking in Hall. He’s out of balance, partially because of the way he views martial arts. Sure it is a game built upon mutual respect, but at the highest level, it is competition first.

“Uriah is an amazing athlete,” he said. “He has the skills to knock anybody out. He’s unbelievable inside the gym. When you’re inside the octagon, it takes a different mentality, it takes a different perspective. When you’re in competition, you have to think of it as competition. I think Uriah gets in that mentality, he’s such a nice guy, such a respectful person. He’s been in martial arts for basically all his life and he has the wrong perspective sometimes about being in competition in mixed martial arts. You hurt people. That’s basically what mixed martial arts is. You’re signing on the dotted line knowing that you have a risk of getting injured. Uriah has to be comfortable with that. He’s definitely somebody that needs to work on the psychological stuff.”

For Hall, time is running short. In less than a year, the excited expectations generated on TUF have mostly given way to skepticism. Munoz though, still believes. He enjoys mentoring athletes because he loves watching them becoming better versions of themselves. Better versions, perhaps, than they’d ever thought they’d be. In Hall, the coach can see a finished product. Under the layers of doubt, a star exists. After all, you don’t repeatedly make jaws drop by accident. Now comes the hard part: drawing it back out of him.

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