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SportsMixed Martial Arts

For Uriah Hall, it's all about keeping calm in the ring

Uriah Hall, an MMA fighter from Manhattan.

Uriah Hall, an MMA fighter from Manhattan. Credit: Zuffa LLC

LAS VEGAS - The room is poorly lit. His vision goes in and out as he wears special glasses designed to blink at different rates and speeds. Foam sticks get flung at his head at different rhythms, from different directions. People throw outrageous questions at him.

This all happens by design. It brings a unique serenity to the mind of Uriah Hall, a UFC middleweight fighter from Queens. It was one of the training drills Hall used in preparing for his bout against Thiago Santos at UFC 175 on Saturday night.

"It's keeping me calm. Your mind is pretty much the most important thing in there," Hall said. "It's just remaining poised."

No easy task when asked to concentrate on footwork, body movement and punch avoidance with obstructed vision and some guy making you answer questions at the same time.

Of course, being a mixed martial artist and fighting in the octagon is not exactly the average 9-to-5 job. One punch or one kick can alter the immediate reality. The game plan can change in seconds if the opponent is just a little faster than expected, a little stronger, a little more elusive.

"It's remaining poised in any situation," Hall said of the unique training method. "Meanwhile, if you're in [the cage], and stuff's not going your way, you can still say cool, calm, collected."

The questions keep Hall focused. They make him think. And if he cannot get smacked in the face or head with a foam device designed to keep people afloat in a pool, then he's done the drill correctly.

"Questions like 'How many states we got? Who are the presidents? Is Michael Jackson Puerto Rican? Whatever they have to yell out," Hall said. "Even funny questions like that will throw you off. You're like 'Whoa' and you get caught."

Hall (9-4, 1-2 UFC) has been caught before in his short UFC career. Not by punches or kicks, but by the atmosphere as a whole.

"As an athlete, I'm learning too that your mind a lot of times plays tricks on you," Hall said. "I thought I was weird. All the stuff that's happened to me. I'll be all good, then I'll go in there and freeze up, the bright lights, all the people."

A talented fighter with a knockout highlight reel from Season 17 of "The Ultimate Fighter," that didn't translate in Hall's first turns on the big stage. He lost the "TUF" finale by split decision to Kelvin Gastelum, then another decision to John Howard. Neither fight would belong on any year-end highlight compilation DVDs.

Hall heard it all after those losses, and none of it was positive. It reached its pinnacle (or valley) when UFC president Dana White said that maybe Hall isn't really a fighter.

That type of commentary can put doubt in anyone's mind. It certainly did for Hall.

"It's a constant fight, and for a long time I let that fight win," Hall said. "It's like a real fight, you either face it or run away from it."

Hall faced it.

The 28-year-old Hall stopped Chris Leben in the first round last December at UFC 168. That brought some relief. It also bought him another fight in the UFC. Another chance to learn more about himself as a fighter. Another opportunity to develop ways to work smarter and make fights easier.

"I was more training my head because I was like, I've got the tools. I know how to punch and kick, I know how to do stuff most people can't. I needed to work on the one thing that would be give me a better strategy."

New York Sports