In an exclusive interview with MMARising.com, two-time Matt Hughes conqueror Dennis "Superman" Hallman discusses his fights with Hughes, his UFC title bout, which fighters he would most like to face and why he'd like to return to the UFC.
A head trainer at the respected Victory Athletics camp in Washington, Hallman works with many of the sport's future stars and guides them with his 12 years of experience in MMA. He has competed against many of the biggest names in the sport during his storied career, including a pair of quick and dominant victories over long-time UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes. Now refocused and hungry to compete for another major title, Hallman discusses his plans as he looks ahead.
MMARising.com: Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Dennis. To begin, can you provide a bit of background information on yourself and when you first took an interest in competing in mixed martial arts?
Dennis Hallman: I have wrestled since I was 8 years old. I wrestled through high school and won the Washington State 135-pound title in my Senior year. I decided to wrestle at a local community college, but during the preseason training, I broke my leg. The injury sidelined me for the season. December (1995) came and I was healing up from the injury. A guy that attended my high school was sending tapes to Battlecade to get on their show. Being that I was a well-known wrestler in my small city, the guy called and asked if I would fight him.
I was confused, but after a little explaining, I agreed to fight the guy. I won our match by guillotine in 30 seconds. The guy was frustrated with the loss but convinced me that, if I trained a little, I would be good. Three weeks later, I competed in my first exhibition match. I had my first sanctioned "Pankration" match on May 18th, 1996 at a Matt Hume show in Kirkland. I defeated a Japanese guy that was training with Hume at the time.
MMARising.com: Newer fans to MMA may not be familiar with your career, but your 41-12-2, 1 NC record includes fights with many of the sport's top fighters. Still just 33 years old, do you feel that you can make a run at another major title in the future?
Dennis: I have been fighting for a long time and have a lot of experience. I think that, with the right fights, I can re-establish myself as a top contender and maybe get a shot at a title.
MMARising.com: Your nickname, "Superman," has been with you for most of your career. When did people first start calling you that and what initially sparked the name?
Dennis: When I was an amateur, I used to have a lucky sweater that I wore before each fight. A local promoter by the name of Aric Wiseman was promoting an amateur event and put my photo on his event poster with my name simply written as "Superman." I have carried the name ever since.
MMARising.com: While you have battled many of the best, you are still most famous for scoring two victories over long-time UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes, in a combined total of just 37 seconds. Hypothetically, if you were to face Hughes again, now almost ten years later, would you expect a similar outcome?
Dennis: I will beat Hughes every time we fight. He can never beat me.
MMARising.com: Was there ever any animosity between Hughes and yourself, or was it simply a matter of proving that you were the better fighter?
Dennis: I had no problem with Hughes until he wrote snide comments about me in his book. I mean, what a whiner. He should just accept that he had his ass handed to him and move on.
MMARising.com: You also dropped down in weight to challenge Jens Pulver for the UFC Lightweight Championship back at UFC 33 in 2001. Had you been victorious in that fight, how much of an impact do you think that it would have had on your career?
Dennis: Had I been as serious and as dedicated to fighting and training as Jens was when we fought, then the outcome of that fight definitely would have been different. My entire career would have been different. There were managemental decisions and camp decisions that I would have done differently looking back, but life's decisions led me to where I am now and I am happy with the lessons that I have learned and the life that I have right now.
MMARising.com: Besides the lightning-fast victories over Hughes, you also have a number of other first-round submission wins that have come early in the round. When you enter a fight, do you make a conscious effort to finish the fight as quickly as possible or do you simply take advantage of opportunities afforded to you once the bell rings?
Dennis: I have the ability to recognize techniques at a fast pace. Through training, I found that most people do not see things as quickly as I do, so the faster that I did a technique, the easier it was to counter what my opponent was doing to counter my attacks. This type of training led me to a "rush the opponent" style. Most people can't get adjusted right away and they make big mistakes (a la Hughes vs Hallman II), and I just capitalize on their mistakes. This often leads to quick victories.
MMARising.com: The majority of your submission wins have come via some form of choke. Do you have a favourite technique to use in a fight to secure a victory?
Dennis: My two favourite techniques are the guillotine and the rear naked choke.
MMARising.com: You've only been defeated three times in the past five years. To what would you best attribute your continued success in the sport as new challengers emerge on the scene every day?
Dennis: Although it has taken 12 years and 12 losses, I finally figured out that even if I have 12 times better technique than my opponent, I need to be in the best cardio shape possible in order to win against these newer fighters.
MMARising.com: There have also been some difficult times in your career, including a year-long suspension in 2007 when you tested positive for Drostanolone and Nandrolone after a quick submission win over Jeremiah Metcalf in Strikeforce. Can you talk a bit about the events surrounding the fight and how frustrating it was to have to take a year away from the sport?
Dennis: In March of 2007, I had neck surgery; a disc-ectomy on C4, 5 and 6. I was under the advice of a doctor and used Testosterone and Drostanolone to accelerate the healing process. I was not on steroids when I fought Metcalf, but there was still some metabolite in my system. I have never taken Nandrolone, so I do not know where California came up with that part of the positive test result. My opinion on steroids, as a tool to heal the body, is that you should use them if they will help you heal faster. If you have a headache, do you take aspirin? If you have cancer, do you try Chemotherapy?
If something will help to heal my body when it is injured, then I say that I should be able to take it to feel better. My opinion on steroid use in MMA is that it does not help you perform better. I mean, do steroids give you a better armbar? Will they make you dodge a punch better? Not at all. I think that, as a performance enhancer, steroids hinder you in MMA. I would rather fight a juiced up, no-cardio-having lightweight at 170lbs than a lean, mean, natural welterweight cardio machine. I think that the suspension that I served for the year allowed me to really appreciate something that I had taken for granted.
MMARising.com: With all of that behind you, you have gotten your career back on track and picked up a 20-second submission victory over Justin Davis this past Friday at Strikeforce Challengers 2. What was the process like in preparing for the fight when you faced a number of changes in opponent in the weeks leading in?
Dennis: I was training for a striker, and a striker is what J.D. was, so my training stayed the same for the entire camp.
MMARising.com: If you continue to string together wins, especially dominant ones like the victory against Davis, would you like to challenge the top fighters in the Strikeforce welterweight division (such as Jake Shields or Nick Thompson) or does a return to the UFC interest you?
Dennis: I would like to fight in the UFC again at 170 pounds. I had a couple of cruddy fights there and would like to redeem myself. Throughout my career, I have dealt with cardio issues, but these were medical conditions. At one time, I thought that I had them under control, only to find out that I was completely incorrect. I am finally aware of what needs to be done in order to prepare for a fight, both medically and physically. I am just waiting for an opportunity to show that I am still one of the world's top fighters.
MMARising.com: How do you feel that you compare as a fighter to the top welterweight stars today (both in North America and overseas in Japan)? Are there areas of your game that you feel that you would need to work on, or are you prepared to compete at the elite level at any given time?
Dennis: I have complete confidence in my ability. I know that, on any given day, I can submit any fighter that I stand across the cage from. Anyone.
MMARising.com: If you could play matchmaker for a day and put together a dream fight between yourself and an opponent of your choosing, which fighter would you most like to face and why?
Dennis: I would like to fight Jake Shields or George St. Pierre because I believe that they have proven themselves as the best welterweights in the world. I just need a chance to climb the ladder to earn a shot at one of the best.
MMARising.com: Your camp, Victory Athletics, also features a number of future prospects including current Strikeforce contenders Bryan Caraway and Miesha Tate. As a 12-year veteran of the sport, what's it like to train with younger fighters who are in the early stages of their careers and eager to make an impact?
Dennis: I have a number of young talented fighters that provide a great training atmosphere. I try to guide them to make the best career choices that they can. When things are going well for them, I try to keep the momentum up. When things are low, I try to support them and give them advice.
MMARising.com: Looking ahead to the second half of 2009, what can fans expect from you and your Victory Athletics teammates in upcoming fights?
Dennis: Victory Athletics is a group of hungry individuals that will be making a huge impact on the national stage this coming winter.
MMARising.com: What is one goal that you would like to accomplish in your career that you have not yet had a chance to do?
Dennis: I would like to return to the UFC and show that I can perform at the level that I know that I am capable of.
MMARising.com: Do you have any final comments or shout-outs to sponsors or fans?
Dennis: Thanks to Vicious Fight Gear, MMA Agents, Suplay.com, kirkwhitewrestling.com, Eric Herrholz and Fight.tv. May God Bless everyone.
MMARising.com would like to thank Dennis for taking the time for this interview and congratulates him on his recent victory. We hope to see him back in action in the near future.