By Lyonel Doherty
A mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter in Oliver pauses when asked if he was ever bullied as a kid.
He then admits that he wasn’t a victim but rather the bully, something he isn’t proud of today.
But Marlan “Pretty Boy” Hall has changed and is focusing all of his efforts on a career as a disciplined fighter in the cage.
The 23-year-old member of the Osoyoos Indian Band recently won the 2018 Battlefield Fight League Amateur Featherweight Championship.
His goal is to fight professionally and be the top fighter in his weight class.
Hall’s passion for the sport began when he started watching Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fights on TV and wrestling with friends in his backyard.
“In my mom’s basement I had a punching bag and I had, for my grappling mats, you know those air mattresses? Well, I deflated one of those and put them on the ground (via duct tape) so you could grapple around.”
When OIB Chief Clarence Louie found out, he told the young man about an MMA tournament that he might be interested in. The only catch was it was taking place the very next day.
“I was like, well, ya! But it was weird because he asked me on April Fool’s Day, so I was kind of like, I don’t want to get my hopes up.”
But it was the real deal; Hall was matched up with an opponent, whom he beat in one minute and five seconds with a triangle choke.
Following that event, a promoter called him about another fight card (in two weeks). Hall was again victorious and continued on the road to success.
Looking back, his training consisted mainly of horsing around with friends and watching Youtube videos. But he finally got a coach after his third fight at the age of 16.
“I felt like I was made for fighting . . . it doesn’t matter how big the guy is, I’m going be the guy that hits the hardest.”
Hall says he has a natural competitive instinct and his goal is to become a UFC champion at the highest level.
“I feel like I can. There’s a lot of guys that have a quitting mindset, and I had been pushed to the brink . . . I could have just rolled over.”
But he found his true warrior after his second fight against a state champion wrestler. “He was pounding me and I should have been knocked out, but it was that instinct when I said, ‘no, it’s not happening, not today.’”
His recent championship match was against a six-foot opponent, the tallest guy he ever fought. “It was a really tough matchup.”
Hall knew he had to push harder.
“I started throwing leg kicks, and I couldn’t just sit back because he would attack me, so I had to attack first.”
In the third round there was a big momentum shift where Hall noticed his opponent wilting.
“As the old saying goes, ‘the eyes never lie.’”
Hall says the guy got desperate in the fifth round and tried to take him to the ground, but he countered and finished with a choke.
Hall prefers the stand-up game where he can box as opposed to grappling on the ground.
“I was looking at boxers’ paycheques and I was like, mmm, maybe I can pursue this. But then my friend saw me grappling and said, ‘I don’t think you’ll ever be a boxer.’”
Hall admits that grappling isn’t his strength but he tries to hone both disciplines equally.
With a nine and three record, Hall is looking forward to his title defense in March. After his 10th win he wants to fight professionally, but he suspects the transition from amateur to pro will be a lot more challenging.
Hall is the first to admit that MMA fighting is very barbaric.
“At any point in time I can have somebody down on the ground, holding them by the throat. It’s violent.”
He recalls his coach going over various moves that Hall could use in the cage: “You have your knee on their back, you can pin their head down and just start smashing them. I was like, ‘That is the most violent thing I ever heard.’”
But the objective is to win the fight, not feel sympathy.
“You can see the fear in their eyes. I’m sitting there trying to hit you as hard as I can; I want to see that look (of fear).”
But after the fight he always feels bad.
Contrary to what some people may think, Hall is friends with a lot of his opponents, including the guy who beat him for the first time. “He actually wanted to buy one of these ‘Pretty Boy’ shirts.”
Hall said when you look at some of these fighters’ previous lives, you see some of them doing jail time and getting into so much trouble. But when they enter a sport like this, they clean up their act.
“You can look at Dustin Poirier and Joey Beltran, people like that, pioneers of sport that came from rough beginnings but then made it and now they’re huge family guys.”
Hall suspects that if he wasn’t in this sport, he might be partying all the time and perhaps getting into trouble.
The fact is mixed martial arts have changed lives, even his own, he says. For example, it has given him a positive persona in life.
He looks back at some of the things he’s done, such as bullying, and shakes his head.
“I think back on my childhood; I was so mean to other kids, but I’m more . . . I’m very sympathetic now.”
He recalls his friends tripping other kids, so he would jump in and do the same because he didn’t want to be excluded.
“I don’t know, I just felt like when I bullied I had a sense of power . . . (but really) it’s a sense of insecurity. As a kid, you’re scared, you know?”
Bullying eats at you, Hall points out.
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He knows this all too well since he wrote a formal apology letter to one victim. It happened after his friend posted the fact that he won a title. A person soon commented that he “hated” Hall in high school.
Hall didn’t know who this person was but sought out more information about him.
He then remembered a pushing incident in a Grade 8 class, when Hall used a gay slur against another student.
“Ever since then he hated me and I had no idea.”
He made amends by writing the letter.
Hall believes that bullies need a sense of power and confidence, but urges them to get it somewhere else. He suggests a sport or anything that will provide an outlet for all that aggression.
“That’s why I believe this sport is one of the best sports in the world. You get all the pent up anger out.”
Hall hopes to inspire others by being the new head coach for Pacific Top Team Muay Thai in Penticton.
In the meantime, he continues to look for new sponsors to help him reach the top. For more information, call 250-328-4272 or email email@example.com.