Four months after breaking his leg while wrestling during his freshman year at Highline Community College, Dennis Hallman got an unexpected phone call that would change his life.
A friend who was making an audition video for a fight asked Hallman to be his opponent. Begrudgingly, Hallman complied. Hallman won easily, surprising even himself.
“He said, ‘Hey man, you’d be good at this,’ ” Hallman said.
Three weeks later, Hallman had his first fight in mixed martial arts. That launched a 13-year MMA career that once had Hallman ranked third in the world at the welterweight division and includes two victories over MMA legend Matt Hughes.
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“MMA has surpassed anything I expected,” said Hallman, an Olympia resident. “I thought it would be an obscure sport. People have realized it’s an actual sport and that talented athletes do it.”
Hallman, who won the 135-pound state wrestling championship in 1994 as a senior at Yelm High School, will fight tonight in a Strikeforce Challengers mixed martial arts event at the ShoWare Center in Kent. Doors open at 5:30 p.m., and the preliminary matches begin at 6 p.m.
Hallman’s unlikely MMA journey has included fights around the world. He fought for the lightweight UFC world championship in 2001, losing to Maple Valley native Jens Pulver.
But Hallman’s fighting career was in question two years ago after he had surgery on his neck.
He injured his spine during a practice session and aggravated it during a match in Iowa. Hallman finished that match and won by decision despite rupturing a disk.
Hallman underwent surgery in March 2007, when his C-4 and C-5 vertebrae were fused
“It made my arms go numb all the time,” he said. “But it hasn’t effected the strength in my arms.”
After a year-and-a-half off, Hallman returned to fighting in March. His victory over Danny Ruiz was his fourth straight win and raised his record to 51-12-2.
“I plan on (fighting) as long as I can,” Hallman said.
He will fight tonight against Justin Davis, another Yelm High graduate who is seven years younger and also wrestled in high school.
Hallman will fight up one weight class at 195 pounds, 25 pounds more than his regular weight. Several opponents canceled their matches with Hallman, forcing the switch.
Although some people don’t consider MMA to be on the same level as boxing, Hallman said the best boxer could not beat the best MMA fighter.
“I’d take the mixed martial arts guy to win every time,” Hallman said. “They’d take the boxer down. The boxer gets one chance. It could happen. But the likelihood is not there.”
At 33, Hallman knows that the clock is ticking on his career.
“Hopefully, God willing, I’ll be competing well into my 40s,” he said.
Hallman hopes to fight two more times this year. When he’s not fighting, he runs Victory Athletics, a gym in Olympia for kids 16 and older who want to fight in MMA. He also operates a wrestling program called Team Perpetual Motion for boys and girls ages 6 to 12.
Gail Wood: 360-754-5443