by Jennifer Longdon
With Contributions from Sara Marmolejo
Photos by Loren Worthington and Jerry O’Connor
Shawn “Dallas” Hall carefully winds bright blue hand wraps while he talks. His expressions are elastic as he moves from deep, furrowed-brow concentration to a sly, electric smile that can charm a girl right out of her …socks. His ear buds feed a playlist from Nipsey Hussle to The Diplomats to the Geto Boys. When the growl of Charles Bradley’s “The World (is Going Up in Flames)” bluesy-jazzy rhythms envelops him, he pounds the heavy bag round after round.
Hall’s warm, laid-back, easy going demeanor belies his animated passion for mixed martial arts. He has managed a roster of seven fighters, co-hosts a weekly two-hour call-in radio program that discusses the sport, and as the result of a five-year effort, is now certified to judge fights. Hall also lives with a C5-6 spinal cord injury sustained at 18 when he was in a roll-over car accident.
It’s his radio program that truly demonstrates his deep knowledge of the sport. Along with co-hosts Jay Pagliaro and MMA fighters Nicole Upshaw and Dan Charles, Hall breaks down mixed martial arts in and out of the cage. Each Thursday from 6 to 8 PM, Hall is part of a lively two-hour, free form, no holds barred on-air discussion that dissects fights and fighters. In a single segment, he sounds off about who he’d mash up for the most entertaining fight to discussing the scoring tactics of a “Sprawl and Brawl” or a “Ground and Pound” strategy, to the training regimens and fight strategies of upcoming bouts. His quick wit and laid-back delivery meshes well with his co-hosts. Co-host Dan Charles was the “Rage in the Cage” Heavyweight champion when they met; Hall was then managing fighters. “He’s a good guy. A great student of the game,” says Charles.
“He’s opinionated and edgy and an all-around good guy.”
These days, Dan “The Man” Charles fights for Bellator MMA.
On a recent program, Hall was asked for his opinion of fighter Ronda Rousey’s road back to the cage from her recent injuries incurred in her Australian defeat by Holly Holm.
“What you need to do right now Rhonda is you go in there and you do nothing but footwork and entrances and exits. That’s all you do. You go in there and you learn; you enter and exit. You stay at your range and you learn to sidestep the boxing range and get into your clinch range, cuz you’re going to need it.”
Hall exhibits the authoritative knowledge of the most arcane rules and martial arts techniques on his radio program that is required when he judges ringside. Judges start with a solid background in the holds, strikes, throws and submission techniques of combat sports and martial arts like boxing, wrestling, muay thai, jui jitsu, judo and karate. Qualifying to judge can take as little as six months; for Hall it was a journey of five years, in part due to perceptions of his ability based upon his use of a power wheelchair. “You know people see me, and they see that I’m in a chair and they think, ‘What can that guy know about MMA?’ You have to gain acceptance, you have to prove you have some form of knowledge. People are a little skeptical of you. You can’t just go up to someone and tell them they’re wrong. You have to show them they’re wrong and why. But yeah, it was tough at first, and it’s still tough, but I deal with it. I just try to stay positive.”
Staying positive is a theme for Hall. When the Arizona Boxing and MMA Commission denied his original application for a Judge’s license, he developed a roster of seven fighters that he managed, to prove his understanding and expertise in the sport. He booked fights, obtained sponsorships and managed their training. “I love it. I was a little hesitant to give up managing; I didn’t really want to move away from the five years of work with clients I had put in, but then I remembered this [judging] is what I wanted to do in the first place. It pays less, that’s for sure,” Hall laughed. “But I mean, I like it better, managing is more in front of the camera, but I like the behind-the-camera job.”
Las Vegas and California are the pinnacles of MMA judging, and Hall hopes to one day judge the prestigious title fights that are held in those places. His barrier is experience. He gains more and more of this precious currency with every “card” (the list of fighters for a night) he judges. “I’ll get there. I have plenty of time. You know the way I look at it is by the time I’m 50, I’ll have about 15 years of experience,” Hall assures us. To ensure fairness, the three judges for each card are chosen by the Commission 48 hours in advance of the fights. On his night, Hall, dapper in his requisite black suit, takes his place in one of the judging vantage points tight against the cage. The normally gregarious Hall focuses all his attention to the ring for each five-minute round. He trains as hard as the fighters by immersing himself in the sport. “Sometimes I’ll just watch fights on YouTube, and then before you know it, I’m hours into watching some obscure form of jiu jitsu.”
Hall shares his four-bedroom Tempe home with his cat Mr. Beanz, III – there were near-identical predecessors, Mr. Beanz I and II – and his Maltese Pomeranian, Inspector Theodore Roosevelt. His independent living is source of pride. He became frustrated with the quality of his home care help so he started his own home health agency, Roll On Rehab, Inc. He personally trains each nurse and aide before he pairs them with clients. “I teach them first and foremost how to talk to and interact appropriately with a person with a disability. Then we work on whatever the client is going to need – transfers, bowel care – whatever it is. It’s all about developing long-term relationships between the client and the caregiver and setting someone up to achieve what they want out of life.” His agency accepts private insurance and private pay.
You can hear Hall’s radio program, MMA Fight Radio, every Thursday from 6-8PM on NBC Sports Radio, 1060AM and on the web at www.MMAFightRadio.com. Follow him on Twitter, @ShawnDallasHall.
Jennifer Longdon. Contributions by Sara Marmolejo
Writer, Adult Educator, Speaker & Advocate
Jennifer Longdon is known to drink too much coffee, ask too many questions and then write about it. She has served on numerous Boards and Commissions focused on disability advocacy including the Phoenix Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues, the Statewide Independent Living Council and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation Public Impact Panel. Jen has a T-4 spinal cord injury and uses a wheelchair full time. She’s a regular contributor to LivAbility.