Telling a few white lies or taking advantage of whom somebody knows to get behind the velvet rope more quickly than one is eligible is a time-honored trick, dating back at least to the heyday of the Studio 54 discotheque, and probably much earlier.
In a sporting context, that salesmanship has gained more than one aspiring driver preliminary access inside the pit gate at a racetrack. And yes, a creative few have deemed the tactics well worth their effort to try and break down the locker room door at a boxing or mixed martial arts event.
As a senior at Dirigo High School in Dixfield, Maine, fresh off his second state championship as a wrestler in February 2012, Caleb Hall gave it the not-yet-in-college try with New England Fights co-owner and matchmaker Matt Peterson.
It was more a sin of omission or Hall’s unawareness of the strict requirements than anything else. Neither man asked the all-important question until push came to shove.
“When I was 17, I was texting him, wanting him to get me a fight. He was looking for one, and he found one, actually. Then he found out I was 17,” Hall recalled. “But we had another card that September, and I had just turned 18 in August, so just in time to make it for that card.”
Ten years later, the difference between the wiry, peach-fuzzed native son who had his arm raised in victory after a 51-second choke-out and the chiseled Las Vegas resident who has made the sport his life’s work is mountains versus desert, day versus night, boy versus man.
Hall, undefeated with four first-round stoppages by choke in as many professional fights, will fly home for the main event of “NEF 46: Decade of Dominance” at Aura in Portland, Maine, on February 12th. He will take on Bellator veteran Jerome Mickle (3-10) out of Bronx, New York, to cap off a contentious celebration of the sanctioning body’s 10-year anniversary. Opening bell is set for 7 p.m.
The evening’s subtitle also serves as an apt summary of the resume for Hall, who has been an NEF mainstay since he celebrated that christening of adulthood with a smashing debut victory over John Parker.
Hall fought on ten of NEF’s first 25 cards, punctuating his amateur career with an 8-3 ledger and a championship belt before ascending into the pro ranks.
“I’m inspired by anyone who lives the lifestyle of consistent effort over a long period of time. Caleb Hall has done that since I started watching him compete, from the time he was a teenager,” Peterson said. “He’s done it different than most. He’s plied his trade with meticulous attention to detail. The undefeated results of his record reflect his dedication.”
The seeds of Hall’s future were sown when he caught a glimpse of the fast-growing sport while still wrestling in high school and noted how naturally fighters with his mat acumen adapted to life in the cage.
“When I was early in high school, I started watching it a little bit,” Hall said. “I didn’t know much about it, but I noticed a lot of them had wrestling backgrounds. So, I was like, ‘Hmm, I wonder if I could do that?’”
Unlike his sense of urgency to get that first match under his belt, Hall adopted a much more measured approach to the pace of his amateur career.
He ducked no one, learning from hard lessons in losses to the likes of Josh Harvey and Aaron Lacey, before embarking on another winning streak. Hall hasn’t lost an MMA scrap at any level in his past seven outings, a sequence dating back to 2015.
“I just wanted to make sure I was ready, because there’s no going back once you go pro,” Hall explained. “I just really wanted to be ready, get as much experience as I could so I’d definitely be ready for the first pro fight.
“When I was younger, it was real hard learning striking, coming from a wrestling background. Jiu-jitsu was a little easier. It was tough. I had to train hard. Especially nowadays, you can’t just have a wrestling background. You have to be good everywhere. The sport has evolved so much.”
Hall’s expanding repertoire was evident when he dispatched John Ortolani, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, in his pro debut.
“The opponents have definitely been better, but funny enough, I’ve had an easier time in the pros than the amateurs,” Hall said. “All my fights have ended pretty quickly in the first round.”
In his most recent Maine appearance, “NEF 38: Stormborn” in April 2019, Hall made early work of 100-fight veteran Jay Ellis.
“Caleb is a master of the management of his movement, the words he uses, you name it. He wastes nothing. There’s an economy of movement baked into his style that you only see practiced by the most elite martial artists,” Peterson said. “The force of his top game is second-to-none. His chokes are airtight. When he starts to squeeze you know it’s just a matter of time. He compresses people. In fact, that’s how I refer to him now, as Caleb ‘Compression’ Hall. When he gets on top of someone, he crushes them like a compactor. His pressure is supernatural.”
Hall most recently choked out Shaun Ray in 56-seconds at “NEF 44: Back in Black,” the organization’s post-COVID comeback card in August 2021, held in Milford, New Hampshire.
Although he still does most of his fighting on familiar soil, Hall changed his home base to Nevada a year ago, joining forces with Syndicate MMA.
“For one of my pro fights, I spent a couple weeks in Florida with American Top Team to check it out. Then my next pro fight I came to Vegas for a few weeks, and I liked Vegas a lot better,” Hall said. “I decided if I was going to make it to the next level, I’d have to make the move eventually. There are tons of gyms here, man, It’s the fight capital of the world. It’s been easier to train, no distractions. Just train twice a day. That’s all you’ve got to do.”
Many practitioners of the sport pay lip service to doing whatever it takes to reach national and worldwide acclaim. Having the courage to make the necessary moves and the tunnel vision to deliver the emotional and physical investments upon arrival is another story.
Hall has only thrived since setting aside the comforts of home.
“A key piece of his psychology that has crystallized over the last 10 years is his focus. He’s always in the gym. He’s always advancing his skill,” Peterson said. “Even during the downtime between scheduled fights, he doesn’t miss workouts. That’s a crucial aspect of how Caleb derives his edge. His jiu-jitsu, his physique, his intensity — he demonstrates improvement every fight. Caleb is always upgrading his game.”
The toughness of his training partners leaves Hall little choice in the matter.
“When I was in Maine, after work I would go to training. You wouldn’t be training with pro fighters. One or two, maybe. It’s mostly just hobbyists,” Hall said. “Out here, everyone’s a pro fighter, and a lot of them are pretty high level. So, it was tough at first. When you step in, you’ve definitely got to be ready to go, because everyone here is so good.”
Being in the shadow of so many historic venues, surrounded by the echoes of prizefighting legends past, is all the inspiration Hall needs to stay laser-focused on his ultimate goal.
“At this point, every win could get you the call to the next level. That’s what motivates me in training. It can come at any minute, especially now that I’m in Vegas. I’m right there,” Hall said. “Of course, you’re never truly ready to fight. It’s just your turn. You know what I mean? You can never do enough training. You’re just next.”
It’s an attitude that surprises nobody who has known Hall through his highly decorated, multi-sport youth or his climb through the ranks of the sport that has consumed his young adulthood.
“I like him because he embodies that River Valley work ethic. He’s no nonsense. He doesn’t talk — he delivers,” Peterson said. “It’s the beauty of that blue-collar mentality that defines the Western Maine region that he’s from. He goes to work every day in the gym. He’s chipped away, and that steadiness has compounded over the course of 10 years.”
Hall will christen NEF’s new decade and the next phase of his own career against a crafty striker and a similar physical specimen who won’t budge.
True to form, he’s more concerned with the man in the mirror than the one on his computer screen.
“I watch a little tape, but I mostly focus on what I want to do rather than my opponents,” Hall said. “I feel like it’s the best approach. Just worry about yourself. That’s all you can control. You can’t control what they do.”
Doors open at Aura for “NEF 46: Decade of Dominance” at 6 p.m. on Saturday, February 12, 2022. Tickets make great holiday gifts and are on sale now at www.Ticketmaster.com.