Welcome to the first edition of FIVE Matches, a brand new series where current and former Greco-Roman athletes relive some of the most important moments of their careers. Who better to launch such an endeavor on this platform than Dennis Hall?
Hall — co-host of the Five Point Move Podcast and principal consigliere for much of 5PM’s content plan — can stake claim to a body of work that is rivaled by very few of his American contemporaries. The credentials themselves are well-known: in order, Hall earned World bronze (1994), World gold (’95), and Olympic silver (’96). He also collected ten Senior Open titles, a pair of Pan-American Games crowns, and in total appeared in three Olympiads.
But behind all of the achievements and resume highlights were matches that, years later, still carry deep significance — and for various reasons. Hall does not demonstrate too much trouble recalling details from bouts contested long ago (save for his infamous win at the ’00 Olympic Qualifier, naturally). As soon as the parameters regarding this article were pitched, he near instantly had his five ready to discuss. That is because it’s not just the result of the matches that matter, but also the impact they made, or lessons for which they were responsible.
5. Pan-American Olympic Qualifier | Cali, COL | 5.19.2000
“I was warming up with (Brandon) Paulson before the match, and I got a concussion. I know it. I went out and wrestled the finals against (Roberto) Monzon from Cuba and I’m losing to him. But with :10 left, I scored a takedown, and I don’t know how I scored. (Steve) Fraser tells the story that I had a crazy look in my eye and Monzon just gave me the takedown for me to win the match. It was just a hard-fought match with Monzon. I want to get that match and watch it so I could see exactly what happened because I don’t remember much. I remember the lights hurting my eyes and having a little bit of a headache. But I had to go out there because that was our chance to get the weight qualified.
“They told us if we left (the hotel) that we had to go in groups of four. I just hung out at the sauna and would go to the wrestling facility and work out.”
4. Junior World Championships | Wolfurt, AUT | 7.10.1988
“I’m wrestling this guy from Iran. This dude had a full beard, chest hair, and I’m 17-years-old and I’m thinking, Is this guy really my age? But to make a long story short, I’m getting my ass kicked 10-0 — or whatever. He threw me twice. When you get the break between periods I went back to my corner and was like, What’s the guy doing? My coach goes, “I don’t know, just stay out of that position.” That kind of taught me, You know what, man? If you get caught in something once, don’t ever go back to the same position again (laughs). I ended up losing the match but it was a good lesson for me. Don’t be stupid and go back to something if you get caught in it early. Be self-aware and stay out of those positions.
“That match was interesting because it was the first time I wrestled someone who was like a man at the time. Just strong as heck and kind of looked like a man, too. It was good for the fact that I got caught in the same move twice and was almost tech’ed but I came back. I lost by like, two points. But it made me realize that you can’t go back to the same thing if you’re getting beat on the same thing. That was a good lesson for me.”
3. World Championships | Prague, CZE | 10.1.1995
“My third match of the tournament was against (Rifat) Yildiz, the German. That match sticks out in my head. I thought I was pretty strong. I remember one particular point during the match where I’m pummeling with him and he just lifts me up and throws me three feet across the mat. I’m like, Okay, I can’t go toe-to-toe with this guy, I have to go in and out on him. Early in that match I made a mistake. He had put his head down by my side while he was trying to gutwrench me and I pinned his head to my hip thinking I was going to stop him. He gets a two on me, he guts me.
“With probably about :20 or :30 left I had him in a front headlock. I’m losing I think 3-1, and he steps out of bounds to take a break, to take an injury time-out. I remember looking at (Rob) Hermann in the corner and he’s kind of looking down like he doesn’t think I can win. I look over to a couple of coaches at the side of the mat and they’re looking at another match. Nothing from them. I’m looking for guys to see if they’re noticing anything I can do. Then I look up in the crowd and my teammates kind of look away. They’re watching the match, but nobody believed I was going to pull out.
“There were about :20 left when he (Yildiz) got back to his feet, and right away I go straight to Yilidiz’s body from a high dive and put him right to his back. It was a touch fall. I get up, and I’m all excited. It was crazy. I just pinned a two-time World champ and Olympic silver medalist. And I’m still in the running to become a World Champion myself having defeated him. That was a huge match for me confidence-wise. I think the biggest thing it teaches is to never give up. And coaches can’t show disappointment or believe that their guy can’t win. Because, until the last second ticks off the clock you still have a chance to win. I think I proved a lot to the coaches and to myself. The main thing is for the athletes to believe in themselves.”
2. World Championships | Tampere, FIN | 9.8.1994
“That year I wrestled a ton of studs. It was ridiculous. I had China, I had (Seref) Ergolu from Turkey, and then (Mikael) Lindgren, the bronze medalist from the year before. But the match with China (Haibo Zheng) was crazy. We were battling hard. I believe I was losing. I’m not 100% sure. I split my chin open and I remember telling the trainer, “Seal it up, because I got to get back out there.” Because I knew he was tired.
“I don’t know how I pinned him, but I ended up pinning him. The crazy part is that during matches like that, with a lot on the line, you don’t remember things. But the thing I remember is that my conditioning was so good that all these guys couldn’t handle the pace. That’s what happened. I just broke him mentally and physically because of my conditioning that match.”
1. US Olympic Trials | Indianapolis, IN | 5.23.2004
“The reason this stands out so much is just us being great friends. That he was my training partner. We trained together for how many years. The thing about that (third) match is the score is tied 3-3 at the end of regulation and they said all criteria was even. The crazy part is that I figured out a few years back that the criteria wasn’t even. But that put us into overtime and I didn’t think of it because I listened to the referee instead of knowing the rules. I’m just like, Whatever, man, I’ll just do what you tell me.
“Going into overtime, I remember trying to score, and just…being safe, I guess, for the first three minutes. Because, they had it where you went an extra three minutes or until somebody scored. We did those three-minute periods, which took us to the nine-minute mark. After that, they told us we were going into unlimited overtime.
“At that point, I just remember setting in my mind an hour. I wasn’t going to do anything stupid. I was just going to wrestle, wear him down, and break him mentally. That’s what was in my head. And part of the reason why I set it for an hour is because he and I had done ‘grind matches’ in the past, where in an hour, we might only score three times on each other. I just set my mental clock on an hour and thought, Stay in position, hold position, fight and battle, and sooner or later I’d get that winning point. I didn’t worry about my condition because I knew I had done the work to go for an hour.
“We kept battling. There were a lot of opportunities to score, there were a lot of close scores at the edge of the mat. And then finally, at 16:54, I get my two-on-one and redirect his arm towards his outside hip. I catch his hip and drive him out of bounds. I didn’t give the ref the chance to say it wasn’t a takedown. I got up and started celebrating. I believe he called the point as I was taking him out of bounds but I didn’t want there to be any question in the referee’s mind. Sometimes, you have to act a little bit, too.
“I remember ripping Terry Brands’ head off and kind of celebrating the point to win the match. He flies off the stage and I go around hugging the camera man. I don’t know why the hell I did that, but it’s pretty funny looking at later. After I get back on the stage, Brandon is still on the mat. I’m looking at him. I go over and help him up. I remember thinking, Wow, that could be me. I just told him, “Brandon, I love you, man. I’m sorry I had to cut down. You have nothing to be ashamed of, the crowd got their money’s worth.” I wanted him to know that I loved him. I felt horrible for him. But at the same time, I was excited to be on my third Olympic Team.
“It was an emotional match. One of the matches I’ll remember for the rest of my life. There is so much I remember from that match. The mental mistake I made when they gave me the option to put him down or keep him on his feet. If I had kept him on his feet, we never would have went to overtime. So, there were a couple of mistakes I made in the match, but it is what it is. It was a match that I think a lot of people see to this day as one of the best matches ever.”