Column: Grand Rapids MMA fighter works towards stardom

James Herrick, Staff Writer

In the main event of UFC Fight Night, Walker vs. Hill, light heavyweight Jamahal Hill (10-1, 1 NC) found himself in the first main event of his Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) career. He lived up to his nickname of “Sweet Dreams” as he brutally knocked out his opponent, Johnny Walker, in the first round. 

Training out of Black Lion Jiu-Jitsu Academy in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Hill is currently the most successful fighter training out of the city. The Grand Rapids area is not new to the mixed martial arts (MMA) scene as Grand Valley State University alumni Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee have seen success in the sport. However, neither Ferguson nor Lee were actively training out of Grand Rapids during their UFC career. With Hill’s talent and personality, he has the potential to become the first UFC star training out of Grand Rapids. 

The blueprint for achieving stardom in MMA was laid out beautifully by Conor McGregor during his early career. The formula is simple: it takes skill, highlight finishes and a personality that makes fans either love you or hate you. 

Hill’s performance against Walker demonstrates his skill tremendously. This fight was not going to be an easy win for Hill as Walker presented some challenges that can be difficult to overcome. Standing at 6’6” with an 82” reach, Walker is one of the longest fighters in the UFC. To pair with this, Walker has great kicks and fights from an orthodox stance. Hill on the other hand, fights from a southpaw stance. This is crucial as their contrasting stances allow Walker to attack Hill with kicks. 

These challenges were present early in the fight as Walker was using his kicks to stay out of the reach of Hill’s punches. To counter this, Hill switched stances to mirror Walker’s orthodox stance. Hill then slipped a jab from Walker and countered with a massive right hand. This strike sent Walker to the ground as he fell flat on his back and Hill landed another big strike while Walker was on the ground. Before Hill was able to deal out any more damage, the referee stopped the fight. 

Even though Hill defeated Walker in round one, he displayed several traits that prove he belongs with the best of the best. The fact that Hill made this technical adjustment mid-fight displays the fight IQ needed to defeat elite competition. Hill is far from the only fighter that is smart enough to do this; however, few fighters have enough skill to effectively switch stances in this fashion. On top of that, the ability of Hill to finish his opponent with his non-dominant hand is truly unique. 

The skill that Hill demonstrated in this fight is exactly what’s needed to become a champion, meanwhile he added another highlight finish to his already impressive highlight reel. 

Hill’s success didn’t stop in the octagon that night. Hill has a cool, confident and funny personality that was on full display in his post-fight press conference. Hill showed up to the press conference with his son by his side. The pair were both dressed in suits and sunglasses. Many MMA fans loved this moment and Hill received overwhelming support from MMA fans on social media. 

With the fans on his side, Hill’s first main event was a success. He walked away with a victory that showed the potential of UFC stardom. Despite that, many MMA fans are already looking forward to his next performance and are debating who he will fight next. 

After Hill’s knockout of Walker, he earned the no. 10 spot in the UFC light heavyweight rankings. This gives him a handful of opportunities moving forward. As of right now, it seems Hill will be matched up against Dominick Reyes or Volkan Oezdemir. 

Reyes and Oezdemir are ranked 7th and 8th respectively in the UFC light heavyweight division. Both of these fights make sense as Reyes and Oezdemir are each a reasonable step up in competition. Oezdemir is the more likely option as he and Hill have both expressed interest in fighting one another. Reyes on the other hand is the more appealing option as he’s a former title contender and is far more popular. 

A win over either Reyes or Oezdemir would put Hill in title contention at 205 pounds. From there, he may only be a couple of wins away from fighting for a UFC championship. 

At the end of the day, Jamahal Hill has all the necessary tools to become a star in MMA. If his impressive knockouts and likable personality are not enough, a UFC championship would without a doubt make him a superstar and Grand Rapids would have its first UFC champion.