As of press time, Richard Hale's inverted triangle choke of Nik Fekete at Bellator 38 had garnered 224,000 views on YouTube. But those 224,000 views represent more than just a number for the 25-year old Hale. It's a symbol of all his hard work finally paying off.
Originally scheduled to be an alternate in the light-heavyweight tournament, Hale, a four-year veteran of the sport, said he was going to take the opportunity because he's been waiting for a door to open, even if it was only a bit of light shining through.
Hale, though, was given the opportunity to be in the main draw and certainly made the most of it, knocking off a tournament favorite in Fekete in highlight reel fashion.
"It's outstanding," Hale said Tuesday on Bloody Elbow Radio. "This is all new. It's sinking in and everything else. I was just down at the gas station and I had a guy come up to me and ask, 'Hey, aren't you that Richard Hale guy from Bellator?' and I was like, 'Uhh, that's me!' It's pretty outstanding. I feel like I'm finally getting that recognition. I believe I'm an outstanding fighter, I do believe in my abilities and working hard and living my dream and doing what I love. It's nice to have the acknowledgement from everybody and the respect everybody shows is greatly appreciated."
To see that acknowledgement, you need go no further than YouTube. In what appears to be Hale's most recent fight on the site, a third-round guillotine choke win over Mike Zanski at Rage in the Cage 140, the difference in the amount of views is staggering. In 10 months, that win over Zanski has amassed less than 400 views, a stark departure to the world he now lives in.
The story of how Hale came up with the inverted triangle is quite incredible in itself. The inspiration came straight from Toby Imada's highlight reel finish of Jorge Masvidal in 2009.
"I was actually just watching it at the weigh-ins the night before," Hale said. "I was thinking how impressive it was and it just sort of presented itself. It was fresh on my mind and I took advantage of it, locked it in and the rest is history.
"I really like to be innovative and try new things. It's the stuff you try new that's going to catch people because they're not used to seeing it or defending it and everything else. That's the stuff that works."
Hale said Fekete did a good job of picking him up but it was when the two went back to the ground that his eyes got real big and he knew he was on the cusp of something special.
"It honestly surprised me," Hale said.
"It was like, 'Holy cow this is really working. I'm really pulling this off right now.' I know I put in the time and the hard work for training going into the fight and I knew I was going to be an underdog. I was just about putting on an outstanding performance and I'm not going to lie, I even impressed myself to be honest."
The fight was the biggest of Hale's 20-fight career after spending much of his time fighting for Rage in the Cage in Arizona. The win advances him in the Bellator light-heavyweight tournament and he'll meet D.J. Linderman in a semifinal bout at Bellator 42 on April 23. The winner advances to the tournament final to crown a Bellator light-heavyweight champion.
"I'm definiately the type of fighter that rises to the occasion," Hale said. "Going through Rage in the Cage, they had good shows, but the level of opponent they got for me wasn't necessarily high. So getting the opportunity to go against a Division I wrestler in Nik Fekete, an outstanding opponent who was undefeated at the time ... it feels great. I felt like I was at home, it felt like it was the right place for me."
You can hear the full interview with Hale, where we go over how he got his start in MMA, transitioning from bodybuilding and more on Tuesday's edition of Bloody Elbow Radio. On the show, we also spoke with Stephen Quadros and Jorge Santiago.