Have you heard the one about Uriah Hall being the living incarnation of a video game character, akin to something you’d find on Tekken or Mortal Kombat?
The UFC middleweight has long been touted for his uncanny and devastating striking ever since debuting on the cast of The Ultimate Fighter season 17, but having posted a lackluster 4-3 record inside the Octagon, it’s time to see who Hall really is. That opportunity will come on September 26, when he faces number-six ranked Gegard Mousasi at Japan’s Saitama Super Arena.
Uriah Hall has become one of those misunderstood success stories in UFC. He’s shown major potential with his almost cartoon-esque kicking ability. Yet despite all of Hall’s promise, it’s difficult to rationalize how a fighter with such mediocre numbers, who has repeatedly stumbled in competition, has been able to ascend up the ranks and command the attention of an opponent like Mousasi. Perhaps it’s the intangibles that keep the MMA world glued to the moves of Uriah Hall; perhaps it’s because he seems so much more accomplished than a second-tier middleweight and TUF runner up.
Back in early 2013, when Hall was a cast member on TUF, he was, hands down, the most exciting athlete on season that included Kelvin Gastelum, Josh Samman, Zak Cummings, and Luke Barnatt. Hall, who had already racked up cage time against middleweight champ Chris Weidman and Costas Philippou on the regional circuit, seemingly hook kicked his way into the public eye, and ever since, everyone has been waiting for the Jamaica native to unleash some otherworldly spinning finishing move. The results have yet to show up in pro competition.
Advancing to the TUF 17 finale, Hall was flustered and neutralized by a smothering Gastelum, and it soon became apparent that there were ways to make his quick and dynamic strikes null and void. Hall would lose his second straight UFC appearance to John Howard, and it soon felt possible that this prospect might be given the boot back to the minors.
Then, in a do-or-die match with Chris Leben, Hall beat the veteran so badly, that Leben opted to retire from MMA competition altogether, on the stool, before the third round.
Hall looked phenomenal against Leben, throwing and landing accurate punches and kicks. And for his next fight, Hall would demonstrate the balls, determination, and grit necessary to succeed in the UFC, as evidenced by his win over Thiago Santos on a severely broken and mangled toe. His performance was actually a major bright spot on a UFC 175 card, and no longer would people be questioning Hall’s heart and desire to fight.
It looked like Uriah Hall had finally found his stride, putting a hurting on late replacement Ron Stallings in January 2015. But again, his train was derailed, this time against fellow New Yorker Rafael Natal, who earned a split verdict over a timid and gun shy Hall at UFC 187.
Was this really the same guy who knocked Adam Cella into oblivion just two years earlier? Or was there something intrinsically wrong with Uriah Hall’s approach, something that was blocking him from true success in the UFC? And more importantly, would Hall ever be able to implement his game against a smothering opponent, who would close the distance on his striking range?
In reality, all three of Hall’s UFC losses have come via split decision on the subjective judge’s scorecards, so it’s not as if he’s taken any tremendous beatings inside the cage, or suffered any definitive losses. But it’s still tough to fathom how Hall has basically improved his standing and exposure—the fight with Mousasi will be his first co-main event—by losing close bouts.
Then again, he’s managed to stay ready, and has repeatedly attempted to step in to short-notice fights following losses, much like Benson Henderson did to earn a bout with Brandon Thatch following a loss to Donald Cerrone in January, or Neil Magny will do this weekend againt Erick Silva, despite losing to Demian Maia just three weeks ago.
Hall’s readiness and willingness to fight has helped erase some of his missteps. And the bout against Mousasi can, potentially, be a massive coming out party.
A former Strikeforce champion and perennial top-10 middleweight, Mousasi is easily the most dangerous opponent Hall has faced to date. Hall does own a speed advantage over Mousasi, but the Dutchman is smart on his feet, technical on the ground, and has a wealth of experience on his side. Mousasi also owns wins over Dan Henderson, Mark Hunt, Jacare Souza, and Mark Munoz, which blows Hall’s win resume out of the water.
Hall is, of course, filling in for an injured Roan Carneiro, so it’s not as if Joe Silva has just subjectively propelled him up the matchmaking ladder. But there appeared to be other interesting opponents out there for Mousasi—Tim Kennedy, Derek Brunson, and Michael Bisping (who has since signed on to fight Robert Whittaker at UFC 193) all come to mind.
Perhaps it’s just that Hall seemed to be a natural fit for the Japanese audience. Japan is the birthplace of Tekken after all.
But which Uriah Hall will show up on September 26? Will it be the wheel kicking, action star we’ve been promised ever since Hall hit the big time? Or will it be the fighter who failed to deliver against Natal and John Howard, delivering lackluster performances against superior grapplers?
The well-rounded Mousasi may, in fact, be the ideal opponent to bring out the best in Hall. The Dutchman’s game is so unpredictable that Hall will have no way to prepare and implement his gameplan. He will have to learn to react in adverse situations, and either sprawl his way out jiu jitsu range or manage to roll to safety and back to his feet.
So let’s finally see it Uriah Hall. Become the fighter you’ve promised since those devastating knockouts on TUF, and show the world that you’re no one-trick pony. And, if you only have one thing up your sleeve, make sure you rifle off your kicks with aplomb and deliver something special.
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