The world may have only seen bits and pieces of the real Uriah Hall Saturday night. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
The anointment process began in earnest not long after Episode 3 of “The Ultimate Fighter 17” hit the airwaves.
Uriah Hall’s spinning heel kick knockout of Adam Cella was breathtaking in its sheer brutality, a highlight-reel finish that inspired both awe and fear at the same time. Hall, a titleholder in the New Jersey-based Ring of Combat promotion, would prove that he was no one-hit wonder. He ran roughshod over Bubba McDaniel, the reality show’s most experienced competitor, in his next fight, dropping the Texan with a knee and counter right hook in just nine seconds. As McDaniel clutched his eye in agony on the canvas, two-time middleweight title challenger and 205-pound championship hopeful Chael Sonnen walked over to Hall and simply said: “You’re a contender, Uriah, for the title.”
Usually a master of ridiculous hyperbole, Sonnen appeared to be far removed from his usual used-car-salesman-on-a-three-day-weekend persona. It was a quiet, honest exchange between a coach and his promising charge. Instead of selling us something, as Sonnen has so obviously tried to do with his legitimacy as a light heavyweight title contender, the “Gangster from West Linn” was buying in.
By then, it was but a mere formality that Hall would be standing in the Octagon at “The Ultimate Fighter 17” Finale; against whom seemed far less important. After Hall stopped Dylan Andrews in the semifinals, Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White added more fuel to an already-blazing inferno of hype.
“[Hall] is the nastiest, deadliest, meanest kid that we have ever seen in the history of ‘TUF,’” White said.
Through eight years, “The Ultimate Fighter” has offered its share of empty promises. For example, remember when it seemed as if each episode of Season 10 teased the impending return of Internet curiosity Kimbo Slice? Tired themes, monotonous pranks and a limited talent pool all contributed to diminishing returns for the long-running series. When White claimed that the 17th iteration of the program would feature one fighter that would “scare the living [expletive] out of everyone” in the house, it was easy to be skeptical.
These days, most any prospect worth his salt is going to bypass the physically and mentally draining ordeal of having his normal training routine interrupted to live in a house full of cameras and fighters for six weeks. The UFC holds far more events now, 32 in 2012, than it did when “The Ultimate Fighter” debuted in 2005, when only 10 were held. Generally speaking, that means that if a fighter has a modicum of talent and appeal, matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby probably already know about him. For many, it is better to make one’s name on a Facebook prelim than on Tuesday or Wednesday night on cable television.
Hall is the nastiest, deadliest, meanest kid that we have ever seen in the history of ‘TUF.’
This is the part where you should have rewound your DVR and replayed White’s comments for clarity purposes. In terms of sheer dominance on taped, two-round fights, perhaps White is on point. Former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans was more maddening than mean and nasty on Season 2. Just ask Matt Hughes. Forrest Griffin, a Season 1 trailblazer and another ex-205-pound titlist, purveyed more of an everyman image than that of a killer on the show’s inaugural season; and castmate Diego Sanchez certainly had his moments of dominance, but you did not see Stephan Bonnar backing down from the eccentric New Mexican when he felt “The Dream” was monopolizing the asparagus in the house.
All joking aside, “The Ultimate Fighter” has produced its share of accomplished fighters, but many took White’s statement as affirmation that Hall would surpass every one of them. It was a premature notion if there ever was one. In terms of sheer talent and depth, there is no season like the first. Years from now, will we remember Cella, McDaniel and Andrews as a murderer’s row of opposition that catapulted Hall to superstardom in the UFC? The guess here is probably not.
On Saturday, Hall fought like a man who felt as if he had already arrived. The overwhelming favorite dropped his hands and stood with his back against the cage on several occasions, daring the unheralded Kelvin Gastelum to attack. It was a poor man’s rendition of a technique used by middleweight king Anderson Silva, and Hall was less than efficient in its execution.
It seemed that Hall, in his first official UFC appearance, was far more successful in his mimicry of Alistair Overeem’s arrogance against Antonio Silva than he was in matching any in-cage feat performed by “The Spider.” The outcome was telling, as a solid-but-not-spectacular Gastelum was able to consistently get inside on his more athletic foe and turn the tide with his unyielding tenacity. If the rest of the Season 17 cast was afraid of Hall, as White claims, then Gastelum proved he was in the impressive minority.
For his efforts, the Arizonan earned a split-decision to become the youngest “Ultimate Fighter” winner ever. For Hall, there were brief flashes of his considerable talent, like the powerful suplex he unleashed in round two. However, the New Yorker failed to utilize his lightning-quick jab consistently and spent much of the contest on his heels. Silva will have to wait, perhaps forever.
“I was trying to have some fun, man,” Hall said at the post-fight press conference. “A big part of it was it was it was kind of hard, too. I trained with the guy, and I like him. It was kind of that emotion I was trying to get rid of, so it was kind of weird. Going in the ring, I was like, ‘S---, here we go again.’ That side just kind of got the best of me, but there’s no excuse.”
White, meanwhile, maintained that Hall deserves the pre-fight accolades he had received. In the UFC boss’ mind, something was amiss on fight night.
“People on Twitter were calling for a fight with him and Anderson Silva already. And he deserved the hype,” White said on Fuel TV. “The question becomes, can you handle the pressure? And what it looked like to me was, when he came out tonight, he folded under the pressure like he didn’t even want to be in there. He didn’t even wake up until the second round. And we saw hints, little pieces of Uriah Hall tonight, but that’s about it. And Kelvin came out ready to take him out.”
No matter how strong and convincing the promotional vehicle might be -- and “The Ultimate Fighter,” thanks to Fox’s backing, is plenty powerful -- hints and pieces are not the stuff of future champions. In fact, they are not even enough to get the best of a hungry opponent like Gastelum.
Someday, we may very well see Hall ascend the middleweight ladder, because the skill set -- though unpolished -- is there. Until then, it is best to learn to differentiate between hype and substance.