Preview: UFC on ESPN 28 ‘Hall vs. Strickland’ - Hall vs. Strickland

By: Tom Feely
Jul 30, 2021

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UFC on ESPN 28 could wind up as an entertaining event once the smoke clears on Saturday at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, but it would be difficult to make the argument that this is not one of the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s weakest cards of the year. On the plus side, the main event has some stakes, as the Uriah Hall-Sean Strickland winner will be well-positioned in a wide-open middleweight division. The co-headliner between Kyung Ho Kang and Rani Yahya should also prove to be a fun bout between two of the UFC’s most underrated bantamweights, but beyond those two fights, there is a mix of low stakes and ugly stylistic matchups that make it hard to recommend the rest of this main card on paper.

Now to the preview for the UFC on ESPN “Hall vs. Strickland” main card:

Middleweights

#8 MW | Uriah Hall (17-9, 10-7 UFC) vs. #11 MW | Sean Strickland (23-3, 10-3 UFC)

ODDS: Strickland (-220), Hall (+180)

The nature of his last win is the latest turn in the wild ride that has been Hall’s UFC career. His run through “The Ultimate Fighter 17” house was one of the more fascinating individual journeys for a fighter over the course of the series. Hall put together a highlight reel of violent finishes that had people talking about him as an immediate title contender, all while Hall himself—a former victim of bullying—struggled to cope with the damage he was capable of dealing to his fellow man. The hype for Hall had gotten firmly out of control by the time the season finale rolled around, though that momentum quickly died after his first two UFC performances. Relative unknown Kelvin Gastelum dragged the favored Hall into an ugly split decision that went the underdog’s way, and “Primetime” followed that with a flat loss against late replacement John Howard in which he never turned up his aggression. That led to Hall being one of the most frustrating fighters on the entire UFC roster. While the Fortis MMA rep remains capable of some awe-inspiring moments of violence, those bursts have historically needed to be brought out of him, as Hall’s default state has traditionally been to engage in a slow-paced sparring match. By the time Hall lost to Paulo Costa in 2018, it seemed like he would never turn the corner. While he had pulled off a classic Hall comeback against Krzysztof Jotko a few months prior, the Costa loss marked his fourth defeat in five outings. Naturally, Hall has rebounded with the longest winning streak of his UFC career. In accordance with the rest of his UFC run, it is impossible to know exactly what to make of this four-fight run. Only his split decision victory over Antonio Carlos Jr. was particularly promising, as that was a clear example of Hall consciously making more of an effort to stay aggressive and take the initiative. His win over Bevon Lewis, which kickstarted this four-fight winning streak, was the usual affair that saw Hall eventually get bullied into a comeback, and his last two wins are not exactly replicable. His fight against Anderson Silva was exactly the type of emotion-filled affair to bring all of Hall’s issues to the forefront, and his last win came after Chris Weidman horrifically broke his leg just 17 seconds into the fight. That adds yet another wrinkle into the eternal question of where Hall fits mentally at this point in his career, but he has a major opportunity to continue his winning ways against Strickland.

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California’s Strickland has had a much cleaner rise through the ranks, though “Tarzan” has had to face his own setbacks along the way. Strickland was not a particularly hyped prospect upon his UFC debut in 2014, but he quickly made a name for himself with a victory over the much higher-profile Luke Barnatt in his second Octagon bout. Strickland’s counter-heavy style still did not do much to make him any sort of potential star, but after derailing Tom Breese in June 2016, it was hard to deny that Strickland would be a welterweight contender to watch. It did not quite work out that way. First, Strickland hit a clear wall over the next two years, as losses to Kamaru Usman and Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos seemed to cap his ceiling at 170 pounds. Then came a 2018 motorcycle accident that threatened Strickland’s career, requiring major knee surgery before he could make a comeback. Strickland spent two years on the shelf, but he apparently put the time to good use. Along with moving back to middleweight, Strickland showed off the most effective form of his career, having developed a more aggressive style that sought to overwhelm his opponents in volume, both in terms of offense and his newfound propensity to talk trash to his opponents. Strickland has now won three straight at 185 pounds to go undefeated since his comeback, and he will be firmly in the contender mix if he beats Hall.

It is difficult to ever have confidence in Hall, but this matchup seems surprisingly readymade for him to walk away with a knockout. Again, the key for Hall is to have his aggression brought out of him, typically by some sort of external trigger from his opponent, often in the form of his beginning to feel bullied. Strickland has exactly the type of style to bring that out, as he applies pressure, throws volume and perhaps most importantly talks to his opponent while he does so. Also, Strickland’s approach does not have much defense built in; as part of his efforts to throw out more offense, Strickland is an extremely upright fighter who often looks to dodge his opponent’s offense rather than defend it outright. Strickland has already eaten one spinning wheel kick knockout from Zaleski dos Santos, so with 25 minutes to work with, it seems likely that Hall will find both the motivation and the opening to land some fight-ending moment of offense. The pick is Hall via third-round knockout.

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