Nine years after TUF knockout, has Uriah Hall conquered his demons?

In November of 2012, Uriah Hall announced his presence to the national MMA audience with the best knockout in the history of The Ultimate Fighter. In the elimination round of The Ultimate Fighter season 17, Hall, then 28-years old, knocked out poor Adam Cella with a spinning wheel kick that left Cella convulsing on the canvas for minutes. A gym full of shocked (or scared) fighters and various UFC officials fell silent.

The knockout catapulted Hall to the top of Dana White’s list of promotional darlings. He showered Hall with much-deserved praise, dubbing him the “next” Anderson Silva.

Now nearly nine full years later, Hall finds himself ranked no. 8 in the middleweight division, on the longest win streak of his UFC tenure and in the main event of UFC Vegas 33 opposite Sean Strickland. After receiving such lofty praise before he even officially appeared in the UFC, has Hall finally lived up to his potential? Is he the Anderson Silva-esque knockout artist he was marked as in 2012?

First and foremost, those comparisons to Anderson Silva were not only unfair and inaccurate, but lazy. Hall and Silva are both dark-skinned fighters with excellent kicking games, but the comparison ends there. Although he was always respectful, Silva was a showman with a mean streak; he’s a fighter that performs violence in style and enjoys every second of it. Hall, on the other hand, has always seemed to struggle with the hurt he’s capable of causing — an empathetic knockout artist.

Hall’s knockout of Cella is telling. After a brief celebration, Hall’s demeanor quickly flips to somber once he realizes just how seriously he’s hurt Cella. As Cella is helped to his feet, Hall stands motionless with a look of fear on his face. He had the look of a man grappling with the inherent moral dilemma of combat sports.

Kelvin Gastelum defeated Hall in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter in what was a substantial upset. Hall then lost his next bout to veteran John Howard, landing him oh-so close to being cut from the UFC just months after he had been tabbed as the next big thing.

The Middle Years

From 2013 to 2018, Uriah Hall was consistently put in relevant fights, but failed to win consistently. He racked up a 6-5 record after his loss to Howard. Fans were quick to write him off as another over-hyped headcase or as talented fighter that simply couldn’t get out of his own way. Some thought Hall was capable of reaching the highest levels of the sport but lacked the mental fortitude when it mattered the most.

These assessments are, of course, oversimplifications. But it’s worth noting that they have their basis in reality. A 2015 split decision loss to grappling specialist Rafael Natal saw Hall hesitant to unleash his full offensive arsenal, waiting too long to pull the proverbial trigger. Against former title challenger Paulo Costa, Hall spent the better part of six minutes landing jabs at will on Costa, only to tire in the second round, losing by TKO.

Hall’s run through that time wasn’t without its high points, though. In 2014, he fought through a grotesquely mangled and obviously broken toe to win a decision over would-be light heavyweight title challenger Thiago Santos, proving his mettle. In 2015, Hall reminded us of his ability to change the fight in an instant. He knocked out Gegard Mousasi with a spinning kick followed by a barrage of punches.

Hall hasn’t lost since his July 2018 bout with Costa. Since then, he’s won four straight against steadily improving competition. Ironically, while this four-fight run might be the best of Hall’s career, his biggest victories have once again forced him to grapple with the inevitable outcome him winning – the other man losing.

On Halloween day of 2020, Uriah Hall defeated his idol and one-time comparator, Anderson Silva. It was the last fight of Silva’s UFC career; he was 45-years old and looked like it. The constant showman, Silva was able to make the bout entertaining before succumbing to a flurry of Hall’s punches in the fourth round.

After the fight, a sobbing Hall fell to his knees and apologized to Silva. It was the biggest symbolic win of Hall’s career, a win over the unfair standard of a fighter to which he had been held in 2012. He was overcome with emotion, struggling again with what he had done to an opponent.

Six months later, Hall faced former champion Chris Weidman and was again forced to confront the consequences of fighting. Just seconds into the fight, Weidman threw a kick that Hall instinctively defended by raising his own shin. The defense shattered Weidman’s shin in two pieces, making Hall the first fighter in UFC history to win a fight without throwing a single strike.

After the fight, a pensive Hall struggled for words.

“Honestly, there’s not much to say, it just, sucks.”

UFC Vegas 33: Hall vs. Strickland

On Saturday at UFC Vegas 33, Uriah Hall will face no. 11-ranked middleweight Sean Strickland. The win likely won’t earn Hall a title shot; he’s had too many slip-ups in his career for the UFC to give him a quick or easy path to the title. The win might not even put him in a number-one contender fight, as the top of that division remains crowded. But what a win will do is further solidify that Hall has moved past mental blocks that plagued him throughout his career.

Hall is a fighter that knows he’s excellent at what he does, but struggles with the fact that what he does is cause harm. Did that struggle, sometimes mislabeled as a “lack of killer instinct,” hold him back in particular fights? Only Hall knows that. But given the nature of his last two wins – one over his idol and one in which he crippled his opponent with a defensive technique – it’s a question that Hall has certainly been forced to address.

Is Hall now living up to the hype he was given following his knockout of Adam Cella in 2012? That question misses the point. It’s unfair to judge Hall’s career in terms of living up to potential because he was tagged with unrealistic expectations from the jump. Rather, Hall’s career up to this point should be judged as it is: a winding path of ups and downs. Where that path goes next depends on Saturday night.

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