Momentarily considered the best middleweight prospect in all of mixed martial arts, Uriah Hall faces a stiff test Saturday in Saitama, Japan. The stiffest of his decade-long career, to be exact.
Not only that, but he faces an opportunity to finally prove all of his brief supporters right and cement himself as a contender at 185 pounds under the UFC banner.
His status as a future contender was all but an afterthought during his stint in the 17th season of The Ultimate Fighter. Running past Adam Cella, Bubba McDaniel and Dylan Andrews under amateur competitions inside the confines of the TUF training facility in Las Vegas, the world was — at least — ready to crown “Primetime” the season’s victor. Under the influence of their highest praises for the striking savant, fans around the world – at most — prematurely envisioned a dream matchup between Hall and then-UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
But as fate would have it, the unstoppable version of Uriah Hall disappeared under the bright lights of the Octagon. In a matter of 15 minutes, “Primetime” failed to prove himself on the biggest stage of his career. Losing to TUF 17 winner Kelvin Gastelum — a younger, less experienced fighter who immediately deemed himself too small for the middleweight’s best before moving down to 170 pounds — wasn’t necessarily a defeat that discredited all of Hall’s accomplishments. It would, however, remain as the foundation forced to bear the weight all of the criticisms surrounding the 31-year-old middleweight.
He was too nice, it seemed. We saw it in his bout with Gastelum. We saw it in the split-decision loss that followed against John Howard. Those sentiments are not unique to this column’s author — they belong to the UFC president, as well.
UFC president Dana White told the media following Hall’s loss to Howard in August 2013 (h/t MMAFighting):
“I love Uriah Hall. I have a great relationship with this kid. He’s one of the nicest human beings you can ever meet. He’s not a fighter, man.
“Its a mental thing,” White said. “He was this killer on TUF, and then he comes into the big show where it really matters and this is going to make your livelihood and everything else, and he turns into this different person. This super nice guy. He was telling me after the Kelvin fight ‘I really like him, he’s a really nice guy. OK, well that really nice guy just took everything you wanted. Do you get what I’m saying, does that make sense to you? I guess it doesn’t make sense to him.”
With a fire lit underneath him by one of the most influential voices the sport has to offer, Hall sought to regain his status as a viable prospect at 185 pounds. A relatively successful venture thus far, it seems, seeing as he’s gone 4-1 in the five bouts that followed the loss to “Doomsday” Howard at UFC Fight Night 26.
He’s taken out veterans whilst sporting a gruesomely broken toe. He’s taken out eager newcomers whilst sporting perfectly healthy toes, too.
But he’s never faced a fighter quite like the one he’s scheduled to meet at the Saitama Super Arena at UFC Fight Night 75. A former DREAM middleweight champion. A former DREAM light heavyweight champion. A former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion. Those are just some of the bullet points resting on the resume Gegard Mousasi first started piecing together more than 12 years ago.
Defeating a fighter known as the “ex-” often offers mixed martial artists some semblance of credibility. But Mousasi’s also currently the division’s sixth-ranked fighter, and that could lead to big things for Hall if he finds himself victorious in the Land of the Rising Sun.
With that sort of trophy comes a stiff task, though. One doesn’t earn his stripes without, you know, actually earning his stripes.
So, can Hall do it? It’s tough to say, really. Just six weeks removed from his last Octagon appearance — a patient, but undeniably tactful performance that saw him defeat an attack-heavy Oluwale Bambgose in under three minutes — Hall might just be in the right state of mind to keep the ball rolling. He’ll need that same sort of approach in taking on Mousasi, who sports one of the sport’s most patient approaches to striking.
All we know for now is that “Primetime” can ill-afford to falter on primetime once again.