COMMENTARY | Once upon a time there was this guy on the Ultimate Fighter that UFC president Dana White described as "terrifying" to the rest of the TUF 17 cast before the season even began.
"We have a guy on this season of The Ultimate Fighter, every fight he's in, someone goes to the hospital," White said during a media luncheon. "The whole house is terrified of this guy."
Most were skeptical until we tuned in and watched Uriah Hall do exactly what White said. A devastating spinning hook-kick separated Adam Cella's body from his spirit in the third episode, and the legend was born.
The hype train gained more steam when Hall broke Bubba McDaniel's face in three places with one punch. And then Hall punctuated his dominance with a vicious ground-and-pound beating over Dylan Andrews to make his way into the TUF Finale. Chael Sonnen declared him as the next top contender in the middleweight division. The media drank the Kool Aid as well as it wondered what would happen if Hall faced Anderson Silva. As if every other middleweight was little more than a stepping stone or potential highlight reel.
And then the big lights came on and everything changed.
It was a foregone conclusion that Hall would steamroll Kevin Gastelum en route to claiming the TUF 17 crown and begin his march toward the middleweight championship. But something about the bright lights of the UFC made Hall a different fighter. Inside of the TUF center, Hall was a savage that ransacked fighter's faces. But the bright lights of an arena proved to be Hall's kryptonite.
Hall changed from grim reaper to the officer friendly against Gastelum and allowed his undersized and lesser talented opponent to earn the split decision victory. Hall admitted that liking Gastelum from their time at the TUF house got to him and affected his performance. The hype train had officially slowed down. But at UFC on Fox Sports 1, not only did the train come to a grinding halt, but it also flew off of the tracks, careened into a brick wall and exploded.
Against John Howard -- whose previous stint in the UFC saw him drop three fights in a row before making his way back into the organization -- Hall again looked as if his mythical powers had betrayed him. But not only that, he seemed more interested in making friends than making highlight reels.
After surprising everyone with a takedown in the opening seconds, Hall looked like he made a conscious effort to not hurt Howard. His strikes didn't have the steam that sent his TUF opponents into the hospital nor did he ever look as if he wanted to win. Something was off about Hall as he was facing an opponent who was a sizable underdog. At any given moment, Hall could have exploded with a salvo of strikes. Instead, he exploded with smiles and high-fives whenever Howard landed a leg kick.
It was very weird. Like Howard figured out how to diffuse the bomb with kindness. During the last 20 seconds, with the fight hanging in the balance, Hall and Howard nodded to each other like they scripted the performance. It was a nod to say "let's give them a show," but Howard already knew that he stole the fight from under Hall's nose. A duped Hall feigned a goofy smile and played along with the charade. The final bell sounded, they embraced (again) and Hall listened as Bruce Buffer announced Howard as the split decision winner. However, just like the Gastelum fight, Hall didn't look the slightest bit disappointed. Usually, when a fighter loses a split decision, their heads explode. Not Uriah Hall.
Nearly eight months have passed since White sang Hall's praises. After his performance at UFC on Fox Sports' inaugural event, White's tune had changed quite a bit.
"If I could take Brad Pickett's brain and heart and put it inside Uriah Hall's body, holy (expletive) there would be some damage done," White said during the post-fight media scrum. "Because Uriah Hall has all the physical attributes to be amazing. He's got speed, he's got power, he's unbelievable. He doesn't have what it mentally takes to fight here."
It's always been clear that Hall had the tools, but what good are the tools if the athlete refuses to put them to use? It is one of those frustrating things that is far worse than a fighter without the unique gifts that Hall possesses. Hall has the goods, but simply cannot pull the trigger. Maybe he's remorseful that he sent those opponents to the hospital. Without somebody bullying him (he said he got into fighting because he was sick of being bullied) or talking about his mother, Hall cannot summon the power to take his opponent out. It's certainly a mental thing.
"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," White said. "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."
What would make sense is getting Hall a psychiatrist to teach him how to unlock his mystical powers. Until then, Superman will forever be just another Clark Kent.
Andreas Hale is a former editor at websites including BET.com and HipHopDX.com. Today, he resides in the fight capital of the world and has covered boxing and MMA for mainstream media outlets such as MTV.com and Jay-Z's LifeandTimes.com, as well as die-hard outlets, including FightNews.com, Fight! Magazine, Ultimate MMA, CagePotato.com and others.
You can follow him on Twitter (@AndreasHale).
- Sports & Recreation
- Martial Arts
- Uriah Hall
- Dana White