Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a sport that requires the utmost in physical ability and technical prowess. And while many of the top fighters are very talented and skilled athletes, they don't necessarily fall under the category of "special." Of course, natural talents like B.J. Penn have found their way into the sport, but even his God-given ability showed its limits.
What is truly rare is a fighter with incredible physical and technical gifts who also has the work ethic to allow his skills to grow beyond what can be expected of most men. However, on this season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), we were shown one man who fits the bill.
That man was Uriah Hall, the highly rated destroyer of worlds Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) President Dana White had been touting in secrecy before the season even started. His physical stature and athleticism have made him an imposing fighter throughout the season, but the way he uses it is what really makes him so dangerous. He is rightfully the favorite going into his TUF 17 Finale bout with Kelvin Gastelum tonight (Sat., April 13, 2013), which takes place at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, and with his incredible natural talent and athleticism, there is really only one thing standing in his way:
Indeed, Hall is not a typical fighter. He is a very cerebral one, and in fights, you can see him breaking down exactly what to do next. However, from the outside it is clear that sometimes his intense nature creates a lot of stress for him, and that's what has led to his failures.
Hall only has two career losses, both of which come to fighters whose names you may have heard of -- Chris Weidman and Constantinos Philippou. These two men were some of the top dogs on the regional fight scene Hall where Hall cut his teeth, New Jersey's Ring of Combat (ROC) series.
I don't want to take away from their wins over Hall, but in both of those fights, it appeared that something was off. Hall wasn't fighting to his potential. Be it because of some kind of fear or because they were simply more difficult opponents to take on, it was clear that Hall could not fight how we are so used to seeing him.
These fights also showed one other flaw that has shown itself in some of Hall's other fights -- he isn't too hard to hit. His main defense is his blistering offense, keeping opponents on their heels with swift attacks and unpredictability, but when the fight slows down, he doesn't always show the skills to defend himself properly.
In addition, this weakness emerges when Hall is pressured. When fighting backward, he does know to circle out rather than back straight up, but his head movement and hand placement leave his head as an easy target for pursuing opponents. This was noticeably a problem in his 2010 loss to current No. 1 UFC Middleweight contender, the aforementioned Weidman, and it lead to the finishing sequence when "All American" landed a lunging left hook that dropped Hall.
Of course, this is a problem with a fairly simple solution, which is for Hall to keep his hands up and to move his head. That's easier said than done, obviously, and it's definitely something to keep in mind with a fighter who brings such a frenetic attack as Gastelum does.
For most people that have paid attention to TUF 17, a Hall win seems like it's the only plausible result for the finals. However, this fight may be out of his hands if he can't step in with the right mindset and if he's not anticipating Gastelum's pressure.
Ultimately, Hall is the rightful favorite to win this fight, but in the words of his coach from this season, Chael Sonnen, "Failure is always an option." Hall is a super athlete and a technically gifted fighter, but his weakness of mind and poor defense may find him asking his cornermen what happened as Gastelum's hand is raised by the referee.
Hall is a fighter with tremendous upside, but a fight he's favored in tonight in "Sin City" is anything but guaranteed victory. At the top of his game, Hall could be a "special" fighter, and he'll have to show that this weekend. Gastelum should not be overlooked, but Hall is the "Fighter to Watch" because he appears to have the potential to do big things in the division if he wins this fight.