All signs pointed to Uriah Hall being the newest man to be given the title of "Ultimate Fighter" after this most recent season of Ultimate Fighting Championship's (UFC) trademark reality show. He was a physical specimen, and his skills a sight to behold, leading most to believe he was truly something special.
Uriah is something special. Well, at least he should be.
Watching his fight against Kelvin Gastelum at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 17 Finale (watch it again here), one thing was painfully clear -- Uriah was nervous. You could see it in his eyes and in his body language, and as the fight wore on, it didn't get any better.
He was tense, submissive, and nowhere near the phenom he was expected to be.
Walking towards Kelvin with his hands down from the get-go was not cockiness from Hall, but rather a glimpse into just how lost he was. This wasn't the confident style we've seen utilized by Anderson Silva so many times, it was us watching Hall make every attempt to feel comfortable in such a high-pressure situation.
We've seen this before, most notably when Hall fought Chris Weidman in Ring of Combat (ROC).
In that case, it wasn't the stage that brought him so much pressure, but his opponent, as Chris was already receiving some hype as a potentially huge fixture in the middleweight division. Hall fought defensively and tentatively, completely unable to mount any significant offense even when openings were there for him.
The pressure made him crumble, because his mind is just not up to par for a high-level fighter. On TUF 17, his personality shone through, as he was abrasive and off-putting, despite a good nature, and this was because he didn't know how to handle himself at times.
He said some downright cruel things to take the social pressure off himself, and that just made things worse.
That's how he fights when the pressure is on. If he's incapable of controlling everything, he can barely even control himself, so he hides behind superfluous techniques in a futile attempt to get rid of the pressure. When that backfires, it makes him look cocky, which is really anything but the truth.
Uriah Hall losing to Kelvin Gastelum was not a result of Uriah believing in his own hype.
It was a result of Uriah failing under the pressure of fighting an opponent who gameplanned for him perfectly on the biggest stage of his career. When Kelvin took the center of the Octagon and stayed in Uriah's face, he was never able to settle into the fight, and that led him to fighting with no sense of urgency or any significant offense.
This is not news.
Chael Sonnen pointed out these flaws in Uriah's mindset on this season of TUF, and he couldn't have been more right. The only thing stopping Uriah Hall is Uriah Hall, and even though Kelvin Gastelum fought exactly as he should have against him, I have no doubt that Uriah would've at least made the fight more competitive if there wasn't such pressure on him.
If Hall can ever overcome this, he'll need a damned good sports psychologist to help him.
I am and will always be a huge fan of his, but no matter how good of a fighter he may become, he'll never sniff the top of the division if he can't handle the pressure of big fights. This isn't the first time this has happened to him, but if he gets it under control, maybe it'll be the last.
For such a talented athlete, one can only hope this will be a thing of the past for him, but for now, it's something he has to deal with. Uriah Hall has the makings of a top-notch middleweight, but until his mentality can match his physical and technical ability, he will continue to fail when the pressure is on.