This Saturday night (July 5, 2014), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) middleweights Uriah Hall and Thiago Santos will square off on the main card of UFC 175, airing live at 10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view (PPV) from Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 17 Finalist Hall was last seen demolishing grizzled veteran Chris Leben at UFC 168, a fight where his job was on the line. Despite the massive striking potential he exhibited on the show, Dana White admonished Hall for not being a "fighter" after lackluster performances against in his first two UFC bouts.
Hall went a long way towards silencing those critics against Leben, but the road to relevancy is a long and arduous one in mixed martial arts (MMA). Once again on a major PPV card, "Prime Time" has to live up to his nickname by delivering in the limelight.
That could prove a difficult challenge against TUF: "Brazil" competitor Santos, who comes in with the momentum of a first round technical knockout of Ronny Markes at UFC Fight Night 38 in late March. Santos will be fighting his first-ever bout in the United States, and he'll be doing it against an enigmatic knockout striker who doesn't also show up.
With Santos possessing dynamite in his hands as well, those dynamics make this bout an interesting one. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Hall vs. Santos:
Record: 8-4 overall, 1-2 UFC
Key Wins: Chris Leben (UFC 168), Bubba McDaniel (TUF 17), Dylan Andrews (TUF 17)
Key Losses: Kelvin Gastelum (TUF 17 Finale), Chris Weidman (Ring of Combat 31), Costa Philippou (Ring of Combat 34), John Howard (UFC Fight Night 26)
Keys to Victory: With five knockouts and two submissions in eight total wins, Hall is a dangerous finisher who possesses some of the most dynamic striking in all of MMA.
However, he's shown a tendency to fade in big bouts, evident by the fact he's lost to each top-level opponent on his record.
While Santos may not be at that level, he's still dangerous, so Hall needs to fight smart at UFC 175. Santos is a knockout striker in his own right, and that should play into "Prime Time's" hands in a big way in Las Vegas. He can knock out almost anyone; it's just a matter of him harnessing that ability.
Hall appeared to have acquired a degree of aggressiveness against Leben. If that trend continues, a showcase win could be at hand. He's failed in the past against good wrestlers like Weidman and Gastelum, but fortunately for him, Santos isn't well known for his grappling prowess.
If Hall can keep his "Marreta" at range with a bevy of kicks and well-timed punches, he'll continue to work towards fulfilling his considerable potential.
Record: 7-2 overall, 1-1 UFC
Key Wins: Ronny Markes (UFC Fight Night 38)
Key Losses: Cezar Ferreira (UFC 163)
Keys to Victory: Not to be overshadowed by Hall's striking prowess, Santos has five knockouts in nine total victories. He finished his opponent with kicks in two of his last three fights, and could be looking to go blow-for-blow with Hall in an effort to make a huge statement.
Truth be told, that's probably the best way to put his name on the map this Saturday. Win or lose, engaging in a slugfest with a popular TUF contestant like Hall will work wonders for his overall recognition. Although he could potentially give himself a better chance by making this fight ugly, that's not going to do him too many favors.
Santos isn't highly regarded for his wrestling skills, so unless he's drastically improved in that area since his last fight, he should be ready to unleash his dangerous strikes and see if they can trump Hall's arsenal.
That's far from an easy task, but if Santos can overcome the pressure of making his U.S. debut on a huge PPV card, the potential for a big upset is there. With Hall tending to disappear when tension builds, it could only take one mistake for Santos to make a splash in the States.
Bottom Line from Las Vegas: The bottom line for this fight is that it's going to be a telling example as to whether or not Hall will assume his perceived spot as a legitimate contender in UFC.
To be honest, Leben was obviously a shell of his former self at UFC 168, so that victory, while a much-needed boost, was not actually all that relevant in terms of top-level experience for Hall. After literally taking the MMA world by storm on TUF 17, he failed to live up to his almost unattainable amount of hype by simply not really showing up for his bouts with Gastelum and Howard.
Another uninspired performance will almost certainly see him cut from UFC. That'd be a shame because there's no doubt has some of the scariest, flashiest one-shot knockout power in the world.
But in today's cutthroat world of MMA, that won't cut it by itself, so Hall needs to maintain his focus and perform like he's capable of. He's been matched up with an opponent tailor-made for his skills in Santos, but "Marreta" can't be slept on.
Santos is a serious threat, but he's also showed temporary lapses of his own, namely during his UFC 163 submission loss to TUF: "Brazil" 1 winner Ferreira. However, the Brazilian has little to lose against Hall, and that makes him dangerous.
So does the sheer stand-up ability of both fighters, making this Fourth of July weekend bout showcase potential fireworks for the fans in Las Vegas.
With his hype train slowing down to a crawl, Uriah Hall has yet another chance to prove himself on the grand stage. Will he capitalize on that opportunity, or will he become a stepping-stone for Thiago Santos?