Not long ago, a straight-faced Chael Sonnen told Uriah Hall that he could step in and defeat then UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. On Saturday night Hall listened as his boss, UFC president Dana White explained that Hall didn’t have what it takes to be a UFC fighter.
So, what went wrong? How did Hall go from next big thing to washed up, and possibly washed out in less than a year, and what can other UFC fighters glean from the situation?
Hall’s stint with the UFC began when he joined the cast of season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter. Almost as soon as the season debuted White was telling the media about some manimal that had the rest of the cast afraid to make eye contact with him. The way White sold it, the fighters in the house were far from willing to step into the Octagon with this figure sporting nothing more than a pair of four-ounce gloves.
Well, maybe White’s words weren’t that hyperbolic, but they weren’t far off (via MMAFighting.com):
The whole house is terrified of this guy. F– terrified. Everybody. I picked this fight, and this guy is lined up with the guy I’m telling you about, and the guy has a nervous breakdown in the house over the weekend. Has a f– nervous breakdown. Freaks out and has a nervous breakdown. This guy scared the living s— out of everyone. It’s awesome.
In Episode 3 it became apparent about which fighter White was speaking. With time clicking down in his bout against Adam Cella, Hall delivered a spinning hook kick that stiffened Cella and sent him to the mat. The devastating kick brought the cageside physicians into the Octagon and cast a pall of silence over the room. It also left Hall with a look of genuine concern on his face.
After the fight, Hall’s teammates, coaches and White celebrated the knockout. Hall didn’t participate in the festivities; instead he sat on a folding chair, and received his post-fight checkup from a physician. When the camera did catch up with Hall, he said, “It feels good, but at the same time part of me feels bad. It’s the hurt business, but I’m a human being. I kind of feel bad that I could possibly really hurt him.”
In his next outing, Hall destroyed Bubba McDaniel in nine seconds, leaving McDaniel face down and leaking blood. After the victory, Hall described the win as “bittersweet.”
The semifinal round saw Hall matched up against Dylan Andrews. Andrews succeeded in lasting into the second round, but he succumbed after Hall unleashed a flurry of strikes from the ground. Excuse me, I should say that he was TKO’d after Hall unleashed a flurry of strikes from the bottom. It was yet another impressive knockout from Hall.
Heading into the final fight of the show, Hall was a -315 favorite to defeat Kelvin Gastelum who came in as a +245 underdog.
After three rounds, Gastelum had his hand raised in victory, finding himself in possession of a UFC contract as well as a customized Harley Davidson motorcycle. As for Hall, he left the Octagon that night with a huge question mark hanging over his head.
White, perhaps somewhat embarrassed by his previous proclamations of Hall’s dominance, offered the vanquished fighter no slack when he was asked about the fighter’s performance following the defeat, (via MMAFighting.com) “I think he mentally broke. I think that you saw what he had this season. But when you find out what a guy really has is when he’s under pressure. When you’re under pressure, you find out who the Anderson Silva’s and the Georges St-Pierre’s are, those type of guys.”
When it came time to book Hall’s next fight, White and the UFC matchmakers gave Hall another chance to show that he was the fighter they saw during his first three fights in the TUF house and not the fighter he was on April 13 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.
Hall was booked against John Howard on the UFC’s first card on Fox Sports 1, and given a spot on the main card. A spot that could have gone to top ten bantamweights Michael McDonald and Brad Pickett, or even to the UFC’s current golden boy, Conor McGregor who faced Max Holloway on the preliminary card.
15 long minutes after his fight with Howard began, it ended with Howard taking the split decision and White tweeting that the fight was “HORRIBLE!!!!!!! The high 5 fight of the night WTF” The “high 5” reference due to the fact that Hall and Howard, on multiple occasions during the course of the fight touched gloves and high fived.
That was not the end of White’s commentary on the fighter he once described (via MMAJunkie.com) as such, “He is without a doubt the most-feared guy coming out of ‘TUF.’ Ever.”
Following the event, White said (via Fightline.com), “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.”
In less than a year, Hall went from being an unassailable terror inside the Octagon to “he’s not a fighter.”
It would be easy to point the finger at White and say he created unreal expectations with all the praise he piled on the shoulders of a largely unproven prospect, but that’s White’s job. He’s a promoter, of course he’s going to promote, especially when he saw what he did during the filming of the show. Yes, some of his claims were hyperbole, but the reality is that Hall was wrecking dudes in that house.
Had White not said a word about Hall the media and fans would have built him up to the same levels that White had after they saw the thrashings he handed Cella and McDaniel.
My opinion is that once Hall came to realize just how ugly the “hurt business” is, and just how badly he could hurt someone, he lost his taste for the game. It was written all over his face as he stood and looked down on Cella.
White’s right, Hall is a nice guy, and maybe he’s not an MMA fighter. It’s just unfortunate that he found that out while the largest fight promotion in the world was shining a spotlight on him. It’s also unfortunate to see the man that built Hall up was so willing to tear him down.
For all the “scary dudes” that are going to follow Hall into the UFC? Let this serve as a cautionary tale. The hype train can come off the rails pretty quickly, and when it does, don’t expect conductor White to brush you off and tell you things are going to be okay. He’s not going to do that, but he may throw you under the wheels of that train as it rolls down the track to pick up its next passengers.