There may not have been a more hyped fighter with equally devastating results in Ultimate Fighter history than this year's finalist Uriah Hall.
From day one to get into the house when Hall showed off his flashy striking style combined with slick ground technique, the Jamaican-born competitor was an early favorite to go far in the competition.
His stock rose even higher when he launched his right leg in a spin kick that landed with an emphatic thud on the jaw of Adam Cella in a preliminary-round matchup. The knockout sent Cella crashing to the mat like a tree cut down in the forest. Everyone in the gym that day, including UFC President Dana White, were left with gaped mouths and jaws on the floor marveling at what Hall had just done.
Hall's reign of terror continued when he knocked out Bubba McDaniels with a single punch in the first round of their fight. He found a way to top even that performance when he finished Dylan Andrews with strikes. Oh yeah, the strikes Hall landed were thrown from the bottom stuck in Andrews' guard—a rare feat in mixed martial arts.
It's with some amazement then to find out that Hall's biggest motivation during his path of destruction came from coach Chael Sonnen and the message was "it's okay to lose."
"He said to me it was okay to lose. I'm used to him saying go out there and give 110 percent, and it's good to have that attitude. Maybe for other guys they can go out there and say 'failure is not an option' and they have to give 210 percent. I've been doing that for a while, but it just didn't feel right or click with me," Hall told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. "Chael just pretty much said 'Hey, at the height of your level where you're training at and what you've accomplished, it's okay to fall.'
"That just pretty much took all the pressure off of me."
Hall is quick to point out that early in his career everything boiled down to winning. There was no enjoyment in the sport that he loved. It was just about going out and getting the victory, and there was no other option.
Learning from his coach on the reality show, Hall was educated how to have fun again and the results followed. As the season replayed for Hall on television and each finish gained him more fans and more followers, he was always left with the thought that he had nothing to prove to anybody but himself.
"So going back to that spectacular kick and living up to expectations, I'm not living up to anybody's expectations," said Hall. "I know people are going to say 'Oh man, this guy is good, he could be the next whatever.' I don't want to compare myself to anyone else. I'm me. If I go out there, I'm in that cage by myself. There's no one in there with me so I have nothing to prove to anyone but myself."
Heading into the show, Hall was hoping to end up on UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones' team. He knew Jones' style in the cage and immediately thought they would click as coach and student. When he ended up on Sonnen's team his first thought was he didn't want to learn from the brash, unapologetic, trash-talking former middleweight contender.
Once he got to know Sonnen, however, he realized that there is a version that goes on television and says crazy things to get attention, and there is the coach he learned from during the season.
"I think he helped me understand my potential to a point where I'm learning how to use it," Hall said about Sonnen.
Interesting enough, Hall's opponent Kelvin Gastelum was also learning under the same coach because they happened to be on the same team all year long.
If Hall was the most hyped fighter on the show, Gastelum may have very well been the most underrated. Originally picked last by his coach, Gastelum quickly showed why he was a dark horse in the competition finishing off Bubba McDaniels in his first preliminary-round fight.
He then proceeded to knock out Collin Hart and submit Josh Samman on his way to the finals. Gastelum was also a good friend and training partner to Hall all season long, but both fighters knew from day one on the show that no matter what team they ended up on, they could eventually have to fight.
"There was a big advantage because you get to train with the person, you get to see what they have. I never try to look at anything and say 'Oh this person's not that good.' I never underestimate anybody," Hall said about Gastelum. "I know he's a strong guy. His base is definitely his wrestling. His hands are amazing, he's so quick. So I know his power and I know what to stay away from, but all in all I'm just ready to go out there and have some fun."
Fun is the key word for Hall these days.
Certainly to the outsider looking in the pressure is ratcheted up because Hall was glorified all season as one of the most devastating competitors The Ultimate Fighter has ever seen. Hall doesn’t see it that way at all. He heeds his coach's advice and win, lose or draw, Hall will be a happy man inside the cage.
"It's all about having fun and that's something I failed to realize for a long time, but just being on the show kind of brought that out," said Hall. "At the end of the day it's just business. I love the kid, we trained together, we lived together, and it crossed my mind a couple of times (that we could fight) but you have to separate those emotions. I did it twice—I did it with Dylan (Andrews), I did it with Bubba (McDaniels), so I have to do it again."
Hall will look to become the latest winner of The Ultimate Fighter when he faces Gastelum in the co-main event of this weekend's card in Las Vegas that also airs on FX Saturday night.
Lead photo courtesy of TheMMACorner.com
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and all quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.