Those of you who have watched this season of The Ultimate Fighter will doubtless be aware of Uriah Hall being touted as perhaps the best striker the show has seen. You will probably also be aware that some of the more optimistic fans out there are already comparing him to Anderson Silva and putting together a hypothetical title match.
I'm not here to say what a fighter can or can't do. Two people step onto the mat at the beginning of each fight and everything about both men affects the outcome on that given day. What I can do is highlight some of the technical triumphs and failings which Uriah Hall carries and exhibits in his bouts.
The first thing to note about Uriah Hall is that he is not only extremely talented in his kicking game, but he is intelligent about it too. While the spinning back hook kick takes some skill to even throw - you could walk into a gym anywhere in the world and there would be a guy there who could do them... in thin air.
Hall's brilliance was displayed against Adam Cella when he set up and then landed his spinning back roundhouse kick flush without a previous attempt.
The first sign of intelligence in Hall's striking can be seen in the fact that he waited until the last seconds of the opening round to throw the kick. In the footage of the fight the hammer can be heard signaling 10 seconds remaining in the round, and then Hall throws his kick. This is simply good preparation - if a fighter is going to attempt something with a good chance of ending up in a bad position when it goes wrong, the last 10 seconds of a round are the best time to take the risk.
It is the same with intelligent submission fighters - if they get the mount they will hold the position and work for conservative submissions before they attempt an armbar which will land them in bottom position if they don't finish it. 10 seconds is easily enough time to land a wheel kick or finish an armbar, but it is easy to survive 10 seconds underneath an opponent should it go wrong.
So how did Hall actually set up his spinning kick? Well the wheel kick enters on the right side of an opponent's guard - like a left hook. It is necessary then to remove the opponent's right forearm from a position where it can block. Hall did this by spamming the jab. Hall's jab isn't especially sharp but Adam Cella was stifled by it.
As Cella's right hand came to rest in a position in front of him where it was ready to catch or parry the jab, he sacrificed defense on the right side of his jaw. Before throwing the kick Hall performed a jab to the body to make the inexperienced Cella move his right hand even further away from his jaw. Junior dos Santos often uses the jab to the body to get MMA fighters, who simply don't know better, to drop their hands to deal with it.
WIth Cella's right hand moving to parry at the slightest hint of a jab from Hall, Hall was able to fake and spin, connecting clean with his wheel kick on the jaw.
While Hall's all around striking game is nowhere near on the level of Badr Hari or Stefan Leko, the bout between those two world class kickboxers ended with an almost identical set up.
Notice how Hari retreats while jabbing (somewhat uncharacteristically for Hari) before spinning and connecting behind Leko's right hand.
Unfortunately comparisons to Anderson Silva are completely unfounded on a technical level. While Hall has an excellent kicking game and a good jab, his boxing - as a science- has substantial holes.
Anderson Silva is masterful at moving around the cage, as is Lyoto Machida. Uriah Hall is always fighting with his back to the cage and nowhere to move should he need to retreat. He places himself in a situation where he must always move to either one side or the other.
This is fine in one sense - he still has two directions in which he can move - but when he does move in those directions it is often with his head held high and unguarded. Against Adam Cella, Hall continued to circle into Hall's right hand with his chin up.
Against his most recent opponent, Dylan Andrews, Hall walked onto a couple of good punches from a completely passive and over matched opponent simply because he circles out with his hands out of position and his shoulders low.
On the single occasion in the bout when Andrews attacked with more than one punch in combination, he was able to back Hall onto the fence and dump him to the floor.
A final fault in Hall's stand up is his tendency to reach for punches. While he seems to have trained out his fondness for leaning straight backwards, Hall will still reach to parry punches when he is moving away. This exposes him to follow up strikes on the same side.
Faking the jab and coming with a lead hook, faking the right straight and coming with a right hook, or throwing a jab or straight and following with a high kick on the same side. These are all the sorts of things that an opponent can do to catch Hall with a telling blow through his limited defenses.
Now Hall is still young and with a 6 foot frame and an 80 inch reach at middleweight he could very easily become a top contender in the division. Further to that the middleweight division just flat out lacks striking talent outside of a few guys.
The single important thing to take away from this article is that flash and shock value are not elite striking - it is how a fighter positions himself in the ring or cage, how rarely he is forced to expose himself, and how disciplined he can remain late in a fight which define a masterful striker.
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