It took all of five minutes and one jaw-dropping knockout against Adam Cella in his second fight on The Ultimate Fighter for MMA fans to buy into Uriah Hall as the frontrunner to win the 17th season of the tournament.
A quick knockout over Bubba McDaniel and a TKO against Dylan Andrews in his next two fights had fans buying into Hall as a genuine contender in the division once ruled by pound-for-pound great Anderson Silva.
Hall had people thinking less of how he would fare against fellow TUF finalist Kelvin Gastelum in the finale and more about how soon the Jamaican-born fighter would find himself standing across the Octagon with a dude wearing gold around his waist.
He was a contender.
Back-to-back split-decision losses to Gastelum and John Howard had most people, including UFC president Dana White, questioning their original judgments and wondering what happened to the guy that was flattening his opponents out just a few months prior.
“I love Uriah Hall,” White said in his media scrum after Hall’s loss to Howard at UFC Fight Night 26 last August. “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.”
Whether it be the jitters from being surrounded by thousands of fight fans or the step-up in competition, one thing was certain: Hall was quickly becoming one of the biggest disappointments in TUF history.
He was quickly re-dubbed a pretender.
White was quick to point to Hall’s nice demeanor inside the cage as the crux of his disappointing performances.
“It’s a mental thing. He was this killer that everybody was afraid of on TUF and then he comes into the big show where it all really matters and where you’re going to make, you know, this is going to make your livelihood and everything else and he turns into this different person. This super nice guy.”
White went on to elaborate on why being a nice guy like Hall doesn’t pay off in this business:
“You’re in a fight. You’re here to use your martial arts to win this competition and move forward. You’re not here to high-five and hug. That’s great. It’s one of the things I love about the sport—the sportsmanship that’s displayed, sometimes before, during and after a fight. But, it gets to a point where it gets ridiculous and that’s not what people are sitting at home to watch, that’s not what people paid to come into this building to watch.”
It hasn’t been all bad for Hall inside the UFC cage—he managed to stop Chris Leben back at UFC 169. Though most would be quick to disparage the victory—arguing it had more to do with a past-his-prime Leben realizing he was two years beyond his retirement age than Hall’s performance itself—it’s worth noting that this was the first time Hall seemed comfortable under the bright lights that only the UFC can flash.
Hall has an opportunity to ride this newfound wave of comfort further this Saturday at UFC 175 when he squares off against a 9-2 Thiago Santos. A loss, whether it be a split decision or knockout, would all but eliminate the "pretender or contender" discussion. A win keeps it alive.
Hall’s split-decision losses in the Octagon thus far are not inherently frustrating—they were close fights that could have just as easily seen his hand raised at the end. That's not who fight fans wanted to see, though—they wanted the guy who was making us feel sorry for the guy standing across from him.
Until people see that guy return, videos (like the one below) that showcase his above-average hand movement and lightning-quick spinning back-kicks won’t matter much to anybody—they'll forever brand him a pretender in the UFC’s middleweight division.
Kristian Ibarra is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He also serves as the sports editor at San Diego State University's student-run newspaper, The Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter at @Kristian_Ibarra for all things MMA.