It all comes down to this. Saturday night, at the UFC Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale, a new TUF champion is crowned, as Uriah Hall (7-2) takes on Kelvin Gastelum (5-0). It's an all Team Sonnen final, as Chael Sonnen's self-proclaimed Team Darkside knocked Jon Jones's team out of competition in the semifinal round. So what can fans expect from Hall vs. Gastelum? Find out in this Bloody Elbow preview.
Hall was the #2 pick for Chael Sonnen's team and the #3 pick overall (behind Luke Barnatt and Clint Hester for what it's worth), but it didn't take long for him to show that he should have been #1. His first fight in the house was the KO of the season, as he blasted Adam Cella with a nasty spinning hook kick. With that kick, he not only made himself the favorite, he also showed that he was one scary fighter. Much of the rest of the season was built around fighters from Team Jones doing their best to not be the one stuck fighting Hall. But they could only hide for so long, and after knocking out Bubba McDaniel and Dylan Andrews, Hall finds himself here. He's been painted as something of a villain along the way, as he wears his emotions on his sleeve and can sometimes take offense quickly, but with the reality TV portion of the season over, that's neither here nor there.
Before coming to TUF, Hall was already making a name for himself, primarily in New Jersey's Ring of Combat. It was there that he recorded the only 2 losses of his pro career - to Chris Weidman and Costa Philippou. He also had experience in the kickboxing-based World Combat League, a Bellator win back at Bellator 11, and was on the Bloody Elbow Scouting Report back in 2010. In short, Uriah Hall is a bad dude, and it was understandable that the guys in the house wanted to avoid facing him until absolutely necessary.
As long as the fight is on the feet, Hall will be a serious threat. He has a tremendous striking arsenal, based on both Muay Thai and Karate. He's used those skills to develop great kicks, and nice counter striking. He blends those skills with great athleticism and power, making him a KO threat to anyone he fights.
His weakness remains the ground game. That was how Weidman beat him, as Hall is not very comfortable grappling, particularly off his back. He has improved in this regard over the years, but it's still not an area of strength for Hall. He'll want to keep the fight standing and unleash his attack.
Kelvin Gastelum is this season's Cinderalla story. He was the last pick for Team Sonnen, with only Dylan Andrews being picked later than him overall. That late pick wasn't a shock, as his decision win to get into the house wasn't particularly memorable. He's also very young, with only 5 fights in a 2 year pro career - all wins, but none against an opponent of note. He seemed like early cannon fodder.
But Gastelum quickly proved skeptics wrong. In his first fight in the house, he was paired with the significantly more experienced Bubba McDaniel. Gastelum hung in there with Bubba, staying with him through grappling exchanges until he was able to sink in a rear naked choke in round 2 and get the upset win. From there, he kept the upsets rolling, defeating first Collin Hart, then Josh Samman, both via early stoppage. What Gastelum showed during TUF was mainly two things:
1) A decent grappling game. It's not the prettiest, most technical game, as he often relies on strength in lieu of technique to gain the advantage, but he's tenacious. He will keep working until he gets his opponent into a favorable position. He favors the ground and pound, but if you give up your back he will sink in the rear naked choke.
2) Significant drive and improvement. He wasn't the best early on, but he has earned this spot in the finals through sheer hard work. One of the benefits of TUF is the ability to see more raw fighters progress week to week, fight to fight, and you definitely saw that with Gastelum who took to the instruction from Chael Sonnen and his team very well. The most significant improvement came in his strikes. These were not an area of strength for him prior to TUF, but against Hart, he showed off his KO power.
Head to Head
As much as Gastelum may have improved on the feet. he still doesn't compare to Hall. Where Hall is all about technique, power, and explosiveness in his strikes, Gastelum remains a striker from the wade in and brawl school. He's definitely tightened up his defenses and overall technique, but his striking is just not nearly as crisp or well executed. This is a major advantage for Hall.
On the ground, it's a clear advantage for Gastelum. He has more experience on the mat, and has used that experience to frustrate his opponents, then defeat them. Hall's been in that position before, and if he allows Gastelum to play his game, he could find himself in trouble.
As long as it's on the feet, this is Hall's fight. On the mat, it's Gastelum's. But I think Hall has a better ability to survive on the mat then Gastelum does on the feet, plus more ability to control where the fight takes place - and his 8" reach advantage will only help him in this area. Look for Gastelum to have a bit of success if he does get to the mat, but he'll stand for too long, and it will be his undoing.
Uriah Hall by KO