For an MMA prospect, electrifying knockouts are a sufficient, shiny lure to attract the attention of fans. But when the method is mowing down some poor soul with a spinning hook kick, then literally breaking your half-petrified opponent's face with a punch in a matter of seconds? You're in. You got us. We're interested. More spinning shit, por favor.
And another reason Team Tiger Schulmann's Uriah Hall (7-3) is the most intriguing TUF candidate of the last few years is that he lost in the finals and actually looked somewhat substandard doing so -- but fans are clamoring to see him in action more than the cat who defeated him and won the show, Kelvin Gastelum.
Wait ... are you hanging on that "substandard" description? Real talk: Hall's head-scratching approach against Gastelum in his first official outing in the Octagon at the TUF 17 Finale . In a Silva-Weidman microcosm, Hall was dropping his hands and almost trying to toy with the pursuing Gastelum, who sustained his blue-collar mentality, kept coming forward and clocked Hall with an overhand left that stunned him in the 1st round. Doggedly determined to spoil the party, Gastelum persisted with a powerful takedown, moved into a Sonnenesque high half-guard and wailed away with ground and pound to take an early lead, and eventually win a split decision.
Apologies for being a Debbie Downer, but observations like that deserve to be alongside the highlight-reel footage in the hot-prospect conversation. Granted, maybe Gastelum is just that good. Or maybe Uriah got a little carried away.
Apparently, no one's really sweatin' it. Especially the bettors, as, in his second UFC fight and eleventh overall, Hall is the biggest favorite on the entire card -- by quite a substantial margin -- against 28-fight veteran John Howard (20-8). "Doomsday" is returning to the Octagon's pearly gates with a 7-1 clip under his belt after being released by the promotion in 2011 following three-straight losses as a welterweight.
Jake Ellenberger, Matt Brown and Thiago Alves form the trifecta that doused Howard's UFC aspirations. The slide must've particularly stung, as Howard had vaulted out of the gate at 4-0 to begin his tenure in the Octagon (split decisions over Chris Wilson and Tamdan McCrory with clean KO's of Daniel Roberts and Dennis Hallman). The lone loss since his departure, which entailed a return to his original fighting weight of 185 pounds, was to Leandro Silva, who likely landed a spot on TUF Brazil 2 because of that very win.
But, to be fair, Hall has a few highly respectable defeats of his own to UFC middleweight champ Chris Weidman and divisional contender Costa Philippou, which transpired in the prospect-prolific Ring of Combat promotion in New Jersey. That's also where Howard got his feet wet against UFC-caliber competition: he dropped bouts to Nick Catone and Jim Miller but accrued what is arguably the biggest win of his career over Charlie Brenneman.
If we analyze Hall vs. Howard through the lens of the former being a legit phenom on the cusp of a career explosion, Howard, who took the fight on a month's notice, seems like a viable stepping stone. However, if we look at it as one guy with one UFC fight, ten total fights and three top-tier opponents against a guy who at least triples that experience in each category ... it seems like it could be a little more competitive than the -400 odds for Hall would imply.
While Howard's lack of excellence in any particular realm might just reinforce the notion that he's being fed to Hall, the other side of the coin is that he can finish by strikes (9 career TKO's) or submissions (6 sub wins), and he's not a bad wrestler either. Perhaps most importantly, Howard knows what it's like to find his thoughts drifting toward his favorite video game or episode of Scooby Doo, only to realize that he's doing so whilst splayed out on the canvas after being thumped and successively dazed by a streaking punch. And Howard has proven that he's the type of fighter to regain his wits, sack up and get back in the game full-force. Plus, he has ridiculous punching power and nothing to lose, which can be a scary combination.
If you're curious where I'm going with this, it's not really that dramatic -- only that there are strict skill comparisons and intangibles, and Howard deserves credit for having an edge with the latter.
Of course, the style analysis does not bode well for "Doomsday." Let's come full circle here: Hall deservedly got that recognition because he's smooth as silk on the feet with uncanny timing, blistering quickness, exceptional power and a uniquely effective kickboxing arsenal. That alone tilts things in his favor, but when you factor in his Bones-like 80.5" reach and the four-inch height advantage he'll have on Howard, Hall's landslide on the betting lines doesn't seem so crazy after all.
Hall will do his usual thing: bounce gracefully in and out and side to side while awaiting a tiny hole to bore his fist through, or wreaking havoc with his medley of high, low, front and spinning kicks from out on the fringe. Hall's height and length grant him the ability to control distance and dictate the pace, which will typically cause the opponent to overcompensate while rushing in. That's when those aforementioned holes and Uriah's fists come into play.
Even though Howard is a capable wrestler who sets up his takedowns pretty well, I don't think he has the entries he'll need to get in rage for them. Hall has also shown a stellar knack for staying composed while retreating, and he has the timing, power and accuracy to light people up while moving in any direction. Howard isn't much of a movement guy and prefers to stand in the pocket and start working from there, whereas Hall is a great example of someone who's already unloading his business on his way into the pocket and doesn't hang around for any counter-fire.
This will be a big test of Hall's maturity. He can make amends for the Gastelum performance by vigilantly maintaining a bubble of safe space and applying his electric striking to achieve a dominant win. Leaning against the cage, letting his hands drop and reacting with anything but a sense of urgency when Howard gets inside will not seal his fate, but inevitably diminish his chances in the fight and his luster as a future superstar.
My Prediction: Uriah Hall by TKO.