The rematch you didn’t need, but will enjoy anyway headlines UFN 99 this November 19, 2016 at the SSE Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
One sentence summary:
David: Professor Hall takes one last stab at a philosophical proof to show that a bad matchup is still a bad matchup no matter how good the outcome.
Phil: A viciously cruel match seemingly solely designed to prove that Hall's greatest career achievement was a fluke
Record: Mousasi 40-6-2 Draw Hall 12-7
Odds: Mousasi -525 Hall +450
History / Introduction to both fighters
David: Mousasi looks like the kind of guy who will outlast his peers. Then one day in a post Apocalyptic American ruin, he’ll be protecting the last Bible on Earth with a sawed off shotgun. Or something like that. His durability has defined his career, and now it has helped define his cage demeanor. I was actually impressed by his performance against Vitor. Yea, Belfort is a endocrine-lobotomized version of his former self, but Mousasi stood in the octagon as the very antithesis of 21st century prizefighting; soul over swole.
Phil: Behold the Mousasian transformation! It's as dramatic as you might expect given his laconic demeanor. Namely... not dramatic at all. Instead, a gradual sarcastic winning over of the wider MMA public, bringing together 20 punch finishing combos and mic-drop post-fight conferences into something which made people say: "hey. I want to see more of this guy." Some of that evolution has simply been time and consistency: some of the queries about his lack of killer instinct were a touch overblown, for example. We're still talking a guy with 33 finishes and only 7 decisions.
David: Can we talk about Hall’s interview with Mike Bohn first? Maybe I just haven’t been paying attention to Hall’s psyche recently, but Hall has always seemed reflective, and ruminative. ‘Sensitive’, even. Here he’s just indignant. Like he’s having a Miles Davis moment and wanted to tell Mike get the fuck outta my face and take your silly bitch with you. It’s a little concerning for a fighter so intimately connected to his own psychology. Hall is legitimately one of the more interesting personalities in the sport too. Which is all the more reason to lament a potential loss, since that would be three in a row and impending free agency. We should start doing press together, and offer free hugs. Just saying.
Phil: Are you feeling guilty for not boosting his confidence enough? I know I am. In all honesty though, I am pretty bummed by this fight. I still like Hall, even if he doesn't like us very much. I'm not mad that he seems to be feeling chewed up by the circus, although obviously Mike doesn't deserve to be on the other end.
As you've alluded to, it's not that Hall is saying inflammatory things about "the media" which is concerning, it's that it seems such a dramatic shift of gears, and that he's been so historically fragile.
What’s at stake?
David: Hall’s UFC career, sadly.
Phil: Why did this fight get made? Hall has constantly been crapped on for not living up to his potential... so the UFC decided to put a fight together which makes no sense from either a rankings or a momentum perspective, solely to apply a do-over to his signature achievement and the peak of his career. Yuck.
Where do they want it?
David: Mousasi has so many different ways to win a fight. Is he doing something now that he’s never tried and couldn’t do before? Not really. However, I do like that lately he’s been letting the opponent’s chips fall where the may on the feet. He’s chambering that stiff left jab of his, and maintaining a rhythm that highlights his strengths. He’s always been at his strongest when he keeps it simple, stupid: striking, striking, defend takedown, striking.
Even after their first fight, Mousasi should benefit from keeping the fight upright with his timing, and pressure game. Middleweight is wide open right now. Mousasi would be wise to stay true to himself, since I wouldn’t bet on anyone at the top right now to beat him on the feet. Bisping always manages to squeeze talent out of himself that he doesn’t actually have, so that would be an interesting bout, but Mousasi is headed in the right direction for once.
Phil: As mentioned above, Mousasi's evolution as a fighter and a personality has been more subtle than dramatic. He's been accused of cruising through fights, but I don't think it's really been a significant problem since his Strikeforce days. Instead the main improvement that we've seen is more of a synthesis of "round-winning Mousasi" and "finishing Mousasi"- he's normally been either one or the other.
Instead now we have a stable, round-winning process (jab, low-kick, counter hook, takedown) where if he sees the opportunity, he can switch gears into a blazing monsoon of violence.
David: If Hall needs to boost his confidence, he doesn’t need either one of us drunkenly screaming OOOOHHH to know what he’s capable of. Everyone has a deep respect for his talents. It’s odd that he doesn’t seem to share everyone else’s view. Hall’s strengths are in his ability to use time and patience to land brutal counters. As I’ve said before, there’s a big difference between static situation fighters, and dynamic situation fighters. The latter is your modern day types: good in scrambles, transitioning, weaving offense together from various disciplines. The former is your old school archetype: specialized fighters who look brilliant when given time and space, but who are fight claustrophobic. They can be neutralized through transitioning.
Hall is great in static situations. He needs a coach, and the learned aptitude to create the space he needs in order to land those nuclear launch codes of his. Despite that kimura attempt on the ground, I wouldn’t call Hall’s ground game particularly dangerous or efficient.
Phil: That's essentially the calling card of his game. Flash over efficiency, enabled and simultaneously prevented from evolving by immense physical gifts.
This being said, Hall is to his credit an improved fighter from the one who first got decisioned by Kelvin on the Ultimate Fighter finale. His ability to pull the trigger on his counter punches is the first and most obvious improvement, as he no longer simply circles and hopes for the range to be able to throw kicks like an Anthony Pettis with no ground game. Instead he's much more active and able to disincentivize or hurt opponents in the pocket.
There hasn't been a Uriah Hall fight since Natal where I've felt that he's thrown it away. Robert Whitaker beat Hall by simply being better than him, as did Derek Brunson.
Insight from Past Fights
Phil: The Brunson fight is the real key one for me, because it speaks to Hall's most salient weakness: circling away with his hands down and his chin up. Brunson chased him down and finished him in exactly the same way that Weidman did back in Ring of Combat.
David: To be fair, Mousasi doesn’t chase fighters the way Weidman or Brunson do. It’s a factor, but I’d actually be shocked if Mousasi knocked Hall out. For all of Hall’s flaws, the dude is made of granite.
Phil: Moose seems like just about the most unruffled guy around, but I guess some people could believe that Uriah is "living inside his head", or is somehow the Hallman to his Hughes.
David: Was Hall’s confidence sufficiently boosted after reading this preview? That is the question.
Phil: This is a brutal fight. The lines are the same or even worse than they were last time. While a big Moose fan, in some ways I'd like to see Hall win this one just because the chips have been so deliberately and sadistically stacked against him. The pick remains the same: unless he can land the high-octane strike of his life (again) and the follow-up (again), he's not winning this. Gegard Mousasi by TKO, round 3.
David: Mousasi is here to prove that quantum physics doesn’t apply. The first fight was an anomaly of occurrences that found its way perpendicular to the multiverse. In the real world, where imagination and fantasy are swamps in need of draining, Hall loses. Gegard Mousasi by RNC, round 2.