By Case Keefer
Las Vegas Sun
UFC President Dana White anointed Uriah Hall “the nastiest, deadliest, meanest” competitor in the history of “The Ultimate Fighter” after watching the 28-year-old knock out three straight opponents during the reality show competition.
A bewildered fan sent White a message on Twitter wondering how Hall (7-2 MMA, 4-0 TUF) had ever been beaten in his career. It seems no one believes Hall can lose in Saturday night’s finale at the Mandalay Bay Events Center against Kelvin Gastelum (5-0 MMA, 4-0 TUF).
No one, that is, except Hall.
“Everyone was hyping me up like, ‘Oh look at his kicks,’” Hall said Wednesday. “And then you’ve got Kelvin, who’s just quietly taking out all of these guys. Next thing you know, he’s at the top. That’s why I don’t listen to anyone’s expectations.”
Hall looks to evade the rash of upsets that have occurred in recent championship matches of “The Ultimate Fighter.” The underdog has prevailed in three of the past four finales, including last season when Colton Smith defeated Mike Ricci.
But Hall, by most accounts, is on a different level than anyone to come through the reality show lately. He sent all of his “TUF” opponents to the hospital and assembled a highlight reel of knockouts that most fighters go a lifetime without matching.
White reported that everyone on the show was afraid to fight Hall.
“Those guys didn’t want to,” Gastelum confirmed of Hall’s opponents. “That showed in the mistakes they made. It’s not going to happen with me.”
Gastelum said no one on their team during the show, coached by Chael Sonnen, even wanted to train with Hall. They thought he took it too seriously and hit too hard in practice.
That’s what Gastelum was used to, though. The Yuma, Ariz., native credited hard sparring as one of the reasons he’s in position to become the youngest “Ultimate Fighter” champion in history at 21 years old.
He found himself paired with Hall frequently in training sessions.
“He was tough and willing to push through like I was,” Hall said of Gastelum. “I had such a focused mindset to go into that house and win. Kelvin would just come at me in that sense. I think I preferred him more than anyone else as a training partner.”
There’s another reason Hall tries to ignore all the outside talk before his fight with Gastelum. Hall blames the first defeat of his career — really, he’s lost before — partly on the fact that he allowed pre-fight hype to get into his head.
Hall reigned as the champion of New Jersey-based regional promotion Ring of Combat three years ago when he was booked against another undefeated, decorated prospect: current UFC middleweight top contender Chris Weidman.
“I heard from someone, ‘If you beat this guy, you’re going straight to the UFC,’” Hall said. “I was like, ‘What?’ There was all this pressure, all these emotions just hitting me.”
Weidman knocked out Hall 3:06 into the first round. Hall felt tentative the whole fight, overwhelmed in the moment and too concerned with what Weidman would do to execute his own techniques.
Hall promised himself he’d never enter another fight with that mentality. Even though he went on to lose again in his next bout — by majority decision to fellow current top-10 UFC middleweight Costa Philippou — the Weidman loss was the one to stick with Hall.
“He’s at the top right now, and by all means, I give him all the props,” Hall said of Weidman. “But definitely somewhere down the line, I’m going to face him again and it’s going to be different.”
The shortest route to a date with redemption against Weidman comes through beating Gastelum and securing the six-figure UFC contract guaranteed with a “TUF” title.
Hall’s not going to jeopardize those ambitions by listening to everyone else and thinking he’s invincible.
“I’m not that type of person,” Hall said. “I don’t let it get to me. I know Saturday I could go out and get my (butt) kicked.”
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