This Saturday, the UFC will touch down in Japan for the first time in a year. The organization's return to the country has plenty to offer, from an exciting heavyweight main event between Roy Nelson and Josh Barnett, to appearances by some of Japan's most accomplished fighters. Of all the fights on the card, however, perhaps none are as intriguing as the co-main event, which pits Gegard Mousasi against Uriah Hall in a terrific 185-pound tilt.
Of course, this isn't the co-main event we originally expected to get. Co-headlining honors were initially given to Mousasi and a resurgent Roan "Jucão" Carneiro. When Jucão sustained an elbow injury in training however, Hall stepped up on short notice. It doesn't take an MMA analyst to tell you that this was a ballsy move.
Despite the frequency with which Hall faces opponents on short notice (three of his seven UFC bouts have involved late opponent changes) taking a fight with an expedited training camp is a bold maneuver. This is even truer when said fight is with a monster like Mousasi, a former Strikeforce and Dream champion who is capable of securing a stoppage from just about any position. Indeed, this is a serious gamble on Hall's part. If he can find a route to victory, however, that gamble will pay off big time.
A victory over Mousasi, after all, will move Hall onto a two-fight win-streak, further distancing him from a debatable split decision loss to Rafael Natal earlier this year. More importantly, however, this fight presents Hall with the opportunity to score the single biggest victory of his pro career and insert himself directly into the middleweight top-15 in the process. It represents a sort of springboard for the TUF 17 standout; one with the potential to send him careening into some Tokyo hospital wing or, if he's lucky, directly into the middleweight elite, where so many expected him to land after his time on TUF.
Of course, the stakes are no lower for Mousasi. Though the odds-makers have him pegged as high as a -525 favorite, if he takes Hall lightly he'll probably find himself supine on the canvas, only to be stretchered back to the fringes of the divisional top-15. And just as such an outcome would be disastrous for his career; the opposite outcome would be fantastic for him.
If Mousasi is able to defeat Hall, he'll find himself on a three-fight streak—his first since 2013 and his best in the UFC—with triumphs over Hall, Costas Philippou and Dan Henderson in the rear view. And while these are not the kind of opponents that are going to earn him a title shot, three-fight win-streaks are hard to come by in the perilous UFC middleweight division. Furthermore, such a streak would look especially good on Mousasi, who has been the picture of inconsistency since joining the organization. It might even be enough to move him to the cusp of contention, where men like Yoel Romero and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza currently prowl.
Yes, the co-main event of the UFC's return to Japan represents a massive opportunity for the two men involved. Yet it is not just the stakes of this pairing that make it so compelling. When viewed from a stylistic standpoint, it has the potential to be truly fantastic.
When Mousasi and Hall are on, after all—that is when their heads are on straight and they're not performing way below their potential—they are both the picture of aggression. They are dealers of spectacle, and often out of nowhere as reaffirmed by their many jaw-dropping wins—be it Hall's spinning hook-kick KO of Adam Cella on TUF, or Mousasi's up-kick KO of "Jacare" Souza in Dream. And better still, both are very durable fighters. Hall, after all, has been stopped just once as a pro, and has only lost split decisions since joining the UFC. And then, of course, there was his fighting on a badly broken toe for most of his recent bout with Thiago Santos. Mousasi, on the other hand, has lost just three times by submission in 44 fights, and has never been knocked out. The respective sturdiness of these two fighters leaves the door open for multiple instances of spectacle throughout their looming bout, as either man is as capable of surviving devastating attacks as they are of dishing them out.
Yes, under the magnifying glass, what we have in Mousasi vs. Hall is actually even better than the Mousasi vs. Jucão bout that was originally scheduled to co-headline the UFC's return to Japan. This is a chance for two middleweights, both rich in talent but broke in consistency, to gain some much-needed traction in their division. It's a chance for both men to reassert themselves as the contenders they were once so vehemently believed to be. And finally, it's a pairing of two of the middleweight division's most inventive and dynamic finishers. All of this in combination is the recipe for a truly thrilling fight for the well-versed Japanese fans in attendance, and those tuning in from around the globe. Don't miss it this Saturday.