MMA has had several iterations of "the kick heard round the world" over the course of its spectacle-ridden history. Gabriel Gonzaga torched Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic with one such history-making kick back in 2007. Anthony Pettis ricocheted off the WEC cage to blast Benson Henderson with a similarly iconic kick in 2010. Anderson Silva caught Vitor Belfort with one in 2011. A spinning Edson Barboza landed another on Terry Etim in 2012. In recent years however, there has been one man in particular behind the sport's most jaw-dropping kicks: UFC middleweight Uriah Hall.
We first saw Hall unleash one of these brilliant kicks on the 17th season of The Ultimate Fighter when he removed the batteries from Adam Cella with a perfectly timed spinning kick. And though he initially failed to live up to the towering expectations set by that kick, he recently burst back into relevance with a similarly spectacular attack: a jumping spin kick to the chin, followed by a flying knee and ground-and-pound to close the deal. Straight outta Tekken.
Hall's recent, mind-blowing finish is made even more impressive by the fact that its recipient was not some inexperienced TUF prospect. Instead, it was the UFC's sixth-ranked middleweight; a 42-fight veteran and multi-organization champion in Gegard Mousasi—a man who had never been stopped by strikes before.
Despite Hall's obvious talent, few people predicted such an outcome when he walked onto the canvas with Mousasi. Yet the former TUF standout tore through his underdog status all the same, blowing away doubts about his killer instinct, confidence and fight IQ in the process. The victory also earned him a spot in the UFC middleweight top-10, where many expected him to land since the moment he emerged on TUF. All this begs the question, however: what's next?
Well, it should come as no surprise that in a pool as deep as today's UFC middleweight division, a dynamo like Hall has no shortage of options. Yet the path he takes depends a lot on how quickly UFC matchmaker Joe Silva wants to bring him along.
If Mr. Silva decides to bring Hall along slowly, which is perhaps the wiser choice considering his recent split decision loss to Rafael Natal is still visible in the rear-view mirror, then Hall can expect scraps with fighters on the fringes of the middleweight top-10. A likely candidate in this regard might be Roan "Jucão" Carneiro—the recently-injured jiu jitsu whiz that Hall stepped up to replace against Mousasi. Not only does this fight make sense from a rankings standpoint, but Jucão was also quick to call Hall out in the wake of his triumph over Mousasi. This prospective matchup, though, isn't much of a needle-mover. Hall is probably more likely to find himself on the canvas with somebody who will oblige him in a stand up fight. In that event, Robert Whittaker would make an intriguing foe (should he defeat Michael Bisping at UFC 193 in November). Thales Leites would be a similarly compelling choice, given that he seems to have fallen in love with his hands at the expense of his tremendous grappling abilities.
Then again, there's no guarantee that Hall will be brought along slowly. At 31 years old, he's no spring chicken, and once again, he did just snuff the UFC's sixth-best middleweight. His being fast-tracked would not be shocking.
In this event, a pairing of Hall and Vitor Belfort would be interesting. Two years ago, it likely wouldn't have been a competitive fight, but given Belfort's post-TRT deflation, it would probably be a fun one today. A Hall vs. Lyoto Machida bout is similarly appealing, as the two karate stylists are both known for their flashes of brilliance. Yes, Machida is undoubtedly on a downslide, having been stopped in his two most recent fights, but his chin remains a fairly ghostlike target and it would be awesome to watch Hall attempt to find it with his fists and feet.
And then, of course, there are the less likely routes for Hall. Of these, perhaps none are more appealing than a scrap with former middleweight king Anderson Silva, whose UFC 183 suspension is quickly running its course. Now, this is suggestion is likely to generate some controversy considering Silva's status as one of the best ever, but at 40 years old, and with a grievous leg injury behind him, he's slowed down substantially. And while rumors of an early-2016 Silva-versus-Bisping fight have begun to circulate, such a matchup probably hinges on the outcome of Bisping's looming scrap with Whittaker. If Bisping comes up short, why not pair Hall with the fading middleweight GOAT and see who can land the video game combo that counts?
After his massive win over Gegard Mousasi, Uriah Hall has an expanse of prospective opponents at his feet. And if he really has finally found his groove (which he certainly appears to have done) it doesn't really matter which direction the UFC pushes him in. Yes, he's lost his fair share of fights, and yes, he remains some distance from a title shot. But where Uriah Hall goes, spectacle follows, and as fight fans, we're lucky enough to have front row seats to the continued evolution of his career.