Uriah Hall might have had one of the most highly anticipated UFC debut's coming off his stint on The Ultimate Fighter: Team Jones vs. Team Sonnen. When the New Yorker saw off Andy Enz via decision to claim his spot in the TUF house, he probably had no idea that his next competitive outing would provide him with a highlight reel moment that would both help and hinder his career dramatically.
Adam Cella nearly made it out of that first round against Hall, the winner of their contest would graduate into the quarterfinals of the reality platform. He was never winning the round, but he continued to press forward despite Hall knocking him down on two occasions. While Hall was scoring with his counter strikes, Cella focused on closing the distance on him, but it was clear that Hall's assault was taking its toll in the dying embers of the round.
A jab to body brought a halt to Cella's consistent pressing in the first round. With five seconds left on the clock, Hall found himself at the perfect distance and twisted his body to propel his right heel spinning through the air, only to stop at it's final destination—Cella's head.
It was simply exquisite. Spectacular, devastating and beautiful—a perfect image to portray the brand of martial arts that UFC wanted to bring to the masses. Before Hall became synonymous with UFC audiences, he was a standout in the TUF house, to the point where seasoned fighters like Bubba McDaniel seemed to have a near nervous breakdown before meeting Hall in the quarterfinals.
It took just over five seconds for McDaniel to step on to the right hand of Hall before he met the canvas. Two more shots on the ground ended. Then came Dylan Andrews in the semis, and in just two rounds Hall finished the Australian to claim his spot on the season finale.
There was so much talk of Hall's knockout of Cella that the technique was infamous before the season premiered. All the talk from those in the know was of the stunning knockout, which was heavily featured in the previews and advertisements for the upcoming series.
"One of the nastiest knockouts I've ever seen in combat sports, let alone on The Ultimate Fighter," Dana White told the MMA fan base of Hall's handiwork on season's preview, as an image of medics loading someone into their ambulance flashed across our screens.
Hall's coach on the series, Chael Sonnen, further bolstered the UFC president's sentiments when he insisted that the knockout artist could be ranked among the best middleweights in the world after his quick dispatch of McDaniel. Furthermore, in the lead up to his win over Andrews, Sonnen claimed that Hall was capable of beating the consensus greatest of all time at that point, Anderson Silva.
It was all set up for Hall to win the finale and to sail off into a new horizon that promised big things like title shots. Then, Kelvin Gastelum won a split decision over him to win the series at the finale. After that, journeyman John Howard took a victory in the same manner over Hall four months later. The hype train had been derailed. White went as far as saying Hall was "not a fighter" after the loss to Howard.
White said: "I love Uriah Hall. I have a great relationship with this kid. He's one of the nicest human beings you can ever meet. He's not a fighter, man. If I could take Brad Pickett's brain and heart and put it inside Uriah Hall's body, holy shit there would be some damage done, because Uriah Hall has all the physical attributes to be amazing. He's got speed, he's got power, he's unbelievable. He doesn't have what it mentally takes to fight here. You know what I mean? It's a mental thing."
Had people looked a little bit closer and not been distracted by the bright lights of his highlight reel spinning kick, the would've known that Hall had identified his most outstanding issue as a fighter, on the same episode that he scored the infamous knockout.
"I have a constant struggle, a battle in myself," he told Sonnen before meeting Cella. "I think at one point in my career I just lost a lot of confidence. I have people saying 'you're this, you're that', but if you can't see it for yourself, I don't think it's worth (anything)."
Hall's win over Chris Leben is still the biggest of his career. He pummeled the brawler to the point that 'The Crippler' retired from the fight on his stool after the first round, shortly after that he retired from fighting altogether. Wins over middling fighter like Thiago Santos and Ron Stallings followed, but yet again Hall failed when he met another fighter looking to introduce himself to the 185 rankings—Rafael Natal.
In his most recent offering, Hall's grounded attack on Oluwale Bamgbose brought a close to their contest in the first round. However, this weekend Hall meets the toughest test of his life in Gegard Mousasi, a man who has won everything outside of the UFC and currently occupies the sixth place in their rankings.
A win over the former DREAM and Strikeforce champion would certainly top the fantastic knockout of Cella, but it remains to be seen if Hall has the mental strength to see the bout through and claim a victory.
Had it not been for that KO we might have reasonable expectations of Hall, but after being hypnotized by his spinning connection with Adam Cella's face, it seems like it's expected every time he steps into the Octagon. His is obviously very physically capable and he has proven that he has the confidence to nullify his opponents in the past. However, this weekend will see if he can finally step out of the shadow of the moment that endeared him to us over two years ago.