Contributor: Ben Kohn
The hype train is phenomenon that exists in every sport. A young athlete comes out of nowhere impressing the hell out of their respective sports world and becoming the next big thing. The thing about hype trains is that they tend to begin way before they are deserved. The example that I intend to talk about today is recent TUF finalist Uriah Hall. Before his finale fight with Kelvin Gastelum, Uriah was being touted as a future Middleweight contender and possibly one day a champion. I actually saw people talking about how dangerous Uriah would be against Jon Jones and how he is probably thankful that Uriah fights at Middleweight. I was in complete disbelief how after so many seasons showing that the TUF talent really is not up to UFC talent standards, people just bought into the hype as if they were starving for a week and were handed a rib eye steak with mashed potatoes, asparagus, a salad, and an ice cold beer…I’m hungry. Anyway let’s break down how the hype train got rolling and was derailed as fast as it started.
Before the season of TUF 17 started, Dana wouldn’t stop talking about how there was this one guy on the show everyone was scared of fighting. Most people brushed it off as Dana being Dana and trying to hype the show so everyone would watch it. Well for once he was telling the truth. Uriah Hall scared the hell out of every cast member in that house that season. It all started with his first fight in the house itself against Adam Cella. Uriah towards the end of the first round performed a spinning heel kick that knocked Adam out cold. The knockout itself was impressive as hell. The aftermath of the knockout was one of the scariest moments I can remember seeing. Adam did not wake up immediately and began breathing really weirdly. The medics immediately began tending to him as everyone waited silently for Adam to wake up. When he finally did, there was a collective sigh of relief, both in the house and for everyone watching at home. Adam turned out to be completely ok and Uriah walked away from that fight as the new favorite to win the tournament and with the respect and awe of the rest of the fighters.
His next fight was against Jon Jones training partner and Greg Jackson trainee Bubba McDaniels. A veteran with an official record of 20-6, Bubba lost his first fight to none other than Kelvin Gastelum by RNC. After winning his wild card fight against Kevin Casey, rather unimpressively I might add, Bubba was clearly not happy with his matchup against Uriah in the second round. The fight played out exactly how everyone thought it would, only a lot faster than they thought it would. Uriah put Bubba down with a perfect straight right on the orbital and left Bubba lying on the ground out cold, the follow up shots were just icing on the cake. Bubba woke up asking what happened and why his eye hurt as he lay there, face down and eye leaking, while the house again waited in fear to see if his opponent was alright. Dana said it best, for once; that you do not even want to cheer for his knockouts because you are so worried about his opponents.
Next up for Uriah was the last overall pick from the show, Dylan Andrews, who was coming off a victory of Team Sonnen first pick Luke Barnatt. Dylan proved that he has incredible heart and some good skills to along with it. He also seemed to be among the most level-headed and nicest guys in the house. Combine that with his compelling story and you have a legitimate underdog story brewing there. However, there is a reason underdogs are called that, because they just aren’t able to compete with the big boys. Right from the start of their fight, it was clear that Uriah outclasses Dylan in every aspect of the standup game. Not to mention his obvious advantages in speed, strength, athleticism, and timing. Uriah jabbed Dylan unmercifully for the entire first round busting him up very badly. Uriah was clearly being very measured in this fight and did not want to get caught in a wild exchange which was extremely smart. In the second round it was more of the same with Uriah beating the hell out of Dylan while Dylan through a punch every other century. Eventually Dylan managed to get a takedown against the cage and landed in Uriah’s half guard. Uriah held on to a kimura for almost the entire rest of the round. Eventually he let go and recovered guard and things got really interesting here. Uriah began punching from the bottom with hard shots and actually rocked Dylan from inside his guard! Uriah then proceeded to reverse Dylan and finish him with GnP from the mount.
Uriah was no in the finals, exactly where everyone not only expected him to be, but also told him he would be. Chael clearly spent the entire show telling Uriah that he would win this show and eventually be Middleweight champion. He told Uriah he could beat Anderson Silva and no one can stop him. Dana clearly was setting the stage for a big Uriah win. All Uriah had to do was beat 21 year old Kelvin Gastelum. The undersized last pick of Team Sonnen was this season’s dark horse. He quietly knocked off each fighter he faced, two by RNC and one by brutal KO. Yet even with these impressive performances, Kelvin was stil a 3 to 1 underdog against Uriah. He was too small, too slow, and just not good enough to beat Uriah. The media and fans were all aboard the hype train which was moving full steam ahead towards certain greatness. Now hype trains are ok for fans and media but the problem is when the fighter believes it themselves. That’s when trouble starts brewing and this hype train brewed up something fierce. As we all know, Kelvin showed not one iota of fear and came right at Uriah from the opening bell winning a contested split decision which many feel Uriah won. However, regardless of the decision, the hype train was completely derailed and for good reason. Everyone seemed to forget that Uriah looked fantastic against a group of fighters that are not UFC fighters but rather TUF fighters. He did not look like a world beater against top ten fighters but rather against guys who may not even be in the UFC much longer. The two fighters who are relevant and top fighters he did face, he lost to. Chris Weidman beat him at his own game of striking and Costa Philippou was able to win a split decision although I expect Costa won’t be in the top ten much longer.
The whole point of this article is to show that jumping on the hype train of a fighter looking great against lower competition is generally pointless and can have disastrous results. Just look at what happened to Alistair Overeem for further proof. The Reem believed he could toy with Bigfoot Silva and it got him brutally KO and lost him his title shot. He bought into his own hype train and it caused him to lose the biggest fight of his career. Uriah Hall had all the hype behind him but when you have built that hype on a weaker foundation, it is bound to fall eventually. Uriah is talented fighter and may end up doing well with his career but hopefully he will be humbled by this experience and learn from this loss. He has a long way to go before being a serious contender in the division. Until that time though, let’s keep our expectations for him at a level based on actual accomplishments rather than imagined potential.
-Ben can be reached at email@example.com and @agentbenten.