Uriah Hall finally gets the type of challenge that could validate his progress this September 26, 2015 at the Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan.
Single sentence summary:
Phil: Ultimate Ungulate Championship, as the Moose battles MMA’s own Ferdinand the Bull
David: Two narcoleptics of strategic pugilism try to avoid Nightmare on Shibuya Street.
Gegard “The Dreamcatcher” Mousasi
History lesson / introduction to the fighters
Phil: Gegard Mousasi is slowly leaving his DREAM and Strikeforce days behind him and establishing himself as a UFC mainstay, in part because he’s one of the more active upper-level middleweights around at the moment. In his wanders around the globe he’s always remained an independent and financially savvy fighter, so I think he recognizes that he doesn’t have that long left to make his facepunching career count before he leaves for something a bit less violent. He’s relatively young, but he’s been fighting for a long time.
David: Mousasi has never been those “what could have been” stories to me. More like a “what’s always been”; he’s good at fighting, so he fights for a living. Nothing more. Trying to glean anything more out of his career misunderstands the real narrative about Mousasi. He won’t be in line for a title shot anytime soon, but he’s a tough fight for anyone in the division which makes him a draw in his own way.
Phil: Uriah Hall has come to be a poster child for TUF disappointment. He was the first product of the show in years to genuinely electrify the audience- the wheel kick over Cella, the KO from guard against Andrews. It was the only time in recent memory I’ve seen non-MMA people posting about TUF on Facebook. Sadly, he also proved to be inconsistent and exploitable.
David: Well, it’s weird to see a dude devastated by the sheer mayhem of his own construction. I’ll never forget his reaction to Cella’s mewling corpse. You could tell it really affected him. Like the Dalai Lama himself interrupted his fight quest, and he’s been moving forward in confused intervals ever since.
Phil: That’s why he’ll always be Ferdinand to me: a big softie trapped in a body built for violence, and someone who fights because he has a talent for it rather than because he likes it. I think the key difference between Hall’s lack of motivation and Mousasi’s is that while Gegard appears uninterested, he still fundamentally enjoys hurting people in a way that Uriah doesn’t. As brutal as it sounds, that’s the sport we watch.
What are the stakes?
Phil: I think the UFC just doesn’t know what to do with Mousasi. Everyone above him is tied up, Tim Kennedy isn’t taking fights any more, and he’s already fought Machida. I think this is treading water while he waits for someone to drop out of the Rockhold-Weidman-Jacare-Romero quartet.
The willingness to throw “the next Anderson Silva” to Mousasi on short notice indicates that the UFC has basically given up on Hall as any kind of upper-level divisional staple. Sink or swim.
David: I don’t think it’s necessarily sink or swim for Hall; more like ‘swim elsewhere’. It’s not Hall’s fault Dana White passed out from his own power sauce, and thought the Cella KO was the most vicious thing since Sonny Corleone’s death:
If Hall loses, it’s simply a validation of the criticism (the Natal fight being a far greater stake in that claim). If he wins, suddenly a new challenger emerges. Mousasi losing will inspire the same faces from fans as Mousasi’s actual face; to fans, I think Mousasi is like the spiritual predecessor to Hall. All the tools for the foundation of a great fighter. Just not the mentality of one. Or so goes the stigma at least.
Where do they want it?
Phil: Good question. The historic knock on Mousasi is that he’s so well-rounded that he’s happy to fight pretty much everywhere. The knock on Hall is that he’s a far more specialized kickboxer but makes little effort to actively control the fight, allowing himself to be pushed around the cage and rarely upping his volume and aggression unless his toe gets broken.
Mousasi is a protean fighter who can develop with strategic plans for his opponents (“I am going to jab Latifi” / “I am going to wrestle OSP”) but struggles to make tactical adjustments over the course of a fight. His toolset is still formidable though- excellent offensive wrestling, a now-decent sprawl, submission acumen, an underrated kicking game, a sharp jab and legitimate punching power.
David: I say it every time, but this is a preview, so it’s not like I get to use much imagination. But urgency; urgency, urgency, urgency. This is Mousasi’s problem in a nutshell. There’s just no switch in his brain that keeps him from taking advantage of momentum in a fight. Maybe it has to do with the comfort of being well rounded, or whatever, but he’s just not a fighter inspired by anxiety.
Reminds me of that line from Game of Thrones when Dario and Greyworm are looking for sons of the harpy. Greyworm tells Dario he doesn’t fear anything. Dario explains to him by knifing a man behind the wall that forgetting what fear is like is the same is forgetting how to hide. And that’s Mousasi’s problem. I think he believes in his skillset. But he doesn’t believe in concealing his flaws because he believes they don’t exist.
Phil: Hall is a clean and accurate kickboxer, who packs significant power into every strike. However, his workrate is low as he tends to fight on the counter, and his defensive footwork is fundamentally not quick enough to make him an effective pot-shotter who can throw and reset, throw and reset. His ground game is largely meat and potatoes stuff, with a standout being the laser-guided, Anderson Silva-esque ground and pound which might actually be his best weapon.
He’s defensively sound, and is hard to take down or land clean strikes against, which generally makes his losses that little bit extra frustrating- he’s never gotten blown out or dominated in the UFC, and so you always feel like he could do just a bit more.
David: Hall is purely an interval striker. He’s interested in that one good shot. He has the skills to be effective, but only when attacking. As you pointed out, Hall’s problem is that his offense is easily interrupted. His lack of success is the perfect illustration of how the ‘perfect plan tomorrow’ method isn’t very efficient. MMA is fundamentally chaotic; best to just ride the pugilism tide. His mindset hurts his boxing more than anything, where his raw power and speed could be used to great advantage if he pumped up the volume.
Insight from past fights?
Phil: Hall is a little similar to Edson Barboza in that he’s struggled with a very specifically MMA kind of pressure- level change mix-ups which force him back into the fence. Put into pure kickboxing matches with fighters like Stallings and Santos, he was far more consistent and comfortable. However, even if Mousasi chooses to make this a kickboxing matchup, he’s still had significant success against fighters like Kyotaro.
David: Mousasi is a drastically different fighter in the cage though. Granted, I’m talking to a sharp, analytic mind so I’m not trying to be condescending. Just that you can tell the difference; in the square ring, Mousasi’s mechanics are liberated. In the octagon, those mechanics are confined to erratic outbursts. I don’t think Jacare would beat Kyotaro in a kickboxing match, but he was straight dummying Mousasi on the feet by feinting and not feinting level changes. That was one of the few times Mousasi actually appeared hurt.
Phil: Jet lag? The Wandering Vagabond has fought in Japan multiple times, and Hall hasn’t ever fought outside of the States to the best of my knowledge.
David: Hope you’re not joking. Suprachiasmatic exhaustion is a real thing. I even wrote about it damnit!
Phil: This could be one of two things- a slow-paced kickboxing match, or a grappling clinic. Mousasi likely wins both. Even if Hall can tag him, Mousasi has one of MMA’s most ridiculous chins, and I find it very hard to see Hall finishing him or picking up a decision. Gegard Mousasi by submission, round 2.
David: Ridiculous chins have a tendency to downgrade to ‘sane’ real quick though. Granted, Mousasi hasn’t been in a bunch of excessive wars, but I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Hall actually stuns or drops him. Still, this is Mousasi’s fight to lose. If he feels like he’s losing the edge on the feet, he’ll take it to the ground. Gegard Mousasi by Decision.
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