It seems that every few seasons, “The Ultimate Fighter” produces a prospect who shocks and impresses to such a point that he or she is a rising star before the show even wraps. Whether the Ultimate Fighting Championship is explicitly driving the hype train—as was the case in Season 8 when UFC President Dana White famously called Phillipe Nover “the next Anderson Silva”—or simply riding it and hoping for the best, those expectations are often so lofty and based on so little data that some of the fighters are bound to fall short.
In Season 17 of the venerable reality show, which aired in early 2013, Uriah Hall was that man. It was no fault of his own; all the soft-spoken Jamaican-American did was knock out people in the cage and keep largely to himself outside of it. However, once footage of his spinning back kick knockout of Adam Cella turned up in ads and highlight reels for the show—White’s assertion that it was “one of the nastiest knockouts I’ve ever seen in the fight business” felt less like hype and more like a matter-of-fact statement—the train was leaving the station.
By the time Hall reached the final by following his icing of Cella with two more knockouts of Bubba McDaniel and Dylan Andrews, the result seemed little more than a formality. Facing Hall on April 13, 2013, was his teammate, Kelvin Gastelum, who had advanced through the bracket with three finishes of his own. However, the stocky, baby-faced 21-year-old looked like a pudgy welterweight, and fan sentiment seemed to echo that of the oddsmakers, who installed Hall as a 3-to-1 favorite.
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Once the cage door shut, of course, Gastelum had something to say about the coronation. In an exciting back-and-forth fight—one of the best “Ultimate Fighter” finals in years—Gastelum edged Hall via split decision. Somewhat lost in the idea of hype-train derailment is that the fight in no way proved that Hall was without substance as a fighter. While Gastelum’s wrestling was nominally his best advantage, the second round featured Hall launching him with a belly-to-back suplex. In the end, however, Gastelum prevailed and the narrative was set: Gastelum was the hot prospect, while Hall was hype.
In the seven years since that night, both men have proven that it was not quite so clear-cut. Gastelum dropped to welterweight immediately after the show and embarked on a run that saw him rocket into the Top 10. However, it was marred by two weight misses, including one miss by a whopping 10 pounds. Forced by the UFC to move back to middleweight, Gastelum went on another impressive run, culminating in his unsuccessful bid for the interim title in Sherdog’s 2019 “Fight of the Year.” Coincidentally, Gastelum’s instant classic against Israel Adesanya took place on April 13, 2019—a year ago today and exactly six years after his win at “The Ultimate Fighter 17” Finale.
For his part, Hall has continued to dazzle and occasionally frustrate, racking up an 8-6 tally in the UFC and picking up two “Performance of the Night” bonuses. He currently finds himself on a two-fight winning streak as a member of Sherdog’s middleweight Top 15.
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