The sport’s greatest fighter took on the sport’s greatest trash talker on season 17 of The Ultimate Fighter, as Jon Jones was pitted against Chael Sonnen. And while the light heavyweight champ thrashed Sonnen in their subsequent fight, on TUF, it was Sonnen who put two fighters in the final. In that final, Uriah Hall, who had delivered a series of highlight reel finishes on the show, including a frightening knockout of Adam Cella, was a huge favorite over unheralded Kelvin Gastelum. But it was Gastelum who continued his habit of upsets by defeating Hall for the season crown.
January 22, 2013
Middleweights – Kelvin Gastelum over Uriah Hall
Uriah Hall: Feared, Dangerous. Nice Guy?
For someone dubbed by UFC President Dana White at various times as the most feared and most dangerous competitor in the history of The Ultimate Fighter, TUF 17 middleweight finalist Uriah Hall sure is humble. Just ask him about his knockout heard ‘round the world of Adam Cella, and he’ll claim that the spinning hook kick he landed wasn’t up to par.
“I know that kick, and to be honest with you, it’s not my best kick,” said New York’s Hall. “Not to say I have better, but to me, that’s not a perfect hook kick. I know what a hook kick should look like and I don’t think it was a good hook kick. I think I adjusted it enough to where it did enough damage, but people are saying it’s spectacular and I don’t really think too much of it as spectacular.”
Well, it looked pretty damn spectacular to everyone who saw it. Hall laughs.
“I’m a perfectionist, and hopefully I get a chance to attempt it again.”
His next chance comes this Saturday in Las Vegas, when he meets Kelvin Gastelum for the TUF 17 title. It’s one of the most highly-anticipated finals in series history, partly because of the unbeaten Gastelum’s upset-ridden run through the field, but mainly due to Hall’s path of destruction through his set of opponents that stunned viewers and his fellow competitors. And once White began singing the 28-year-old’s praises, Hall went from a relatively unknown east coast prospect to the most intriguing newcomer in the sport. As for the “feared” tag, he takes it all with a grain of salt.
“I didn’t really see myself as the feared guy in the house,” he said. “I was just there for the competition. I wasn’t there with a strategic plan to say ‘all right, let me go for this guy because he’s weak,’ or whatever. I was there because it was a tough tournament and may the best man win. I wanted to see how far I could go with it.”
He’s taken it all the way to the goal line. Now he just needs to cross it this weekend. After making his way into the house with a decision win over Andy Enz, he knocked out Cella, Bubba McDaniel, and Dylan Andrews in succession, building his budding legend with each fight. But as far as making bold and outrageous statements as the final approaches, he simply looks back at the whole TUF experience with an air of appreciation.
“Overall it was a great experience just being in that environment, completely out of my comfort zone, and at that particular time that was what I needed,” he said. “I was there for a tough tournament, and I had a great coach (Chael Sonnen), someone who believed in us and mentored us, so it was a blessing to have that, and I’m looking forward to using what was instilled in me to move on to the next chapter of my life.”
Before the next chapter starts, he must close this one against his Team Sonnen squadmate Gastelum, and though the Arizonan may be the underdog according to the oddsmakers, Hall isn’t buying it.
“The kid, just being on the show with him, he gets better every time,” said Hall of the 21-year-old, the youngest fighter ever on TUF. “He pushes the pace and there was no hole in his game; he’s good at everything and is very well-rounded. Being on the show with Kelvin, it was more like he was a little brother. We would wake him up to go train, we’d stay on him with his diet and all that stuff, so I have no bad thoughts towards him. It’s like with me and Bubba. We met before the whole thing and even Dylan too, so I had to separate that and just go in there and do what I had to do. It sucked, but at the end of the day, may the best man win, so I had to put that aside.”
It’s all part of the maturing process for the Jamaica-born Hall, a Tiger Schulmann MMA product who built a 7-2 record on the local east coast circuit, with his only losses coming against current UFC middleweight contenders Chris Weidman and Costa Philippou. He bounced back from the defeats with three consecutive wins, so did he think he was going to get a call from the UFC before heading out for the Ultimate Fighter?
“Honestly, I didn’t know,” he said. “I just went out there because someone gave me the message and I figured that I was more than ready. I lost to these two guys (Weidman and Philippou), and I know I can beat them if I ever get the chance again, but what did I have to lose? And I just took that shot. I flew out there without any money to get back. I was that determined, and it ended up working in my favor, thank God. But I was ready. I wasn’t thinking too much into it, but I just had a feeling that this is something I should be doing, and this is somewhere I should be.”
No one’s doubting that he belongs now. All he needs to do is put a stamp on it by defeating Gastelum and taking home his TUF 17 trophy. If he can do that, who knows, his next stop could be to help lead the charge of the UFC into New York.
“I would be honored,” said Hall. “I was actually thinking about that – what if I’m that dude to kind of open that gate. That would be so cool. This is my home, and I know it’s not legal here yet, but I know Madison Square Garden would be ridiculously packed (for a UFC event). It would be awesome to be a part of that history.”
TUF’s Upset King goes for One More
Built like a Mack truck instead of the Little Engine That Could, The Ultimate Fighter season 17 finalist Kelvin Gastelum nonetheless snuck up on people on his way to Saturday’s finale in Las Vegas, beating four consecutive opponents on the reality show despite having only five previous pro fights.
“I think people counted me out in every fight, and I didn’t have an easy fight,” said Gastelum of his run through the field. “I didn’t have an easy road to the finale at all and I had to fight some of the best guys in the tournament. But I proved to myself and to the world that I belong in the finale.”
That he did, decisioning Kito Andrews, then submitting Bubba McDaniel and stopping Collin Hart before a semifinal submission of Josh Samman landed him across from Uriah Hall for the TUF 17 trophy. Not surprisingly, Gastelum finds himself an underdog yet again, not surprising given the growing legend of New York’s Hall, something the Yuma, Arizona resident has watched on a weekly basis.
“I’ve been watching it (the series), and they’re building him up, but it doesn’t bother me at all,” he said. “I know that once the fight comes, I’m gonna be in there and putting the fight on him and breaking all the hype pretty soon.”
Teammates on Chael Sonnen’s squad, Gastelum and Hall were witnesses to each other’s quest to survive the six week competition, and while some recent TUF finales haven’t got the heart racing like those of the early seasons, this one is a notable exception, with the buzz growing as fans wait to see whether Hall’s knockout run continues or if Gastelum can do what he’s done all season against the odds, and that’s win. As for his thoughts on Hall and the fight, they’re straight to the point.
“I see great potential,” said Gastelum of Hall. “But every time I look at him I think of how I’m gonna beat him, and I just picture myself holding up that trophy on April 13th.”
It’s as focused as you’ll hear a fighter, and even though the show finished taping a while back, the former State champion wrestler hasn’t let his guard down yet. For him the show and the quest aren’t over until the final bell on Saturday night.
“I’ve got a great group of guys that are helping me out with the fight and they’ve been very supportive here at home and at the gym,” he said. “Everybody believes in me and I’m in a great environment and in a great mindset. We believe we can beat him.”
If his mindset and focus is impressive, consider that he’s done all this as a 21-year-old, making him the youngest competitor in TUF history. On one hand, you could say that helped matters, as younger fighters aren’t leaving as much back home as those who are older, and with just six fights, an early exit from the show wouldn’t hurt his budding career as much. He disagrees with that assessment.
“I don’t think my youth had anything to do with it,” he said. “I had everyday struggles just like everybody else, and I really channeled all my energy and all my thoughts into every single fight. I’ve been wrestling for nearly ten years and in college it was the same thing. I was around a group of guys for three-four months during all the days of wrestling season, and it was kind of the same experience there because we were all there for one reason.”
Fair enough. So let’s re-phrase it and ask where his maturity comes from. The response is terse, but it speaks volumes.
“In my life my family and I have been through a lot and I really had to grow up fast,” he said. On Saturday though, he can make those struggles of the past just that – struggles of the past – and begin a new life as a UFC fighter. That sounds good to him.
“I plan to win the show and hopefully get another fight or two sometime during this year and really build my way up,” he said. “I’m here to really try and stay for a long time in the company and make a name for myself.”
By Laura Gilbert
In a Team Sonnen showdown between flashy knockout artist Uriah Hall and gritty last-pick powerhouse Kelvin Gastelum, the 21-year-old Gastelum shut down the Hall hype train to become the youngest-ever Ultimate Fighter in a three-round nail-biter.
Gastelum was fearless in coming forward against Hall, stalking him around the cage and throwing kicks and punches. Backed against the cage, Hall stood with his hands down, then threw knees from the tie-up. Back in the center, Hall threw front kicks, but Gastelum answered them all with his own, connecting a couple of times with solid lefts. Gastelum scored a big takedown and did damage from top position; eventually Hall worked back to his feet and surprised everyone by diving for a double leg of his own in the round’s final seconds.
Hall was confident to the point of cocky in the second, shuffle-stepping and keeping his hands down as Gastelum pressed forward. He pushed Gastelum back with a spinning back kick and followed with a body kick, but Gastelum again scored a big takedown and threw elbows from half-guard as the crowd in Nevada chanted “Kel-vin!” for the Arizona-via-California fighter. Hall reversed and kneed Gastelum’s body on the way up, then locked on a Muay Thai plum and launched more knees as Gastelum dove for a double leg. Again, it was Hall who got the trip to the mat from a tie-up on the cage. Kelvin rolled out of danger and stood with Hall holding his back, only to be dramatically suplexed by Hall.
Gastelum came forward quickly in the third, but an accidental low blow from Hall broke the action. As Hall tossed out whipping kicks and wound up his fists, Gastelum ate a big left hand and rushed forward with another big takedown. Hall bounced up and got his own takedown, landing on top and throwing heavy leather from top position until Gastelum stood. Another big takedown landed Gastelum in Hall’s guard, and the two traded winging shots on the ground as the crowd screamed for the final 45 seconds.
Judges gave the fight to Gastelum (now 7-0) by split decision with scores of 29-28, 29-28 and 28-29. “Obviously I’m happy but I’m kind of hurting because it was a tough fight," said Gastelum. "He got a couple kicks in that did some damage, but I’ll heal up just fine. It’s a great feeling." Hall’s record slips to 8-3.