A few days ago, Uriah "Primetime" Hall was riding the biggest hype train to come out of The Ultimate Fighter house in years. Utilizing some of the most breathtaking striking in the game, he sent four straight men to the hospital en route to the finale and was all but a shoo-in to be crowned the season 17 champion. Hall hadn't even made his UFC debut, yet fight fans were already labeling him the next great middleweight champion. Some even made the bold claim that he deserved a matchup against UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva following his much anticipated debut at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale last Saturday at Mandalay Bay + in Las Vegas.
But his opponent, Yuma's Kelvin Gastelum, who trains at Yuma United Mixed Martial Arts, had other plans in store for the man UFC Dana White labeled the "nastiest, deadliest, meanest kid" in the history of The Ultimate Fighter.
Heading into the fight, the 21-year old Gastelum was viewed as a sacrificial lamb. It looked as though he would inevitably be remembered as the first victim of Hall's reign of terror at 185 pounds, unless you asked our Power MMA Show host Jim Grieshaber, who picked the 3-to-1 underdog to win on the show last week.
"I was ring announcer for Kelvin's fight last summer at Cage Rage 2 up in Parker", said Gries. "There was something about him when I looked into his eyes. He was working as a bail bondsman in Yuma, so you know he's not scared of anything. And he's a flat-out grinder in the cage. I knew he would find a way to win this fight with Hall if it went the distance, and he did."
Entering the TUF house, Gastelum became known as youngest fighter in the show's history and the most inexperienced fighter out of the 16 competitors. Combine this with a less-than-intimidating 5'9" frame, he was all but written off as a possible champion as he was selected with the last overall pick for his team by coach and UFC star Chael Sonnen.
But the 2009 state champion wrestler from Cibola High School far exceeded expectations, taking out MMA veterans Kito Andrews, Bubba McDaniel, Colin Hart and Josh Samman en route to his shot at the six-figure UFC contract against Hall.
But as the two stepped into the octagon to find out who would take home the prize as the season 17 champion, something strange happened. Hall no longer looked like the menacing figure with absolute dynamite in his strikes. Instead, he looked more like a man who was absolutely lost as Gastelum stalked him around the cage with his left hand cocked back ready to explode.
Hall was quickly backed against the cage by Gastelum, which is the last place he needed to be because he no longer had room to throw those mesmerizing kicks he became known for. Even more strange was the way Hall chose to just stand there, his hands down and back against the cage as he allowed Gastelum to trade shots with him. White said it best as the post-fight press conference when asked about Hall's head scratching approach to the fight.
"I think that you saw what [Hall] had this season [of TUF]. But when you find out what a guy really has is when he's under pressure," said White. "When you're under pressure, you find out who the Anderson Silvas and the Georges St-Pierres are, those types of guys."
Gastelum ended up out-landing the Jamaican striker 39-19 in the opening round, successfully putting to bed the months of talk declaring Gastelum's stand up game vastly inferior to Hall's.
"I wanted to make a statement and prove that I wasn't just a wrestler," said Gastelum, "that I could strike and I was dangerous on my feet as well."
Hall seemed to snap out of his lackadaisical approach as he targeted Gastelum's lower body with a barrage of thunderous kicks and jabs. Hall even landed two takedowns of his own against the superior wrestling of Gastelum. It was a strange scene, with round one ending with Gastelum dominating Hall and round two ending with Hall out-wrestling Gastelum.
Both fighters entered the final round having won one round apiece, making round three the deciding round in the fight. In a round that will go down as an instant classic, Hall clearly out struck his opponent, landing 35 significant strikes to Gastelum's 18. But the diminutive fighter managed to land a pair of takedowns and had Hall scrambling on his back for the last two minutes of the fight.
As the bell signaling the end of the fight sounded, both fighters remained on the floor, exhausted and embracing. Fight fans had just witnessed one of the closely contested matches in recent memory. Everyone in the arena stood waiting for the decision to be read because there had been no clear winner in anyone's eyes.
Gastelum's superior wrestling turned out to be the deciding factor as Bruce Buffer read the judges' score cards: 29-28 Gastelum, 28-29 Hall and 29-28 Gastelum, giving the Arizona wrestler the split decision and the title of the new "Ultimate Fighter."
"I can't even put it into words," an emotional Gastelum said after being handed the trophy and the keys to a new Harley Davidson.
To Hall's credit, he took the loss very well as he joked throughout the post-fight press conference, smiling and showering Gastelum with all the credit in the world.
"A big part of it is, it's kind of hard because I trained with the guy and I like him," explained Hall. "It was kind of like that emotional side I was trying to get rid of, so it was kind of weird. Just going into the (cage) I was like, ‘Oh, [expletive]. Here we go again.' That side kind of got the best of me, but there's no excuse. Kelvin's a great guy. He's a tough kid. I think he's going to go really far in this sport and I'm happy for him."
White showered both fighters with praise but revealed Hall would never live up to expectations until he learned to fight through the one weakness he exhibited: lack of killer instinct.
"He's got a lot of skills, and his wrestling looked really good tonight," said White. "He's just got to work on his head. I just told him, ‘You got to get that head straight, man. You've got to get meaner. You're not mean enough.'
But as Gastelum sat there with his shiny new trophy, he revealed the magnitude of victory had not yet set in but was looking forward to his future in the UFC.
"I'm speechless right now obviously I'm happy but I'm kind of hurting because it was a tough fight," said Gastelum. "My eye hurts a bit and he got a couple kicks in that did some damage but I'll heal up just fine. It's a great feeling and I'm looking forward to taking a little time off and then getting back to training."
Editor's Note: MMA fans come join Ryan Bader, Aaron Simpson, Jim Grieshaber and the rest our crew Saturday at 5pm at Firehouse in Scottsdale for our Power MMA Show UFC on Fox 7 watch party. We'll have food and drink specials, free pics and autographs and cheer on Arizona's own Benson Henderson put his lightweight title belt on the line vs. Strike Force Champ Gilbert Melendez, Daniel Cormier make his UFC debut vs. Frank Mir and a lot more.
Check out Jose with Ryan Bader, Aaron Simpson, Blaine brooks and host Jim Grieshaber on the Power MMA Show, Saturdays from 11am-1pm on Arizona Sports 620 and here on ArizonaSports.com