Uriah Hall (7-3, 0-1 UFC) vs. John Howard (20-8, 4-3 UFC)
Hall will be fighting for the first time since coming up short in his quest to become the season 17 winner of “The Ultimate Fighter” as he welcomes Howard back to the UFC. Hall advanced to the finals on the strength of three highlight-reel knockout wins during TUF 17, but he was outpointed by teammate Kelvin Gastelum in the finals at The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale in April. Hall is 3-2 over his last five fights. Howard returns to the UFC after going 6-1 since his release from the UFC. He started his first run in the UFC with four straight wins before three straight losses led to him being cut, and he is looking to return with a bang on Saturday.
Fight Breakdown- Hall made a name for himself on TUF 17 with his violent knockout wins that sent competitors to the hospital. His spinning wheel kick knockout of Adam Cella will be replayed for years to come, and his one-punch knockout of Bubba McDaniel was just as alarming. The best knockout, though, may have been his one of Dylan Andrews. Andrews was firmly in control on top but Hall fired punches from the bottom that rocked Andrews, and Hall was able to reverse position and win with punches from the top. Hall had an underwhelming performance against Gastelum, and he didn’t seem mentally 100% during the fight, and he admitted as much that it was hard to fight a friend. Hall has undergone some training changes as he has moved to California to train with his TUF coach Chael Sonnen, who has said that Hall can be an instant contender in the middleweight division. Hall will be on his third different opponent for this bout as he was originally scheduled to meet Nick Ring, who was then replaced by Josh Samman. Samman then was injured and replaced by Howard.
Howard had an impressive start to his first stint with the UFC. He scored decision wins over Chris Wilson and Tamdan McCrory in his first two fights, and then followed those with back-to-back knockout wins over Dennis Hallman and Daniel Roberts. With a 4-0 record in his first four fights, it was a matter of time before Howard moved up in competition. That is where it went south for Howard as he then lost three straight fights. Those losses came to Jake Ellenberger, Thiago Alves and Matt Brown, who are among the best in the UFC’s welterweight division. Despite those losses, Howard showed toughness and was only finished by Ellenberger, and that was due to the doctor stopping the fight due to a huge hemotoma on Howard’s head. However, Howard was cut following those losses, but after six wins in seven fights in the regional promotions, Howard jumped at the chance to return in his hometown of Boston, though he takes the fight with Hall on short-notice, and he will be moving up to middleweight after fighting his other seven UFC bouts as a welterweight.
Hall is a diverse striker with a wide array of attacks, and he has power in his hands and his feet as evidenced on TUF 17. With all of that power that Hall has, the best part of his striking attack is his speed. It is among the best at 185 pounds. If he gets his mind right and can avoid the mental lapses, he will be a title contender. Working alongside the likes of Sonnen, Ellenberger and Mark Munoz will only help that. If he wins this fight, it will be due to the power in his hands and feet. Howard is a tough fighter to finish, and he has finished twice in his career (not including the doctor stoppage in the Ellenberger fight). Howard is never out of fights as well as shown in his win over Hallman. Hallman looked to be en route to a win over Howard before Howard knocked him out with just five seconds left. That showed that Howard will stay in a fight for the full 15 minutes and that he has the power to finish at any time.
Hall may look to use some grappling in this fight as Howard has had trouble with grapplers, and Hall may want to show that he has improved in that area working with his new camp. Hall himself has had trouble defending the takedowns though he showed better takedown defense against Gastelum. Howard is not known to go for a ground battle, and unless he wants to mix it up to keep Hall guessing, this fight is going to play its’ way out on the feet. Howard has good kickboxing and he has the chance to frustrate Hall on the feet, but Hall is a killer on the feet. Hall has good conditioning as well, and Howard is the one taking the fight on short notice. Howard will need to not get overconfident fighting in Boston, and Hall needs to show that he can get past any mental lapses in his game. If Hall shows up and fights the way he did during TUF 17, this fight has the makings for a nasty knockout win for Hall, and no matter how tough Howard is, he won’t be able to survive that onslaught.
Why It Matters- Hall has the hype still around him despite the fact the loss to Gastelum slowed it down. Hall still has the tools to become a contender at 185 pounds, and he would love to avenge a loss to new champion Chris Weidman. He needs to start racking up some wins if he is going to contend, and a win over a fighter the likes of Howard is a very solid start. A loss would hurt Hall a lot, and it could force him into a fight where he could be staring at a pink slip. He doesn’t want that, so this is a huge fight for him.
Howard earned his way back to the UFC with his performances outside of the promotion following his release. He doesn’t get an easy road back, but the fact that he was willing to step up and fight Hall when others likely weren’t will work in his favor. He will get another fight in the UFC whether he wins or loses, but a win would completely derail Hall’s hype train. A loss could force Howard into the position of fighting for his UFC career yet again. He gets what he wants, and that is a UFC return in his hometown of Boston, and he will be wanting to make the most of it.