December 7, 2016

The Ultimate Fighter 24 Finale: Ryan Hall Wasn't Running, He Was Winning

By Raphael Garcia

While The Ultimate Fighter 24 Finale focused on the underdog story of Tim Elliott facing the pound-for-pound best in the sport in Demetrious Johnson, Ryan Hall ended up becoming one of the biggest talking points of the night. For three rounds he frustrated Gray Maynard and fans watching with a mix of striking and focused grappling. By the end of the contest fans were booing, which is often their response for fights that are deemed “boring,” but many practitioners of the grappling arts praised what Hall did.

Hall’s rise to fame is well-known to those invested in the grappling world. He is known for his strong performances across events such as the ADCC, IBJJF Pan Ams, and IBJJF Worlds, and that style translated directly into the MMA arena. Everyone knows what Hall is going to do when he steps into the cage, and in his first two UFC fights he implemented that game plan perfectly. Yet that same game plan riled up many onlookers and some of his peers within the sport, as the conversation across the social sphere included praise for Hall’s application of BJJ as well as complaints about Hall’s “running” or “tepidness.” But is that criticism really valid?

While statistics may not carry a lot of weight in mixed martial arts, the numbers breakdown from the Hall vs. Maynard bout shows that in three rounds of action, Maynard landed only 12 strikes, and he only attempted 42 in total. Hall maintained range perfectly, but that didn’t stop him from peppering Maynard with a variety of kicks, most landing to the face. Numerous times throughout the fight Maynard’s head would snap back from another kick to the face or head. When Maynard tried to force the action, Hall dropped down to attack the legs, setting up a variety of leg submissions. Instead of applying his ground and pound game, Maynard would retreat, calling for Hall to return to his feet. Wash, rinse and repeat.

If Hall’s perceived hesitation to engage on the feet was equated to running, how should one describe Maynard’s unwillingness to grapple with Hall? He recognized Hall as a dangerous Jiu Jitsu practitioner and avoided that aspect of his game, the same way Hall recognized how dangerous Maynard is as a puncher and wrestler, working hard to avoid that game.

Mixed martial arts is about strategy just as much as it is about power, speed, and cardio. Ryan Hall has the potential to achieve the success that comes when a fighter is equally as smart as he or she is violent. While the strategy that he employed at the TUF 24 Finale was perplexing to both his opponent and many fans, there’s no denying its effectiveness. Hall has become a problem worth solving in the UFC featherweight division. The question now becomes how the UFC will utilize such a perplexing fighter going forward.

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