By Steve Borchardt \
Heading into this season of The Ultimate Fighter, UFC President Dana White made mention of a fighter who was so dangerous he sent everyone he faced to the hospital and who was so imposing he caused one opponent to suffer a pre-fight nervous breakdown. At the time it seemed like a bit of de rigueur hype from of a fight promoter doing his best to hard sell the upcoming installment of a struggling franchise. After all, this is the man who once compared Phillipe Nover - who went on to amass a 2-5 record after his run on TUF - to Anderson Silva.
Now, after watching Uriah Hall deliver perhaps the two most brutal stoppages in TUF history, it doesn't feel like hype anymore.
It only took Hall nine seconds to knock Bubba McDaniel out with a brutal right hand counter shot; it took McDaniel a couple minutes before he could return to his feet, and weeks for his gruesomely damaged eye to fully recover.
The scene was eerily reminiscent of Hall's remarkable spinning heel kick knockout of Adam Cella a few weeks back, both in the vicious economy of the blow and the sobering aftermath that followed in its wake. Seeing a spectacular knockout is one of the most viscerally thrilling things about MMA, but watching a man moan in panic stricken agony as he attempts to regain the use of his limbs isn't so fun. Nor is it a comfortable viewing experience when someone is laying on the mat unconscious and, instead of coming to and asking what happened, he begins to fall into the tell-tale snore that often signals injury to the brain.
So far, through no fault of his own, Hall has provided us with two such moments on this season of TUF. When the cameras show Hall's reaction to the disturbing aftermath of these phenomenal knockouts it's almost as if he himself is rattled by what he's capable of.
Is it any wonder that, if you apply a little deductive reasoning to White's initial hype for this season, Hall's semifinal opponent Dylan Andrews looks to be suffering a nervous breakdown on next week's episode? It's difficult to recall the last time there was a fighter at Hall's level of experience with this kind of aura of legitimate danger about him. Put yourself in Andrews' position for a second and try to imagine what it would be like to go up against this guy after seeing first hand what he did to Cella and McDaniel. I don't know about you, but if I was scheduled to get in the Octagon with Hall, every time I closed my eyes to go to sleep at night I'd be haunted by visions of what initially looked to be a near-death experience for Cella.
The funny thing is though, even though Hall is self-aware enough to realize the rest of the house is intimidated by him, he appears to have some issues with nerves himself. Sure, Hall exudes the confidence of an athlete who knows he's a special talent, but his talk of emotions being "fake" paints a picture of a man trying to take control of an emotional tempest raging within. There were further hints of Hall dealing with some inward struggle during a sit down interview with his coach Chael Sonnen. During the brief scene Sonnen offered Hall the following advice: every fighter has a choice between conceding defeat before the fight or remaining confident and emerging victorious. Sonnen then did something unexpected and admitted he had done both in the past. It was an uncharacteristically poignant and self-revealing moment from a fighter known for his brash persona.
McDaniel unwittingly echoed this sentiment during a pre-fight confessional. According to him the outcome of his fights always comes down to "which Bubba shows up." Heading into this week's fight he looked understandably flat and battle-weary considering this would be his fourth time making weight and fighting in a five week period. Even if he had been facing a relatively easy out rather than a monster like Hall, it was obvious the best Bubba McDaniel would not be showing up on fight day.
But despite being mentally exhausted and physically falling apart, Bubba still did show up to fight Hall. He may have been knocked out in brutal fashion before he even had a chance to break a sweat, but McDaniel still got in the cage with the most dangerous man in the TUF house despite coming into the fight feeling like like a car that had just been eliminated from a demolition derby. We all saw the results: McDaniel lying face first on the canvas just seconds into the fight, unable to move, and worried about what felt to him like an internal injury to his badly swollen eye.
Afterwards, McDaniel was understandably down on himself. Coming into the tournament he was brimming with confidence; now he had lost twice in the span of just a few weeks. Assistant coach Frank Mir did his best to console McDaniel by reminding him how all fighters have their wins and loses. The important thing, according to Mir, was that Bubba was trying to move forward and take the fight to Hall when he got clipped.
And that hinted at a major theme running throughout this episode that can perhaps best be summed up by Shakespeare's oft repeated phrase from Julius Caesar: "A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once."
Hall's vicious knockouts inside the TUF house serve as uncomfortable reminders of the dire consequences fighting can have. Each time a fighter steps in a cage or gets in a ring they are facing the possibility of serious injury or even, in rare cases, death. It's only natural this knowledge would carry with it a degree of anxiety and fear. Nobody likes to admit to being afraid, especially in a sport where projecting an air of ultimate self-confidence at all times is a job requirement. What this episode of TUF showed is that there's no shame in fear unless we give into it.
For most of us the idea of merely getting punched in the face is enough to dissuade us from ever getting in the cage. Fighters are different though; for some reason they feel a need to continually throw themselves into the fire, despite the very real possibility of getting burned. Some might call that masochism, but for those who are born to fight it's not a matter of subconsciously finding pleasure in pain; it's a matter of enduring pain and risking injury in order to succeed in life on their own terms.
Bubba McDaniel may have lost two fights in the Ultimate Fighter tournament, but at least, as the cliche goes, he won't be left looking back on his life and wondering "what if" he had given everything he had in his quest to become a UFC-level fighter. Maybe he'll do better in actual UFC competition if given the luxury of a full training camp, or maybe he'll find out he doesn't have what it takes to hang with the best fighters in the world. Either way, by showing the courage to put his fears aside in order to chase his dream, he's won a dignity for himself that can't be taken away.
The same thing goes for Uriah Hall. Whether Hall goes on to become a championship level fighter in the UFC or he proves to be cut from the same cloth as Nover, whatever he achieves from this point forward will be because he chose to face his anxieties and put himself in harm's way in order to take control of his destiny.
It's a lesson that can be applied to many walks of life. Whether you want to be an artist, an entrepreneur, or even a cage fighter: one of the prerequisites of success is first overcoming the fear of failure. While it's entirely possible you may end up like McDaniel laying crushed and battered on the ground, unless you're willing to risk that you'll never know what it feels like to be like Hall and have your hand raised in victory.