The final fight of Anderson Silva’s storied career takes place Saturday at UFC on ESPN+ 39, and while few would be disappointed to see the legend ride off into the sunset with a moment of glory, Uriah Hall’s team has no intention of allowing it to come at his expense.
Hall (15-9 MMA, 8-7 UFC) will serve as Silva’s (34-10 MMA, 17-6 UFC) retirement-fight foe in the middleweight main event, which takes place at UFC Apex in Las Vegas and streams on ESPN+. “Primetime” is charged with the task of making an ugly stretch of results to close Silva’s career even uglier, but that’s the nature of the fight game.
Silva’s accomplishments during a historic career have caused him to be beloved by many, making it an emotional and seminal night for the sport. Hall is the da facto bad guy in that situation, but it’s not something he’s stressing about, according to Fortis MMA head coach Sayif Saud, who has overlooked Hall’s preparation for this weekend’s headliner.
“Everybody loves Anderson Silva,” Saud told MMA Junkie. “We’ve all been involved in this sport for so long. Uriah’s got a job to do. He’s still in the middle of his journey and we’re trying to get him elevated and through the rankings. Afterwards, whatever respect and homage we can pay afterwards, and you saw Izzy (Adesanya) do that. Everyone has a lot of respect for Anderson. But when the fight is on, I’m not worried about Uriah’s mindset. I think he’s focused and ready to go.”
The matchup with Silva is a significant moment in Hall’s career, but the road here hasn’t been easy. It’s been a chaotic year for “The Ultimate Fighter 17” finalist, who was supposed to fight Ronaldo Souza at UFC 249 in April before “Jacare” got COVID-19, then was supposed to face Yoel Romero in August before Romero withdrew due to injury.
Despite going through multiple training camps without a reward, Saud said Hall has maintained consistency amidst all the adversity. That’s a positive sign for a fighter who has had his mental fortitude questioned by critics throughout his career.
“We all go through phases and we all mature at different times and I think me getting Uriah at his age now has been great,” Saud said. “He’s one of my best students, does whatever I ask. I have not gotten that side of him (that shows mental weakness). As the fans well know, the guy is super talented, but hasn’t strung it together to be a champion. But I think he’s really matured as a fighter and as a man. I think he’s in a really great place and he’s been a joy to train and focus and it’s everything you want as a coach.”
Hall is currently listed as a nearly 3-1 favorite over Silva going into UFC on ESPN+ 39. The fact Silva is 45 years old, and has just one victory in his past eight fights, likely plays into the betting odds.
The recent performances from “The Spider” have revealed a diminished version of what he offered in his prime, but Saud said that’s no reason to get overly confident, because he doesn’t want to walk into a disaster.
“You don’t want to fall in that trap where you start to get really comfortable,” Saud said. “The guy defended his belt 11 times. It’s not like he doesn’t know how to win. … That makes it dangerous because a guy like that is not going to want to go off on an L. He’s going to leave it all out there and five rounds is a lot of fighting. It’s historic to be fighting him for his last fight.”
Current UFC middleweight champ Israel Adesanya has offered some advice to Hall ahead of the matchup, telling him to keep things “basic” if he wants to get his hand raised. Saud didn’t delve too far into the game plan for his fighter, but he agreed that Adesanya is on to something.
“I think that Anderson before has been hit with some pretty simple combinations,” Saud said. “The (Chris) Weidman left hook – I think if you try to go tit for tat with him, it’s not a good idea. Uriah’s so good at that and he’s creative, but strategy-wise I don’t think that’s a good idea. You’ve got to take the fight where someone is strong. … You just don’t want to go tit for tat with Anderson. You’ve got to put some pressure on him and establish the jab and kind of go from there. You never know. The guy is who is for a reason and we’re prepared for everything.”
If Hall is able to send Silva into retirement on a loss, he would then find himself on a three-fight winning streak at 185 pounds, which equals his best run in the UFC. Hall has said numerous times that he has championship aspirations and named Adesanya as his “dream” opponent, and if he wants to continue trending in that direction, Saud thinks an ordinary victory isn’t enough.
“I think he needs to win, but he needs to win decisively to make a statement,” Saud said. “There’s a lot of tough guys in the middleweight division and just beating him by decision or in a closer fight, I think it’s definitely a big deal, but I don’t think it carries as much weight. He’s going to be hunting for the finish for sure. If you want to move up, and have people want to see you fight, then you’ve got to be entertaining.”