UFC 264 may be one of the most talked-about cards in the history of the sport. Yet, while many eyes will be on the stacked main card, the event may also be hosting one of the strongest preliminary cards in recent memory. With names like Carlos Condit, Max Griffin, Michel Pereira, and Niko Price, the earliest fights of the night promise fireworks. But before these names take the stage, we will see the long-awaited return of one of the most fascinating submission artists in the UFC today, testing his skills against likely the best grappler he is to face yet in a surging up and coming fighter.
Ryan Hall will look to make his UFC record a perfect 5-0 on Saturday when he takes on rising prospect Ilia Topuria. The latter name may be unfamiliar to many fight fans as he only recently entered the promotion in October of last year. However, with a perfect professional record of 10-0, he is on pretty much any list of young talent to keep an eye on.
Prior to his entrance into the UFC, Ilia was best known for his powerful and explosive jiu-jitsu game, finishing his first seven opponents via submission. In his last three fights, on the other hand, he has demonstrated a heavy-handed boxing game as well, coming out with knockouts in two of the three.
Hall is a veteran of six years in the Octagon, but if you were to just look at his record you wouldn’t know it. Since winning The Ultimate Fighter in 2015, Hall has only been able to compete in the cage a mere three times, although not from lack of trying. It has long been believed that a lack of willing challengers have been an obstacle that Hall has faced, being unranked but one of the most dangerous fighters in the featherweight division. It seems that for many on the roster a fight with Hall is too high risk and low reward.
On Saturday, July 10, Hall will finally get a shot on the biggest card of the year against possibly his most dangerous opponent yet, for it may be a chance to finally enter the rankings that many believe he deserves to be on. For Topuria it is a massive jump in competition, but with as much hype as any behind him, the young gun could fast track his way to becoming one of the fastest rising stars in the modern era.
Hall vs. Topuria betting odds
Ilia Topuria is the betting favorite heading into the featherweight clash at UFC 264. Topuria is currently a -220 favorite at most bookmakers with Hall listed as a sizable underdog with odds of +180.
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Hall vs. Topuria breakdown
Both fighters at their core are fundamentally grapplers, and it is likely that they will get the opportunity to see high-level jiu-jitsu exchanges often. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that every fight starts on the feet, and the way they fight in this area is night and day.
Ryan Hall has a style unique to him. Due to his proficiency in the grappling department, especially his leg lock and guard games, he is so unbothered by the idea of being taken down that he enjoys a rare freedom on the feet.
Many strikers enter MMA and abandon flashier kicks and light-footedness in order to better ready themselves to defend takedowns. Hall is the opposite, he often favors low percentage moves such as hook kicks as well as many spinning and jumping attacks. He even falls purposefully if he feels off balance or if his opponent moves in to counter, and invites them into his guard or rolls for a leg.
Due to his preferred striking set, Hall works best from the outside, throwing more point-like strikes to frustrate his opponents and control their movements, sneaking in power strikes when that frustration kicks in or exploding into imanari rolls (rolling for a leg). His spinning hook kick may be his most powerful weapon, a technique rarely seen at all, let alone by a grappler.
Topuria’s style by comparison is much more boxing-heavy. Utilizing a high guard, Topuria will walk down his opponents, taking care to control the center of the Octagon and ripping vicious body shots in order to open up opportunities upstairs. His striking style is hook-centric, with a powerful base and plenty of explosion, he’s more comfortable than Hall in the pocket.
But, as an explosive fast starter, it is common for Topuria to start a round better than he ends it, whether he is striking or grappling Topuria tends to fade but resurges after his break between rounds. This is unlike Hall, who due to a high level of relaxation during his fights, moves particularly efficiently and at an easier pace. Hall rarely gasses and even maintains relatively unaffected cardio deep into his three-round fights.
On the ground, Hall is a submission specialist. He is best known for his leg locks due to his proficiency with them on The Ultimate Fighter, as well as his stunning finish of UFC legend BJ Penn. However he has been quoted in the past revealing that leg locks are not his favorite game to play, he just hasn’t found anyone good enough to use anything else.
His style varies, we have seen him catch a submission in an instant and we have also seen him ride out fights using back control to secure a comfortable decision, but in both cases what brought him to victory was a methodical BJJ game. He will roll with moves and snatch positions, slipping onto the back during transitions, he is predominantly a technical fighter, using his energy only as needed.
Topuria favors a heavier grappling game. When frustrated or hurt on the feet, he will go to his bread and butter double leg takedown which is one of the most explosive today. Once he secures that top position, he is very difficult to move, floating from mount to side control to back control. However, as in his striking, his grappling is done with 100% effort all the time, and he breaks down his opponents but in doing so often saps his own cardio to an extent. While he does still maintain his ability to explode sometimes deep into a round, the danger in this comes in the form of making some mistakes, as he gets noticeably more tired, Topuria will act reactionary out of habit.
That being said, his wide array of submissions cause him to always be a threat throughout the fight. He has finished fights via a variety of submissions including armbar, anaconda, triangle, guillotine, and rear-naked chokes. In every position in the fight, one has to be wary of these submissions and many more. He chains his submissions together extremely well, especially transitioning between guillotines and D’arce chokes as the positions change.
Hall vs. Topuria prediction
Ryan Hall will have to weather an early storm each round against Ilia Topuria. If he can do that I think between his unorthodox striking and patient grappling styles, Topuria will get frustrated at some point. As a young fighter with a lot to prove and a high finishing rate to protect, I can see Topuria taking risks, as well as tiring himself going for the knockout or submission. At these points in the fight, Hall has to capitalize on the experience difference and catch Topuria with either a power strike or quick submission by surprise.
As of now, Hall is a betting underdog at roughly +200 across all platforms. In my opinion, this is the best underdog value of the night. Topuria is a rare talent and the sky’s the limit in his budding career, but Hall is one of the most difficult opponents to prepare for and holds a slight grappling advantage between the two grappling standouts.
Prediction: Ryan Hall to win via submission (round two)
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How to watch Ryan Hall vs. Ilia Topuria
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Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.