There probably was no one outside of his coaching staff, his immediate family, his best friends and a diehard fan or two who would have called Jamahal Hill a great fighter prior to Saturday night.
Good? Undoubtedly. Outstanding prospect? No question. Potential champion? Of course. He was favored at BetMGM to defeat Glover Teixeira on Saturday for the vacant light heavyweight title in the main event of UFC 283 at Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, for a reason.
Great, though, is a word that, with good reason, is rarely used when talking about a fighter with no previous championship experience.
But 25 minutes after the opening bell and a gruesome, one-sided beatdown of the hugely popular Teixeira, what else is there to say about Hill?
Great performance? Yes. It was reminiscent of Jon Jones’ arrival on the scene in 2011 when he decimated Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and claimed the light heavyweight championship in Newark, New Jersey. Just like Jones in 2011, Hill never gave Teixeira a chance on Saturday. He was faster, hit harder, and he was much better defending himself on the ground against a decorated black belt than anyone had a right to believe going into the bout.
It’s still a stretch to say he’s a great fighter, because one has to do it over time to be great. But Hill showed great talent, great smarts and great determination on Saturday. He remained composed even in the rare moments when Teixeira did something well.
The division is sort of a mess now. Going into Saturday, former champion Jiri Prochazka was ranked first. He was supposed to fight Teixeira in December, but tore up his shoulder in November and was forced to withdraw from the fight. UFC president Dana White said at the time doctors told him it was one of the worst injuries they’d seen.
It’s a fair bet we don’t see Prochazka until fall, at the earliest. Teixeira was ranked No. 2, but he retired after the brutal beating he took from Hill. He is 43 years old and already was the second-oldest man, behind Randy Couture, to win a UFC title.
He was a step slow on Saturday and was brutalized as a result.
“I think I’m too tough for my own health,” Teixeira said. “I can’t keep up anymore. I’m going to focus on [training middleweight champion] Alex [Pereira] on what he’s got to do to keep his belt [before] he goes off to light heavyweight. It’s an honor to put down the gloves on the same night as Shogun [Rua, who retired earlier in the night].”
Magomed Ankalaev is ranked third and Jan Blachowicz is ranked fourth. They fought for the vacant belt at UFC 282 in Las Vegas in December that wound up in a split draw. No champion was determined and White disliked the bout so much that he a made deal with Hill and Teixeira to fight for the title at UFC 283 before he got to the UFC 282 post-fight news conference. No way are either Ankalaev or Blachowicz getting another title shot any time soon after that.
Aleksandr Rakic is ranked fifth and coming off an injury and Anthony Smith is sixth.
It doesn’t seem like any of those fighters, save perhaps Rakic, are going to be called upon for a championship fight any time soon.
And even if they were, would you bet on them after what you saw from Hill on Saturday? Prochazka, sure, if you could guarantee he was healthy. A Hill-Prochazka fight for the belt is going to be a whale of a scrap once Prochazka is ready to go.
Babies will be conceived and born before that, though. And not many others inspire much confidence given what we saw from Hill.
The thing that stood out most about him Saturday was his composure. Everyone knew he had massive power in both of his hands, which is the primary reason he was the favorite. But he couldn’t get rid of Teixeira, who took shot after shot after shot and kept coming, despite a pair of gruesome cuts around his eyes.
“The dude is tough as bricks, man,” Hill said of Teixeira. “I don’t know anybody who would have been able to take what I was doing and keep going.”
He stuffed 15 of Teixeira’s 17 takedown attempts, and smartly managed to get to his feet in the two instances when he was down. Twice, he was shrewd enough to back off and force Teixeira to stand, since he was doing so well in the stand-up.
He controlled himself, rarely overextending where he’d either be open for a counterstrike or a takedown.
He switched stances that seemed to confuse the veteran who had seen just about everything.
Hill looked like, well, a great fighter.
He has a lot to prove and he’ll get his chance eventually. If Prochazka’s rehab is running ahead of schedule, he could choose to wait for him to return and take that as his first defense.
Or maybe he fights Rakic in the meantime.
A lot is still to be determined, including whether it’s fair to call Hill a great fighter.
He fought a great bout on Saturday and showed the physical gifts, the wisdom and the composure that is required of the great ones.
Only time will tell how to judge Jamahal Hill. On this night, he was great and showed the stuff that only the great ones bring to the cage.