Featherweight Octagon newcomers Tatsuya Kawajiri and Sean Soriano made their Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) debuts in the co-main event of UFC Fight Night 34 yesterday (Sat., January 4, 2014) at Marina Bay Sands in Marina Bay, Singapore.
Aside from that similarity, the fighters were at completely different points in their respective careers.
Kawajiri brought the experience of 41 professional mixed martial arts (MMA) bouts to Singapore, having fought a long list of top-level Lightweight talent throughout his lengthy career. Kawajiri made the cut down to 145 pounds in 2011, winning four straight bouts heading into his first fight in the Octagon.
Soriano, on the other hand, was an undefeated prospect (8-0). The Blackzilians team member has some of the best MMA coaching in the sport at his disposal. Filling in for the injured Hacran Dias, Soriano was looking to make a big statement by knocking off a legend.
Unfortunately, that never materialized.
"Crusher" proved too seasoned for Soriano, teaching the young prospect a lesson with a second round submission. Let's take a look back at Kawajiri's impressive UFC debut.
The fight started with an aggressive Kawajiri pushing forward for multiple takedown attempts. Soriano avoided them well to land some big knees. He snapped a good leg kick and avoided another takedown. Kawajiri finally got the fight to the mat but Soriano scrambled back to his feet to hit Kawajiri with a few elbows.
Kawajiri took down Soriano again, gaining his back and looking for a choke. He smothered Soriano to smash him with ground and pound, ending the first round by dominating from the mount.
Kawajiri was breathing heavy in between rounds. He came out throwing a big punch then got a good bodylock takedown. The longtime veteran secured a tight rear-naked choke on Soriano, who eventually tapped after some initial resistance.
The referee didn't stop the fight soon enough, however, and Soriano was choked out unnecessarily. It was horrible piece of officiating, but an impressive effort from Kawajiri.
After the fight Kawajiri called for a UFC Featherweight title shot. While that's a great goal to have, "Crusher" is still light years away from fighting division champion Jose Aldo. Nonetheless, he'll receive a stiff step up in competition next. And if he wins that fight impressively, he could find himself pitted against a Top 5-ranked opponent.
There's no doubt Kawajiri has a decided strength advantage at featherweight, but he looked tired after desperately trying to take down Soriano in the first round. If he wants to hang with fighters like Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes, Ricardo Lamas, and Cub Swanson, he's going to have to up his cardio in a big way.
For Soriano the loss is disheartening but not devastating. He might actually benefit more from receiving his first-ever loss against a legend like Kawajiri. The experience gained from the fight will motivate him throughout what should be a lengthy UFC career.
The 24-year-old prospect will get another shot soon, most likely against an opponent with far less experience. Soriano showed a ton of heart in stepping up to the plate to face Kawajiri in his first Octagon fight. He was even able to stave off many of Kawajiri's takedown attempts in the first round. With a solid skill set and team behind him, Soriano has all the tools to be a legitimate contender a few years down the road.
Tatsuya Kawajiri locked up another finish in his Octagon debut to extend his win streak to six. Did UFC Fight Night 34 mark the beginning of a title run for "Crusher?"