One of the best South Korean fighters in the world, Dong Hyun Kim, headlines his first-ever Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) event against British prospect, John Hathaway, this Saturday (March 1, 2014) at the Venetian CotaiArena in Macao.
Much like his opponent, Kim finished a majority of his foes early in his mixed martial arts (MMA) career and entered the Octagon with a brutal finish via elbows. However, he failed to finish in any of his next seven wins. During that time, he also lost to Carlos Condit during his title run and suffered a freak injury against Maia.
Both of those fights took a fair chunk of his momentum away and made his statement of "My name is Stun Gun and I want GSP!" fairly absurd. Of course, things have changed since then with the Canadian retiring, and Kim violently ending Erick Silva's night in Brazil with a huge left hand. Currently ranked number 11 in a wide open division, his chances at earning a title shot suddenly don't seem so crazy.
Can Kim take another step toward the title, perhaps with another knockout victory?
Let's find out.
Despite a fair amount of knockouts, it doesn't take much viewing to realize that Kim is not an elite striker. The South Korean hits hard, but his striking is disjointed and rarely set up well.
Using the threat of his shot to keep his opponent hesitant, Kim starts out most bouts with a variety of kicks. He mostly goes to his opponent's leg but will mix in strikes to his opponent's head and body. His best kick is likely his front kick, which he whips towards his opponent's face with impressive speed. Against Sean Pierson, he even landed a jumping front kick, Machida-style
Though "Stun Gun" kicks hard, he rarely sets these kicks up with punches. His length usually keeps him safe from counters, but a similarly lanky fighter, like his upcoming opponent, can counter them.
When Kim boxes, he actually has a fairly nice jab. After using a sharp jab to raise his opponent's defense, he'll drop down for a takedown. Unfortunately, he doesn't use his jab to set up other punches very well.
Kim primarily relies on wide, looping punches. Rotating between hooks, uppercuts, and his left cross, Kim tries to overwhelm his opponent's defense with singular power punches. He will occasionally throw two punch combos, but he rarely extends his combinations further or does anything extraordinary, other than his absurd spinning back fist which has yet to come within a yard of his opponent.
But, sometimes power is enough.
In his last bout against Erick Silva, Kim spent most of the bout missing punches and then covering up when Silva returned with a combinations. However, his intense pace took a toll on both fighters, who were clearly fatigued by the middle of the second round. Silva, who had the momentum on his side, got over-aggressive in his attack and lax in his defense. As he went to throw a right hook, his left hand dropped, leaving his chin wide open for a massive overhand left from Kim.
Kim's defensive striking is to no better than his offense. On the rare occasion he doesn't immediately shoot for a takedown, he always moves straight backwards when his opponent pressures him. He'll also get spectacularly off-balance when trying to land a punch, which causes a variety of opportunities for his opponent, from counters to takedowns.
One specific weakness that Kim has shown is his reaction to body punches. Nate Diaz was able to draw Kim's hands away from his face with his very first body jab, and every one after that. If Diaz would've had the time to set up a feint body jab into a head strike, it very likely would've landed.
Kim, a fourth dan black belt in Judo, is a very experienced grappler and one of welterweight's premier grinders. He's also one of those rare fighters who's not only shockingly strong but is very technically excellent.
"Stun Gun" often utilizes his single leg takedown when he shoots. To set up his shot, Kim likes to push forward with punches then duck under his opponent's response, directly into the single. In order to finish, Kim can run the pipe, lift his opponent, or drive them into a trip. He can also transition between all of these finishes extremely well, making it difficult to stop Kim's single leg when he has the space to complete it.
If Kim uses his single leg and winds up against the fence, he often moves up his opponent into the clinch. From there, Kim is excellent with sneaky trips, powerful throws, and impressive reversals. It's hard to describe Kim's clinch game accurately, because his techniques are so varied between fights.
It's always impressive to watch a Judo practitioner reverse what is generally considered a bad position. For example, Sean Pierson, who's a Canadian freestyle and Greco champion wrestler , managed to secure double underhooks on Kim against the fence. Instead of pummeling or meekly accepting the position, Kim latched onto his head, stepped his hip across, and threw Pierson through the air. Though he failed to control top position, he did land Pierson on his head and cause a scramble.
Once Kim gets his opponent to the ground, he focuses almost entirely on control. Since he rarely gets aggressive with his ground and pound or submissions, Kim can keep his hips heavy the entire time he's on the mat. This means that if he can get a dominant position, like the mount or back mount, he's likely going to maintain it until the time runs out. It's a shame for the casual fight fan, as Kim does brutal damage when he does open up, but it's even worse for Kim's opponents, who can barely move underneath him.
Kim uses the cradle to control his opponents as well as anyone else in MMA. The South Korean uses it in multiple positions, from the back mount and turtle to side control. Once he gets a dominant position, his opponent will work insanely hard to cause a scramble. To prevent their escape, Kim often uses the body triangle but will simultaneously attack with a cradle. As his opponent tries to shake him, Kim just hangs onto the cradle and triangle, patiently waiting for fatigue to cause his opponent to plop onto the mat.
When it comes to counter-wrestling, there aren't many better than Dong Hyun Kim in terms of scrambling. Some fighters, such as Jose Aldo, are incredibly difficult to hold onto. Kim isn't like that, and it's not incredibly uncommon for his opponent to get him partially down. However, once he's on the mat, Kim can out-transition his opponent until he is on top.
One of his favorite takedown reversals is also the cradle. As his opponent presses him with a takedown against the fence, Kim will thread his hands between his opponent's legs and get a grip. He next lifts his opponent, removing his base and eliminating his opponent to drive, effectively ending the takedown. If Kim can, he'll flip his opponent to his back.
Kim, as all excellent wrestlers do, just finds a way to get on top in scrambles. Whether that means hitting a quick switch, forcing his way into an underhook, or working just a bit harder than his opponent, Kim does it well. At worst, the fight goes back to standing, but it's extremely rare for Kim to land on his back at the end of a grappling exchange.
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ)
With just a single win via submission, it's clear that Kim's intention is not to choke out his opponent. This is a shame, as "Stun Gun" has the ability and body type to put himself in excellent positions to finish if he would just attack more.
The highlight of Kim's ground game is undoubtedly his guard passing. Kim's heavy hips not only keep his opponent pinned to the mat, they allow him to frequently try to hop around his opponent's legs. In order to force his opponent to open his guard, Kim will stand and strike while postured. As his opponent tries to push him away, he'll go back to the ground, but this time ensure that his opponent's guard remains open. From there, he'll try to slide around the guard, using his hips to push his opponent's knee and pass.
Though Kim has attacked with many submissions, he has showed his preference for chokes. More specifically, Kim showed that he likes chokes that attack the head and arm, such as the arm triangle from mount and the d'arce choke. He even tried to finish an the arm triangle/arm-in rear naked choke from back mount, a very difficult move to complete. Kim's long arms make this moves easier to finish, and he may have had Paulo Thiago locked in a d'arce if not for the clock.
As mentioned in the wrestling section, Kim uses the body triangle extremely well. Once he secures the grip, he'll ride his opponent despite their attempts to transition. Kim is long enough that he can hold the body triangle even if his opponent moves to the mount. The mounted body triangle is a very unpleasant position to be in, and it's as difficult to escape as it sounds.
Finally, Kim has proven in his fights with Nate Diaz and Paulo Thiago that his submission defense is sturdy. Diaz attack with every submission in the book, particularly lower extremity moves, but Kim was able to evade him and, for the most part, keep top position. Thiago's signature chokes were never in play, and his lone significant attempt at a kimura was also shut down by the South Korean's smothering grappling.
Best chance for success
To ensure that he can win at least three rounds, Kim needs to relax. Going all-out for takedowns would almost certainly work but only for the first couple rounds. Instead, Kim needs to wait for his opportunities and capitalize on them, rather than shot forward at random in an exhausting attempt to avoid striking.
Once he gets on top of Hathaway, Kim needs to get too a dominant position. Hathaway is scrappy and moves a lot from the bottom, which will tire Kim if he's forced to deal with that. By getting a position like the back mount, the weight is now on Hathaway, and Kim doesn't have to work very hard. Of course, Kim could avoid all this talk of conditioning if he just submitted "The Hitman," but that doesn't seem likely.
While standing, it would be wise for Kim to be a bit more cautious. Hathaway will likely be looking to do damage, as he knows that time spent outside of grappling exchanges will be a rare commodity. That means he may try to blitz "Stun Gun" with punches or his flying knee, a move that Kim should have a deep respect for. If Kim works with his jab and front kick instead of wild punches, his chance of safely securing a takedown are much higher.
Can Kim fight his way into the top ten of the division, or will Hathaway live up to his role as one of England's brightest prospects?