This Saturday (March 1, 2014) Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) welterweights Dong Hyun Kim and John Hathaway will face off in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF): "China" Finale, airing live on UFC Fight Pass from Cotai Arena in Macau, China.
Both fighters bring stellar mixed martial arts (MMA) records into their pivotal main event showdown. Kim has only two losses while Hathaway has just one.
Kim was last seen shocking the world at UFC Fight Night 29 when he knocked out Erick Silva with a huge left hand. "Stun Gun" is much better known for his wrestling skills than his knockout power, but he proved he has both dimensions to his game. On a three-fight win streak, No. 11-ranked Kim is looking to cement a huge name fight if he can get past the talented Hathaway.
That's going to be far from easy, as Hathaway has a three-fight streak of his own. It has been awhile since he's stepped inside the Octagon, however, as Hathaway missed all of 2013 with a shoulder injury. He was last seen outpointing John Maguire at UFC on Fuel TV 5 way back in September 2012. "Hitman" is looking for a huge rebound against the ultra-tough Kim.
That could make for a closely contested scrap. With 18 decision wins and a boatload of wrestling expertise between them, it could also make for an extremely boring one, as well. Let's take a look at the keys to victory for Kim vs. Hathaway:
Dong Hyun Kim
Record: 18-2-1 (1) overall, 9-2 (1) UFC
Key Wins: Matt Brown (UFC 88), Erick Silva (UFC Fight Night 29), T.J. Grant (UFC 100), Nate Diaz (UFC 125)
Key Losses: Carlos Condit (UFC 132), Demian Maia (UFC 148)
Keys to Victory: Kim has proven to be a very tough opponent throughout his UFC tenure, losing only to elite competitors Carlos Condit via knockout and Demian Maia via injury.
His wrestling and top control game can be labeled nothing other than top-notch, and he's used that skill set to smother the vast majority of his victims. "Stun Gun" showed surprising striking ability in his last fight, but that's going to be incredibly tough to replicate against Hathaway.
"Hitman" has never been finished standing or on the ground, so Kim might as well be ready to win a grinding affair. Fights like that are his strong suit anyway, so he shouldn't be afraid to prove that he can out-wrestle Hathaway. Kim has never been much of a submission artist, instead preferring to unleash ground and pound when he gains an advantageous position on the mat.
That should be how he looks to dominate Hathaway this Saturday. Kim will be looking for a varied offense of takedowns, but they're going to come at a premium. Hathaway is an expert wrestler himself; Kim has to prove his skills are superior.
"Stun Gun" will be up to the challenge.
Record: 17-1 overall, 7-1 UFC
Key Wins: Pascal Krauss (UFC on FOX 3), Diego Sanchez (UFC 114), Rick Story (UFC 99)
Key Losses: Mike Pyle (UFC 120)
Keys to Victory: Hathaway's toughness and skill set aren't in question here; only his ability to topple a tough task like Kim in his first bout in almost a year and a half. He's got his work cut out for him, but Hathaway has a ton of experience and knowledge to back that up.
The former NEWA freestyle wrestling champion has won every one of his seven UFC wins by decision save for a technical knockout stoppage of Tom Egan in his promotional debut. The only fight he ever lost was to Pyle in his homeland, and that was also by decision.
Hathaway will come prepared to win a grinding match in Macau, but he has to be extremely careful when closing the distance for a takedown. While he's largely been able to neutralize most of his foes' striking ability, Kim has some sneaky one-punch power.
If Hathaway has shored up his own striking during his long hiatus, he may look to surprise by keeping this fight standing. Kim's only real stoppage loss was from a Condit flying knee, but Hathaway doesn't quite have the same dynamic striking ability.
This fight may be destined to be a wrestling match, but Kim should hold the advantage on the feet. Hathaway will be looking to get this fight to the ground, and he should, because Kim doesn't look for submissions that often. That could definitely mean that whomever controls the position on the ground will win this fight, and that will be right in Hathaway's neighborhood.
Problem is, the same is very true for his opponent.
Bottom Line from Macau: The bottom line of this fight is that Hathaway can throw a serious wrench in Kim's plans to make a quick rise into the top 10. No one has really been talking about "Hitman" after his lengthy absence, but if he can come out strong and score one of his biggest wins, he could be an outside contender in a tough division.
"Stun Gun," on the other hand, will make a very strong case for a highly ranked opponent if he can get past Hathaway. A four-fight win streak is tough to come by in the stacked UFC welterweight arena, but Kim has to win impressively.
With a recent string of decisions plaguing the UFC and the 170-pound landscape being populated with widespread knockout power, a lackluster lay-and-pray effort isn't going to get Kim anywhere. Unfortunately, Hathaway will probably make it a slow-paced ground war regardless of if he wins or loses.
It's on Kim to continue to prove his striking is progressing and make this fight exciting. If he can't, he'll still be on the outside of the true top level at 170 pounds.
There's no doubt this bout features a contest of highly skilled mat technicians. However, that's not exactly what MMA fans are looking for right now.
Hathaway can make a huge move if he can somehow score a finish of "Stun Gun," so the stakes are high for the talented wrestler. The odds are stacked against him, so let's hope he makes this into a battle.
A finish is going to be hard to come by in the TUF: ‘China" Finale's main event from Macau. With Hathaway and Kim proven to favor long, grinding bouts, this one could turn into a stalemate.
But with Hathaway returning from a long layoff, the fresher Kim may hold the upper hand. I expect this fight to turn into a battle of attrition at points, with Kim proving to be just slightly more skilled than his younger opponent.
Final Prediction: Kim def. Hathaway via unanimous decision