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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC Fight Night 124’s Doo Ho Choi

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Up-and-coming knockout artist, Doo Ho Choi, will take on the heavy-handed veteran, Jeremy Stephens, this Sunday (Jan. 14, 2017) at UFC Fight Night 124 inside Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

It took Choi a grand total of less than five minutes to knockout three opponents. As a result, he was quickly given a big opportunity to knock Cub Swanson from his perch on the main card of a pay-per-view (PPV) in his fourth UFC appearance. It didn’t work out that way, but Choi proved his heart and skill in a “Fight of the Year”-winning scrap.

Suddenly, Choi is out of time. The South Korean’s two years of mandatory military service is fast approaching, and it seems that the only way out is for “Korean Superboy” to capture UFC gold and earn an exemption. That may sound like the bizarre plot to a comic book, but it’s hard to question Choi’s motivation.

Let’s take a closer look at his skill set:


Prior to researching for this article — but having scene all of Choi’s UFC fights at least once already — I worried that this might end up being a pretty short article. After all, Choi pretty much just 1-2s the shit out of everyone. After reviewing the tape, I have to say my instincts were pretty on point.

The first thing to note about Choi is how he carries himself. He stalks his opponents with his head leaning slightly forward, inviting punches. Both his left and right arm are tense and chambered, ready to fire like pistons. Choi keeps his hands high but in front of his face, which causes his straight shots to close distance quickly, but did leave him vulnerable to Swanson’s clubbing hooks and overhand.

Much of the time, Choi needs little else but his right hand and timing. From the loaded position, Choi shoots out a speedy cross or slips inside with an overhand remarkably quickly. He transfers his weight well, resulting in big power, and poor distance management from his opponent can award Choi an easy knockout (GIF). Choi’s jab works for the same reason that his cross does. It’s ready to fire pretty much all the time, is carried close to his opponent, and Choi throws it with clean technique. It was on display quite a bit against Swanson, as Choi managed to tag his foe’s nose whenever Swanson’s feet stopped moving.

Any time a fighter relies on very few weapons, timing becomes more and more important. With that in mind, let’s talk about a few of the situations that allow Choi to land his brutal right hand. One of the most common is the intercepting cross (GIF). It’s a simple concept, Choi remains planted as his foe bursts forward and shoots a cross towards the chin. I mentioned earlier that Swanson managed to land well with looping shots, but Choi’s cross also cut through a number of those punches to land first and do big damage of his own (GIF).

Choi also commonly looks to counter kicks. Whether Swanson fired to the lead leg or looked to stab at the body, Choi would reach out with a long right hand and try to make him pay.

Sometimes, fatigue in kickboxing is a far bigger factor than technique. A great example of capitalizing on fatigue came in Choi’s first-round knockout victory over Thiago Tavares. The Brazilian came on strong and landed a pair of takedowns, chain wrestling and working hard to keep Choi on the mat. To his credit, Choi did an excellent job of remaining very relaxed while wall-walking and scrambling back to his feet.

While it took a couple minutes, Choi eventually returned to his feet and created separation. Unlike Choi, Tavares had not spent the previous two minutes relaxing. Instead, he was squeezing the South Korean with all his might in an attempt to keep him trapped. It may not have looked like much, but Tavares’ did the grappling equivalent of running sprints by chaining takedowns and working so hard to keep Choi pinned. Once Choi was up, Tavares probably only needed 30-60 seconds to recover from that sprint to fight effectively.

Choi didn’t give him that time, and his right hand found an easy target as a result (GIF).

For whatever reason, Choi hasn’t thrown all that many kicks inside the Octagon. In one of his previous fights against Mitsuhiro Ishida, however, his low kicks played a big role in knocking his foe off-balance and helping Choi dominate the fight (GIF).

Defensively, perhaps the biggest issue with Choi’s game is his defense along the fence. Just about all of Swanson’s biggest flurries came when Choi’s back was to the fence, and it’s not just because Choi stayed there. Instead, Choi showed a bad, Junior dos Santos-esque habit of hitting the fence, dropping his hands in surprise, and then getting clobbered with a hook in whatever direction he circled.


Choi really is not one to shoot for takedowns, but he is physically strong and willing to work from the clinch. There were many wild exchanges with Swanson, and such powerful trades often land fighters in the clinch. Several times, Choi was able to duck under a hook, grab a back clinch, and weigh down Swanson toward the mat. Additionally, Choi used a foot sweep successfully several times, which is the subject of his technique highlight.

Choi’s defensive wrestling is still being tested, but it looked pretty strong opposite Tavares. He largely gave up his hips by jumping into a flying knee on Tavares’ first shot and still nearly defended it. Afterward, he did a nice job of getting his hips back and fought off each attempt from Tavares well-enough, and the end result was the aforementioned knockout.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Choi has never been submitted nor has he won a fight via tapout since his debut back in 2009. Wrestling and grappling are not his primary objective, but Choi has shown a few tricks up his sleeve.

Opposite Swanson, Choi did get to play guard a few times because he didn’t have the energy to immediately scramble up. From his back, Choi attempted a pair of sweeps that both made sense for his situation. When Swanson was hanging in guard, Choi kicked off at the hips, which created a stand up early in the fight. This time, Swanson stayed tight, so Choi attempted to elevate and roll him over. Later, Swanson was tightly hugging Choi’s hips, which made the hip bump sweep a perfect maneuver to attempt, and it very nearly worked. To return to his feet in the final frame, Choi did use a tripod sweep. The tripod sweep involves blocking the opponent’s ankle and knee before kicking at the hip to cause him to trip over — it makes more sense in GIF form — and Choi was able to pull it off to regain his feet even if he did eat a right hand for his trouble.


Choi is a very exciting and talented fighter, but does he have what it takes to go on a title run in 2018? Perhaps the bigger problem than skill is activity, as this is just Choi’s fifth UFC fight in four years. If he dispatches Stephens, he’ll be reasonably close to a title shot, but Choi will have to move quickly if he wants any chance at capturing gold this year.


Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt, is an amateur champion who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport's most elite fighters.

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