This is the sixth installment of London-based writer Brian Mallon's column on the Ultimate Fighting Championship for The Asahi Shimbun. Mallon has been a martial arts practitioner, UFC fan and journalist for many years. The biweekly feature will appear every other Monday.
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In this week’s column we contrast the fortunes of “The Korean Zombie” and Hatsu Hioki in an increasingly exciting featherweight division. We also look back on Kim Dong-hyun’s ill-fated bout at UFC148 and find out who will star in the UFC’s first-ever trip to the People’s Republic of China.
Hatsu Hioki and Jung Chan-sung are both ultra-talented featherweights. Both are among the best in the world right now at 145 lbs. The latter may, however, have learned from Hioki’s recent hesitancy to seize a title opportunity in a sport where one minor mistake can result in defeat and a treacherous climb back to title contention.
Following stand-out wins over the durable George Roop and well-rounded Bart Palaszewski, Hioki was offered the elusive opportunity to fight for the coveted 145-lb strap. To the surprise of many, the nine-year pro declined the title shot. Following a subsequent surprise loss to Ricardo Lamas at UFC on the FX Network last month, Hioki now finds himself out of title contention, and he must surely regret risking his number one contender status in such a competitive and increasingly populated division.
Following Jung Chan-sung’s watershed victory against the man tipped to be the future of the weight class, Dustin Poirier, he now appears to have usurped Hioki atop the list of featherweight contenders. Jung’s approach to his next career step could not, however, contrast more sharply to that of his Japanese counterpart.
The Pohang native took to his Twitter account last week to make his title intentions abundantly clear. “I want Jose Aldo. I will end his reign as a champion.” Jung knows that in the “what have you done for me lately” fight game, everything can change in an instant and following his win over the highly touted Poirier, he is in the pole position to seize the Brazilian’s crown later this year. By being one of the few 145 lb’ers to openly challenge Aldo, the South Korean is aggressively positioning himself for an October title tilt against one of the sport’s pound-for-pound best.
FANS STUNNED BY KIM'S QUICK DEFEAT
Things didn’t go according to plan for South Korean star Kim Dong-hyun at UFC 148. “Stun Gun” had been grappling with Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Demian Maia for a matter of seconds when disaster struck and the fight was halted. Kim had suffered an injury in the fight’s opening exchanges and had visibly wilted under the considerable pressure Maia was exerting. The fourth dan judoka’s camp have since confirmed that Kim had suffered a muscle spasm and not a rib injury as first feared. I don’t believe that Kim’s place in the 170-lb pecking order will be overly affected by this curious defeat. His army of Asian fans will certainly be hoping to see their hero back in action as soon as possible.
CUNG LE TO TAKE CENTER STAGE IN MACAU
The UFC last week announced its first-ever trip to the People’s Republic of China. An event has been confirmed for Macau in November and so the scene is set for the world’s largest promotion to finally gauge demand in one of the most promising markets on earth. Action movie star Cung Le was among the first names mentioned by UFC President Dana White as featuring on the card. Following an impressive striking display against returning Canadian vet Patrick Cote at UFC 148, Le appears to be tailor-made for the main event of such a high-profile bill. When asked what was up next for him following his defeat of Cote, Le replied, “I’m just going to enjoy this win right now … and see what happens.”
White however interjected saying “what he meant was … I’d love to fight in China.” Le smilingly agreed with his boss and so the Vietnamese-born Sanshou expert will lead the charge in the UFC’s second event in Asia in 2012. Featherweight Zhang Tiequan is the only Chinese fighter on the promotion’s roster at present and looks sure to feature as the organization frequently promotes homegrown fighters in their international events.
SONNEN A TRUE MARTIAL ARTIST AFTER ALL
Asian fight fans are among the most appreciative of the core tenets of traditional martial arts. Last week’s middleweight title challenger Chael Sonnen, however, classes himself more of a cage fighter than martial artist, at least in his frequently outlandish soundbites. MMA’s biggest WWE-style heel did, however, appear the epitome of a traditional martial artist in the aftermath of his second round defeat to 185-lb kingpin Anderson “The Spider” Silva at UFC 148. Silva has faced allegations of greasing, grabbing his opponent's shorts and landing an illegal knee to the head of his downed opponent in the bout's final throes. Sonnen, however, refused to offer any excuses for defeat in the biggest fight of the year. Speaking to Fuel TV he said, “The referee makes the decision, and that is the decision. We live with it. We would never go and appeal. A decision is a decision. Part of competing is you have to know how to lose. It's real easy to win, but you have to know how to lose. You have to man up, swallow it and walk out."
Spoken like a true martial artist
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