After the run the UFC just came off in the previous year, there is going to have to be a lot of work put in to raise the bar higher in 2014.
Following a campaign where there was no shortage of "Fight of the Year" candidates, highlight-reel knockouts and unforgettable tilts is going to be no small task, but the UFC made its first steps of the new year on Saturday morning at Fight Night 34 at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.
The card was also the debut event held on the UFC's newly launched digital network Fight Pass, the place where the organization intends to hold a handful of their global efforts going forward. While there are many reasons the UFC will be airing certain cards on their new on-line outlet, one of more poignant causes has to do with airing live events from countries on the other side of the globe.
The first preliminary fight on Saturday's card kicked off at 6:30 a.m. EST stateside and that is certainly an awkward viewing time slot for the American audience. In addition to the early start time, the card was light on names that would ring familiar with the fan base, which put the majority of the focus on the welterweight tilt in the main event between Tarec Saffiedine and Lim Hyun Gyu.
The last man to hold the Strikeforce 170-pound strap was making his long-awaited Octagon debut at Fight Night 34 and his Korean opponent was eager to keep the momentum he's built under the UFC banner rolling when the two collided on Saturday in Singapore. And what a fight it was.
Lim got off to a strong start in the early goings, but the Team Quest fighter used his precision striking to chop away at his opponent's left leg. Once the damage started to tally up, "Sponge" took a clear lead, but his inability to put Lim away allowed the big welterweight to remain dangerous.
With the clock ticking down—and in full desperation mode—Lim went on full attack and wobbled Saffiedine with a flurry. While his show of heart was impressive, it wasn't enough to steal the win, and the Belgian fighter took the unanimous decision victory.
Outside of the fight at the top of the bill, a collection of promotional newcomers, veterans and prospects eager to make their marks let the leather fly as they attempted to get their new year off on the right foot. While there were solid performances on Saturday, there were also a few flat showings and that made for a relatively mild showing at Fight Night 34.
And of course any time a promotion kicks off a new endeavor in a new market with a cast of unknown fighters like they did in Singapore, there are going to be a few curious happenings.
Let's take a look at the good, bad and strange from Fight Night 34.
Tarec Saffiedine's first go inside the Octagon had been stalled on previous occasions, but he finally got back to business on Saturday night by defeating Lim Hyun Gyu. The 27-year-old used his striking pedigree to take away Lim's size and reach advantage as Saffiedine peppered and battered his Korean counterpart.
Once the vicious array of leg kicks he was handing out began to take their toll, Saffiedine showed excellent patience as he continued to work an effective game plan. With Lim barely standing in the fourth round, Saffiedine fired off a beautiful flying knee that dropped "The Ace" to the canvas.
While Saffiedine's performance was impressive, the only knock would be his inability to finish a visibly wounded opponent. Lim stayed in the fight and nearly finished Saffiedine with a flurry of his own as the final seconds ticked off the clock.
With the victory Saffiedine has now won five consecutive showings and has been successful in eight of his last nine outings. The welterweight ranks in the UFC are deeper than any other division on the roster, and Saffiedine kept himself in position to be a major player as the title race heats up in 2014.
A night in the Octagon has been a long time coming for Tatsuya Kawajiri and he certainly made the most of it at Fight Night 34. "Crusher" has been one of the elite fighters in the ranks of Japanese MMA for years, and he finally made his UFC debut against Sean Soriano on Saturday night in Singapore.
While the 24-year-old held his ground early, Kawajiri's pursuit of the takedown was relentless. After eating a few well placed knees and counter punches, the 35-year-old was finally able to get Soriano's back on the canvas, which was exactly where he wanted him.
Once Kawajiri had the dominant position, he unloaded his signature brand of ground and pound until he found an opening and moved to Soriano's back. After locking on a body triangle, Kawajiri latched onto a rear naked choke and secured his first victory under the UFC banner.
With the win, Kawajiri has now found success in six consecutive showings, with his last loss coming in 2011 at the hands of top lightweight Gilbert Melendez. Shortly after the loss to "El Nino," Kawajiri made the drop to featherweight, and has looked impressive in every outing at 145 pounds. His performance against Soriano proved he will be a solid addition to an already deep pool in the UFC featherweight division.
*** Max Holloway put the brakes on a two-fight skid by chopping down UFC newcomer Will Chope on the final bout on the preliminary portion of the card. Despite having difficulty getting through Chope's reach in the opening two minutes, the young Hawaiian finally found his groove midway through the first, and started to put the hurt on his opponent.
Although Chope made it out of the opening frame, he had defeat written all over his face in between rounds, and was finished shortly into the second stanza. In doing so, Holloway picked up his fourth UFC win in seven showings and continues to be a solid prospect at 145 pounds.
*** It was a great night for the Hawaiian fighters on the card (3-0) for Fight Night 34 and Dustin Kimura got things off to a hot start for the island contingent with a first-round submission victory over Jon Delos Reyes. The victory for Kimura makes him successful in two of his three showings inside the Octagon and keeps the future looking bright for the 24 year old.
As if one dismal officiating performance wasn't enough, Steve Percival brought a unique brand of poor officiating on Saturday. While he doled out a rare two-point deduction in a fight early on the card, he came back with force a few bouts later by blanking out at a crucial moment in the co-main event between Tatsuya Kawajiri and Sean Soriano.
The Japanese fighter had a rear-naked choke locked in and despite the Team Blackzilians fighter clearly tapping out, Percival missed the tap. This forced Soriano to endure a few extra seconds of a deep choke and to briefly lose consciousness.
Fighter safety is the primary reason a referee is inside the cage and Percival failed miserably at his job at Fight Night 34.
One of the perks of viewing cards on Fight Pass is the corner audio provided in between rounds and this feature gave a look at just how poor of a job Will Chope's coaches did in his fight with Holloway.
The 23-year-old Sacramento native had some early success against the Hawaiian, but was definitely on the business end of things in the second half and certainly the end of the round. Chope at a nasty flurry of knees to the midsection and big shots to the chin and those shots appeared to take the fight right out of his body.
Once he sat down on the stool and dropped his head, his corner man immediately set in with telling him how great he looked and that he had won the round. While the psychology of every fighter is different, blatantly lying to your fighter is never the way to go.
Granted, with Chope being broken in the opening round and Holloway with a full head of steam, there wasn't much he was going to be able to do to stop the 22-year-old, but his corner should have addressed the reality that was clearly in front of them.
Call it what you will, but working fight coverage at 6:30 a.m. EST is strange. With that out of the way let's move on to take a look at the other weird happenings in Singapore.
Katsunori Kikuno may have picked up a victory in his promotional debut over Quinn Mulhern on the preliminary portion of the card, but there was nothing typical about anything that happened. Despite having over 30 fights in Japanese organizations, this was the first look UFC fans were privy to seeing Kikuno's awkward karate stance.
Where movement is key to former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida's karate-based style, the Japanese fighter is known to use the exacct opposite approach and that is certainly the attack he used against Mulhern—who had a nine inch reach advantage in the tilt.
What would a fight card be without some questionable officiating or judging to be had? While the majority of the card went off without a hitch, referee Steve Percival put his skills on display during the first bout of the main card between Kang Kyung-Ho and Shunichi Shimizu.
After Ho had Shimizu locked in a triangle for most of the first two minutes of the fight, he started dropping a bevy of illegal 12-6 elbows down on his opponent's face which forced the referee to jump in and call time out.
While the elbows definitely warranted punishment, Percival dropped the iron gauntlet and issued a two-point deduction to Ho. Where that level of penalization was debatable, it was ultimately Percival's call and he stuck by it.
That said, what made things even more curious was Percival continuously speaking to both fighters as if they were fluent in the English language. During a stop in the action for what was a legal kick, Percival carried on conversation with both fighters as they stared blankly at him in confusion.
Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.
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