UFC Fight Night 34 in Singapore was pretty much a success. The main event between Tarec Saffiedine and Hyun Gyu Lim was an absolute striking clinic, as Saffiedine outstruck the bigger, more powerful man with grace and seeming ease. Lim managed to wobble Saffiedine in the final seconds of the bout, but it was too little too late.
Saffiedine took a clinical decision and looked great (for the most part) doing it.
What We'll Remember About This Fight
We'll remember that Tarec Saffiedine is a very good striker while Hyun Gyu Lim is not. But Lim's late success against the cleaner striker might wind up being forgotten by many. That's a shame, because Lim's last-minute magic demonstrated the benefits of heart, the power in his hands and the slowing pace and diminishing effectiveness of Saffiedine in the final round.
We'll also probably forget the 48-47 card that one judge put forward, which is probably the most lopsided 48-47 I've seen. I don't run my own scorecard because it's a difficult job, and Lim perhaps won one round, but it's hard to give a fighter better than a 10-8 loss in a round that saw him get dropped by low kicks.
Finally, it's clear that in MMA, even fighters who are training for opponents who are notorious for their low kicks do not do enough work on checking them.
Just like Nate Marquardt, Lim simply stood and took the kicks until they hurt; only then did he try to do something about them. With the exception of a couple of leg catches early (which opened him up to right hands in the second and changed his mind about reaching for Saffiedine's leg), Lim did almost nothing to mitigate the threat of low kicks.
What We Learned About Saffiedine
He's slick; he might be the crispest striker in the welterweight division right now. And low kicks aren't going anywhere.
Not only does he feint, move and counter well, he mixes up the authority that he puts on strikes. He wasn't throwing only power shots; he was performing the kicking equivalent of Nick Diaz's volume striking strategy. He'd tap that lead leg, tap it again and then hack into it with a hard low kick when Lim wasn't respecting the threat.
Check out this skip-around low kick, which is just a beauty.
We also learned that even when he's way in front and the smell of blood is obvious to everyone in the arena, Saffiedine is a cautious and rounded fighter. When he dropped Lim with kicks, he did a bit of work from the Sakuraba position, kicking at Lim's legs while he stood over him, but then he hopped into half guard and looked to grapple for a bit. It seemed dumb to those who were hoping for a finish, but Saffiedine has always been something of a distance fighter.
In addition, he faded. What is a little worrying is that Lim's effective offence at the end of the bout came after a round of Saffiedine retreating around the Octagon. I don't know what went wrong for him—whether he injured himself or just hit a wall with his cardio—but while he got stronger in the last moments against Marquardt, here he looked out of it in the last round.
And he will use that double-forearm guard against even the biggest power punchers. He is the sole example of this traditional-style guard working in upper-level MMA, but this guard also allowed Lim to slip some shots in during the last round, which put Saffiedine on Queer Street.
What We Learned About Lim
He has heart. Tons of it.
He took a pasting in the first four rounds and was utterly outclassed. He was falling down every time Saffiedine landed a kick with authority in the fourth, but Lim gritted his teeth and got through. The referee could have stopped the fight, since Lim was doing nothing to prevent the kicks, but the South Korean's determination raised eyebrows.
He also has power, which is a huge advantage for a fighter. Even in the final round while effectively fighting on one leg (a ruined leg drains a fighter's punching power because all the power comes from the stance), Lim still hurt Saffiedine. His knees to the midsection also made the Belgian worry a bit on the rare occasions that they landed.
He's a terrible technical striker. We knew this coming in; he's enormous for a welterweight but is from the Stefan Struve school of fighting tall. He has no jab, wings his right hand wildly, gets caught with counters nonstop and has appalling balance.
What's Next for Saffiedine?
From a completely selfish standpoint, I'd love to see him against the other strikers of the division. If Thiago Alves ever reappears, they could engage in a technical war. Martin Kampmann is a nice gatekeeper who, while not great defensively, has the savvy to finish Saffiedine if he lets up for a moment like he did in the last round against Lim.
From a more sensible standpoint, the man won the Strikeforce belt, so he should have a crack at the upper echelon. Carlos Condit has an engagement already, but that would be a good matchup. Or perhaps Rory MacDonald would be a suitable opponent, after his meeting with Demian Maia at UFC 170 in February. It would be interesting to see if MacDonald's jab and wrestling alone could combat Saffiedine's excellent all-around game on the feet.
What's Next for Lim?
It's his choice. He has crazy power, so if he stays around, he'll pick up some huge knockouts. As a result, we'll periodically talk about him as the next big thing, but he has so little skill in setting up his shots. He let Saffiedine run all around him and couldn't cut off the cage, and every time he threw a right hand, he ate one in return.
Get him to a good striking coach, teach him to cut off the cage, show him how to lead with a jab or at least a left hook and improve his head movement when he throws that vicious right. Hell, if you could teach him to hide the right hand and the left knee alone, he'd have more success.
He's a legitimate talent; it's up to him to recognize why he failed and work to be more than just a power puncher.