Dong Hyun Kim, welterweight contender and eligible bachelor, will leave no stone unturned on Saturday, when he steps into the Octagon with John Hathaway at The Ultimate Fighter: China finale.
Admittedly, the main event bout came as a bit of a surprise to Kim when it was first announced. If not a top welterweight, the South Korean star is certainly on the cusp of breaking into the top 10 of UFC President Dana White’s “useless rankings,” as featherweight champ Jose Aldo calls them (h/t MMAFighting.com).
After impressive wins over Paulo Thiago, Siyar Bahadurzada and Erick Silva, one can understand why it would take Kim a while to warm up to an opponent like Hathaway. It’s generally in a fighter’s DNA to always look forward, not backward.
But Kim refuses to allow his emotions to be swayed by a number beside a name. Every fighter is dangerous at 170-pounds, including Hathaway, who has a win over Diego Sanchez and only one loss on his professional record.
“I think I kind of had that thought at the very beginning, I was a little surprised,” Kim said through a translator on the phone. “But then again, you look at his record and see that he’s only had one loss and the fact that he is a tough opponent.”
Kim continued, “I’ve watched his matches, and I’ve seen that there’s very little holes in the way he fights. So I realize that he is one of those that they’re looking to perhaps someday go in the top 10. I know that after beating Erick Silva the way I did, I’m taking this fight as if it’s going to be an opportunity for me to fight the top contender, if I put away John Hathaway with impressive results."
Kim is especially brimming with confidence after a grueling and diverse training camp, perhaps the best of his career. Not only did he get to train in the United States, but he was also able to travel to Japan and put in work with former UFC middleweight contender Yushin Okami.
The opportunity to mix it up with multiple training partners in various gyms was a key ingredient to a successful camp. Still, none of it would have been possible without the backing of Kim’s core group of teammates at Team M.A.D.
“I’ve had great training sessions, not just the opportunity to train in the U.S. to shore off some areas that I couldn’t get from our team, our gym Team M.A.D.,” Kim said.
He added, “I also was able to train with Yushin Okami in Japan. But I would have to say that our gym, Team M.A.D., of all the gyms that I have visited and trained at, I would have to say that it is probably the most rigorous training at a gym that I have ever seen. I feel really confident for this particular match.”
The biggest improvement in Kim’s fight game has to be his striking. Long gone are the days when the fourth dan judo master cautiously pawed at opponents from a distance, desperately seeking takedowns or an opportunity to enter the clinch.
Kim has proven himself a bona fide gunslinger in the pocket, especially after going all Clint Eastwood on Silva at UFC Fight Night 29. Not even Paul Revere could have predicted the overhand left heard ‘round the world, as Kim turned the Brazilian’s lights out in the second round.
Kim hopes to imitate his highlight reel finish against Hathaway on Saturday and inch himself closer to a title shot.
“Most likely, I think that I’m going to test my striking ability and go into the Octagon and really show myself and put everything on the line,” said Kim.
He also said, “I think the UFC is very clear on what they want, and I think what the UFC is looking for is for fighters to put on a show that fans truly enjoy. If I were to put away John Hathaway with a knockout in impressive fashion, then yes, absolutely I do hope that I would have an opportunity to go for the title.”
One of the most endearing traits a fighter can have is honesty.
Who wins on Saturday?
Kim never makes excuses, and he doesn’t go out of his way to oversell his abilities. Even after his knockout win over Silva, he isn’t parading around like MMA’s next world class striker. He remains fully aware that judo and wrestling are his bread and butter.
Sure, he has seen significant strides in his striking, but it would be ludicrous to abandon the skills that brought him to this point. MMA is an ever-evolving sport that leaves stagnant fighters in the dust.
Kim knows he has to become more well-rounded if he ever hopes to contend for the UFC title.
“I know this is a very tough weight class. All of the fighters are very strong, but when I look at all of the fighters that are top and down, when it comes to wrestling, judo and grappling, I think I am probably one of the top in the world,” Kim said. “But that doesn’t mean those skills alone are going to get me at the top. I really have to continue to improve my striking, and let’s see how far it’ll take me.”
Unfortunately for Kim, his persistent dedication towards becoming the best fighter in the world leaves little room for a social life. A year ago, he told KMP the hardest thing about being a fighter was the lonely lifestyle.
There are no seasonal breaks in fighting, unlike other professional sports. When asked about settling down, Kim greeted the question with several chuckles before answering: “My marriage is to my sport.”
If all goes well on Saturday, perhaps the UFC can finally look into creating The Bachelor: Dong Hyun Kim edition.
Jordy McElroy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.