Dong Hyun Kim: A Step Backward?

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Dong Hyun Kim: A Step Backward?
Victor Fraile/Getty Images

On Saturday, Dong Hyun Kim starched John Hathaway in Macau at The Ultimate Fighter: China finale. Landing a brutal spinning elbow as Hathaway came in, Kim recorded only the third finish by spinning arm strike in UFC history.

Credit UFC

Some are impressed, some are saying he deserves a real contender, and some are calling for a title shot. Here's what stood out to me about Kim vs. Hathaway.

The first thing to get out of the way is that this was as close to a gimme match as you are going to see in the UFC. Hathaway had been out for more than a year and wasn't rated particularly highly before that. Kim had just knocked out Erick Silva and secured the No. 11 rank in the UFC's welterweight division.

The idea was, quite obviously, to have a high-profile Asian star win in the main event as the UFC tries to cement itself in China. 

Now props are due to both men. Hathaway put up a far better fight than expected after his lengthy time away from the cage. And Kim, who could probably have gotten away with his usual grinding clinch-and-top-control business, was clearly swinging for a knockout. 

Credit: UFC
Kim threw about a dozen crane kicks in his fight with Sean Pierson.

The problem with his stand-up, which I touched on last week, is that he will take a wild idea like, "Hey, not enough guys throw crane kicks" and then run it into the ground by throwing crane kicks over and over again with no setup whatsoever. He showed the same thing with his spinning backfists against Silva, and it was even more obvious against Hathaway.

Credit: UFC
One of several wild, missed spinning attacks.

That Kim actually landed his crane kick on Sean Pierson and his spinning back elbow on Hathaway is more a bad reflection on his opponents' awareness than it is on any sign of improved striking from the Korean. Plenty of folks have commended him for taking more risks on the feet, but these are the kind of risks that stifle middling fighters but will exacerbate problems for Kim against elite competition.

If you're throwing crane kicks (a back-leg feint into a front-leg jumping kick), and you haven't thrown a meaningful back-leg kick all fight, why on earth would it work as a feint in the way it is intended to?

Similarly, if you throw spinning backfists constantly without moving the opponent toward the fence in order to take away the option to move back or trying to time him coming in, you're effectively just swinging your arms and hoping that the opponent will get in the way.

If he gets knocked out, it's his own fault.

Of course, eventually Hathaway did step in while Kim was spinning, and it provided an incredible highlight-reel knockout. But would that happen against any top-tier welterweight striker?

I find it best when evaluating Kim's progress to ask: How would Carlos Condit deal with that?

Now for those of you who don't remember, Condit pulverized Kim at UFC 132. The Korean did what he usually does; he moved in behind punches, with his chin out, and tried to get Condit into the clinch along the fence.

Each time Kim stepped in, Condit smacked him right on the chin. When Kim took a step back, Condit kicked him. When Kim got too close to the fence, Condit leaped in with a knee and knocked Kim unconscious.

That is an elite fighter: one who punishes mistakes and takes advantage of openings. Sure, it's exciting to get wild and risk missing a swinging strike. But the best guys—and those are the guys whom Kim should be fighting from here on out—will not let a fighter get away with discarding minor advantages at every turn.

Taking more risks on the feet was never something that Kim needed to do; his sloppiness on the way in when he wasn't going wild got him into trouble against Condit. The kind of display he put on against Hathaway would get him beaten up very quickly against Condit or Martin Kampmann.

Credit: UFC

Here's the sort of thing I'm talking about. Kim swings long and wild, because that's how he thinks he can best put power on a punch; he misses and allows Hathaway to push him against the fence.

From there, Condit or Kampmann would be working with elbows and knees or breaking free to attempt some crazy flying knee or front kick along the fence. Johny Hendricks or Robbie Lawler would be pushing off and flurrying with heavy punching combinations.

And of course, Nick Diaz eats people up against the fence.

Credit: UFC

Really, most of what Kim did was walk forwardwith his head well forward of his hipsswing wild and eat punches. His ring craft also looked atrocious as he followed Hathaway around the cage, turning to chase Hathaway in whichever direction the Brit chose to lead.

Each time Kim ate a handful of punches, he would wave Hathaway on and go right back to eating more.

Credit: UFC
Notice how Kim simply follows Hathaway around the cage.

There seems to be confusion over the difference between a good fight and a good showing. Gilbert Melendez vs. Diego Sanchez was a good fight, but it was a horrible showing by "El Nino." Often when two mismatched fighters meet, it will be a good fight because the better fighter puts on a horrible performance. 

Likewise, this was a good fight because it was wild and back-and-forth. It had a brilliant finish, but it was not a good showing by either man.

The lesson that Kim should have taken away from his bout with Silva was that his constant pressure and forcing his way to the clinch coaxed Silva into the knockout. The Brazilian was forced to drop his hands and was exhausted by constantly trying to fight off the clinch.

Yet even when Kim fought at an incredible pace, barely being in the striking zone between each clinch, he still almost got knocked out by Silva on the way in.

However, the lesson that Kim has decided to take away from that bout seems to be that he has great power and should try swinging at people's heads more often.

There's nothing sadder than a grappler who finds out he has power and then forgets everything else. That might be what is unfolding in front of our eyes.

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