The UFC is making its way into Singapore this weekend for its first ever show in the small Asian island. Headlining the card is ex-Strikeforce welterweight champion Tarec Saffiedine, who is making his long awaited UFC debut against South Korea’s Hyun Gyu Lim. Saffiedine was originally scheduled to face Jake Ellenberger, but a minor hamstring injury forced a change of opponent and a massive opportunity for Lim to go from the prelims to a five round main event.
In total there are 10 fights on tomorrow morning’s show, and we’ve pinpointed a handful of fights from the undercard that you should pay close attention to. We’ve got the debuts of Tatsuya Kawajiri and Katsunori Kikuno, plus the return of exciting featherweight prospect Max Holloway. The entire card is on UFC Fight Pass, the digital subscription network currently available for free until February 28th. You can watch the whole show on Fight Pass at 6:30 AM ET/3:30 AM PT. It’s not quite Bloody Elbow Night Crew work, but it’s the next closest thing.
Tatsuya Kawajiri (32-7-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) vs. Sean Soriano (8-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) – Featherweights
Ah yes, the debut of “Crusher” Kawajiri. He was a force at lightweight and now he’s gunning to be a force at featherweight. After getting shellacked by Gilbert Melendez in the Strikeforce lightweight champion, Kawajiri beat up Drew Fickett and moved to 145 lbs, where he’s 4-0 and coming off a win against former UFC lightweight and featherweight Michihiro Omigawa. Kawajiri has used his grappling skills to great effect, and his first 3 wins at FW were by submission. This is a big opportunity for Kawajiri to get off to a positive start in the UFC and avoid the dubious history of past Japanese MMA stars who ultimately flopped in the UFC. He’s well into his 30s and has 14 years experience, so time is running short on his career.
Replacing the injured Hacran Dias is undefeated Sean Soriano, who is just getting started in the sport. The 24-year-old trains in the Blackzilians camp once heavily ridiculed but slowly forming into something top tier. His fights have taken place mostly in Florida, and he’s definitely an intriguing prospect. A combination of crisp striking, improving wrestling and BJJ, and solid coaches like Kenny Monday are slowly developing Soriano into a well-rounded talent who can make a splash in the division. Is Kawajiri too much, too soon for him? We’ll see what transpires. A win for Kawajiri would be the highest achievement of Soriano’s career by a country mile.
Max Holloway (7-3 MMA, 3-3 UFC) vs. Will Chope (19-5 MMA, 0-0 UFC) – Featherweights
It’s a bit unfortunate that Holloway is known as a .500 UFC fighter after 6 fights, but that is the case. He’s a great talent out of Hawaii with improving takedown defense, effective body shots, and generally solid striking skills. Holloway was unlucky to lose a controversial decision to Dennis Bermudez, and then his 2nd straight (and latest) loss came at the hands of Conor McGregor.
Chope is “the world’s tallest featherweight” and I don’t think you can dispute that claim. He stands an astonishing 6’4″ and after a 1-4 start to his career he’s won 18 of his last 19 and 14 in a row. Granted, he’s not fought any noteworthy competition during this run, which has taken place exclusively in Asia. His preferred finishing technique is the rear-naked choke, which has won him 8 of his 19 fights. At just 23 years of age he’s racked up the miles in MMA, boxing, kickboxing, and Muay Thai, and now he makes his UFC debut against another young, lanky featherweight in Holloway.
Dustin Kimura (10-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC) vs. Jon Delos Reyes (7-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) – Bantamweights
Did you know Dustin Kimura still has no wins by kimura? Sad but true fact for an otherwise awesome name. Like Holloway, Kimura is a Hawaiian prospect who signed with the UFC with an undefeated record. Kimura missed weight (by 3.5 lbs) against Chico Camus, which took some shine off of his 3rd round submission win. He engaged in a 1 round war against Mitch Gagnon at UFC 165, which saw him nearly stop Gagnon with a body shot but ultimately succumb to an extremely tight guillotine choke with less than a minute to go. His undefeated streak is over but he has been an enjoyable watch thus far.
Reyes, like TUF 15’s Jon Tuck, fights out of Guam and is fighting for the first time since September 2012. His career is nothing too spectacular; plenty of bouts in the Pacific Islands against unknown competition, although one of his losses is against another UFC debutant in Russell Doane. We’ll see what he brings to the table against Kimura, and I’d definitely key in on his long period of inactivity, which is longer than any other fighter on the entire card.
Katsunori Kikuno (21-5-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) vs. Quinn Mulhern (18-3 MMA, 0-1 UFC) – Lightweights
Kikuno is a fearsome striker with a karate background who is an excellent addition to the UFC’s lightweight stable. He’s a former DEEP lightweight champion with a notable KO win over Kuniyoshi Hironaka. You can expect some crescent kicks, palm strikes, and various other techniques that make him a joy to watch from a striking standpoint. Mulhern is a pretty big lightweight at 6’3″, so it will take some adjusting on Kikuno’s part, but he’s justifiably the favorite based on his skills on the feet.
Mulhern was a Strikeforce welterweight who was given a UFC contract via the merging of their roster into the UFC’s following last January’s closure. His UFC debut was a bit of a mismatch against Rick Story, who wiped him out with strikes in just 1 round. The loss came last March, and he’s since stayed on the shelves after withdrawing from two fights (vs. Ryan Couture and Thiago Tavares) due to injury. Now that he’s healthy, he’ll finally make his lightweight debut in a likely must-win scenario.
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