The Road to UFC tournament going down in Asia this year may be one of the hidden gems of the year. Seriously, if you haven’t watched any of the six episodes, go catch up on UFC Fight Pass right now…
The semi-finals took place last Sunday in Abu Dhabi, producing massive finishes and breakout performances from future UFC stars. In particular, lightweights from India and Indonesia- two massive MMA markets yet to be represented in the UFC (technically India got one fight in the promotion years ago, and it didn’t go well).
The finals of the tournament will take place in “early 2023”, per the Road to UFC broadcast last weekend, and there’s rumors it could take place on the prelims of the UFC Seoul card on February 4th. That’s still to be decided, but here’s some instant reactions to the finals matchups on deck:
Flyweight Final: Choi Seung Guk vs. Park Hyun Sung
The finals will kick off with a Korea vs. Korea matchup, as Korean Zombie MMA’s Choi Seung Guk (6-1) fights Park Hyun Sung (7-0), who trains out of Bangtao MMA and Muay Thai.
Choi has surprised many with his passage to the finals, taking decisions over Rama Supandhi and Qiulun. What he’s shown so far is a diverse, tricky game of speed and precision. In his semifinal fight with Qiulun, he showed the ability to mix takedowns with battering leg kicks and overhand right counters.
Park has earned finishes in both of his Road to UFC fights over Jeremia Siregar and Topnoi Kiwram. Before taking Topnoi down, he was getting tagged on the feet and even dropped by Topnoi’s vicious Muay Thai game. That shouldn’t be too much of a knock on Park’s striking ability, but Choi will most likely have the slight advantage on the feet in their eventual fight.
While Choi is the stronger of the two Koreans, Park will likely get a few opportunities to work this to the ground in their fight. Expect this to go the full fifteen minutes, with some tiring work against the cage. Park could certainly steal a round if he’s able to work his grind and get Choi down, but Choi’s speed and athleticism is more likely to give him the edge and allow him to work on his terms to take a decision.
Bantamweight Final: Toshiomi Kazama vs. Rinya Nakamura
In another battle of countrymen, Japan’s Toshiomi Kazama (10-2) and Rinya Nakamura (6-0) will fight for a sizable UFC contract early in 2023. While Kazama got a bye to the finals after his opponent missed weight, he still belongs there. He’s an intelligent grappler who worked through Keremuaili Maimaitituoheti in the opening round of the tournament, showing off submission attempts and throws along the way.
His opponent, Nakamura, is being pegged as a fighter with the greatest potential from this tournament, and he’s earned that hype. His destruction of Shohei Nose by TKO in the semis was terrifying, and complemented his first-round submission victory in the quarterfinal round of Road to UFC. He’s a powerful wrestler and phenomenal athlete, making this one of the most competitive fights of the finals on paper.
Nakamura’s finishing power will likely put Kazama in some bad places, if not earn the finish before the fight’s done. Kazama will be tossing out submission attempts off his back, but Nakamura should be wise and athletic enough to avoid getting tapped. He should accumulate enough damage to earn a second-round TKO, making him a top prospect out of Japan.
Featherweight Final: Lee Jeong Young vs. Yi Zha
This featherweight final should be an absolute roller coaster. Lee Jeong Young (9-1) of Korea and Yi Zha (21-3) of China are both hyper-aggressive fighters that are here to entertain. Lee Jeong Young has quickly beaten both Road to UFC opponents, one by knockout and the other by submission- and both very respectable names. He’s going to be one of the bigger favorites for the finals because of that, and there’s more than a few comparisons between his style and that of “The Korean Superboy” Choi Doo Ho.
He’ll be under heavy pressure from Chinese-Tibetan Yi Zha, whose aggression and offense won him a split decision against Koyomi Matsushima in the semifinals. Yi is a wonderful grappler, who was always quickly able to sweep or get back to his feet against Matsushima. It’s possible that Yi Zha could make Lee work and tire him out, or catch a submission.
What’s more likely is that Lee blasts Yi coming in recklessly and finishes him with strikes. What’s for sure, however, is that this fight will deliver for the fans hard and with a fury.
Lightweight Final: Anshul Jubli vs. Jeka Saragih
With all the great talent in the lightweight pool for Road to UFC, it’s somewhat of a pleasant surprise that the two fighters left at the end are from two countries that have never had a presence in the UFC. Anshul Jubli (6-0) of India fights Jeka Saragih (13-2) of Indonesia, for a UFC contract. Both of these fighters should have a long future in the UFC and become pioneering stars in their home countries…
Jubli surprised many when he went to war with “Red Horse” Kim Kyung Pyo in the semifinals and outstruck his more experienced Korean opponent to a split decision. Jubli showed an excellent command of range and stuck a mean jab throughout the fight, and typically his fights showcase his jiujitsu skills.
Saragih continued to grow his star power with another whopping KO in the semifinals, sending Ki Won Bin to outer space with a rocket right hand. The Indonesian is becoming a superstar in his home country, and trained in San Diego for that fight.
Both fighters are still reaching new levels of development between each fight, making this one of the harder fights to predict of the tournament. Jeka has proven that the power and finishing advantage are on his side, while Jubli would be wise to get this to the ground as soon as possible. Jubli’s experience on the ground could definitely earn him a submission. But Saragih is undoubtedly expecting that kind of offense.
In a coin-flip fight, the safer bet is Jeka Saragih to win rounds on damage, even as Jubli grows in strength throughout the fight.
Which Road to UFC finale matchup are you most looking forward to? Let us know in the comments!