Doo Ho Choi: South Korea, Featherweight, 24
“The Korean Super Boy” Doo Ho Choi fought most of his pre-UFC bouts in Japan’s DEEP Promotion. Other than a split decision loss in his DEEP debut, Choi severely battered his Asian competition, including a jaw-dropping flying knee knockout of Japanese legend Mitsuhiro Ishisda.
Choi’s UFC debut was against AKA prospect Juan Manuel Puig. Choi quickly dispatched of Puig in :18 of the first round. Choi expertly slipped Puig’s jab and countered with a overhand right that put Puig to sleep.
Choi’s next bout was against hard-nosed, scrapper Sam Sicilia. Sicilia fared better than Puig, but ultimately met the same unconscious fate, in 1:33 of the first round.
Choi is a special fighter, his combination of speed, knockout power and technique are a sight to behold. He dispenses violence with a cool, calm and collected demeanor, that at times appears as though he is on the verge of breaking out in laughter at the skill of his opponent.
Choi is a superstar in the making, with 10 of his 13 wins coming by way of knockout and 8 of them with in the first round!
Doo Ho Choi has an extremely bright future in the featherweight Division and presently may have the best chance at becoming the the first Asian UFC champion.
Michinori Tanaka: Japan, Bantamweight, 25
Tanaka began his career in 2010 in the Shooto promotion where he went 5-0, including winning the 2011 Rookie Tournament over fellow UFC prospect Teruto Ishihara.
Following his departure from Shooto, Tanaka signed with the Pacific Extreme Combat (PXC) Promotion where he again dominated, capturing the bantamweight title and defending it only once before he received the call up to the UFC.
Tanaka’s UFC debut was against Canadian TUF alum Roland Delorme. Tanaka nullified Delorme’s slick BJJ and landed heavy ground and pound en route to a unanimous decision.
His next match was with South Korean Kang Kyung-Ho. The two put on an unforgettable battle with back and forth, high level technical ground exchanges. Tanka would come up on the wrong end of a split decision, but both men won a well deserved fight of the night bonus.
On the heels of his first professional loss Tanaka was matched up with former title contender Joe Soto. Tanaka surprised many with his speed and control, out grappling and out striking Soto. He slowed in the third but had done enough in the first two to earn the W.
Michinori Tanaka trains with Team Alpha Male Japan, his fighting style is very similar to that of his American brethren. Tanka continually pushes the pace of his fights and is extremely proficient in both his striking and ground game.
At only 25, Tanka’s game is rapidly growing by leaps and bounds. He will be a very tough fight for any fighter in the bantamweight division.
Ben Nguyen: U.S.A/Vietnam, Flyweight, 27
Ben “10”began his MMA career in 2006, from 06-10 Nguyen racked up an underwhelming 6-5 record mainly in his local North Dakota circuit. During this period Nguyen was working as a computer technician by day and training at night. In 2012 Nguyen made the decision to move to Thailand and train full time.
The decision paid off, Nguyen would go on to win his next five bouts, including a title fight in Australia’s Nitro MMA promotion against Julian Wallace (see above picture). Nguyen only needed :25 to dethrone colorful champ. The fight became a viral sensation, due mostly to Wallace’s cocky persona and moronic appearance. Nguyen defended his Nitro MMA strap once before getting his shot in the octagon.
Nguyen’s UFC debut came against Turkish wrestler Alptekin Ozkilic, in his newly adopted home of Australia. He did not disappoint the hometown crowd , knocking out Ozkilic with only one second left in the first round.
His next bout would be at UFC 193 also taking place in Australia. Nguyen was matched up against talented prospect Ryan Benoit. Nguyen displayed an ultra impressive all around game punishing Benoit on the feet before submitting him with a rear naked choke in the first round.
Nguyen has fought most of his career at bantamweight which makes his knockout power at flyweight no surprise. What is surprising is how fast he has looked against opponents who have much more experience in the flyweight division.
Nguyen was recently matched up with Justin Scoggins, only to have Scoggins withdraw from the fight days from the event. Hopefully Sean Shelby is able to reschedule this match up, a win over a ranked fighter like Scoggins is just what Nguyen needs to get on peoples radar at flyweight.
Hyun Gyu Lim: South Korea, Welterweight, 31
Hyun Gyu Lim’s professional MMA career did not began until the relatively advanced age of twenty-one. Lim spent the first six years of his fighting career traveling through Asia and the Pacific Islands cutting his teeth in the local promotions. His early career was highlighted by wins over Ross “Da Boss” Ebanez and Ryan Biglar, the latter of which earned him the PXC welterweight belt.
After winning the PXC title Lim got the call to make his octagon debut against Brazilian Jungle Fight Champion Marcelo Guimaraes. Lim used his reach well in the striking and was able to easily thwart Guimaraes’s take down attempts and in the second round Lim landed a hard knee that put Guimaraes on dream street.
Lim was next matched up with Germany’s top welterweight prospect Pascal Krauss. The two met in the middle of the ring and went blow for blow, Lim got the better of their exchanges dropping Krauss with a right, Krauss was able to get back to his feet but was badly wobbled. Lim finished of the dazed Krauss with a punishing knee to the jaw.
After only two fights in the UFC Lim was scheduled for a main event showdown with Belgian Tarec Saffiedine. Lim and Saffiedine engaged in a five round brawl that was a fight of the year candidate. Despite coming out on the wrong end of the decision Lim showed he can hang with the division’s top talent.
Lim’s bounced back against Japanese catch wrestler Takenori Sato. Lim finished Sato in the first, landing multiple elbows on Sato who would not give up his failed shot attempt.
Next Lim was given another ranked opponent in the quickly rising TUF alum star Neal Magney. Lim came out guns a blazing as usual and almost got the first round stoppage, unloading hard knees and punches on Magney who could only cover up against the fence. After the flurry Lim had shot his wad, Magney controlled the rest of the first and was able to secure a take down and pound out the totally gassed Lim.
Lim is absolutely massive for a welterweight at 6’3″ and has had trouble making weight in the past. With mma’s athletic commissions putting laws in place that discourage extreme weight cutting, Lim may have to move up to the Middleweight division.
Whether it’s at welterweight or middleweight Lim has proven to be must see TV when he steps into the octagon. Although he does not have quite the ceiling as others on this list, he will have many legendary battles ahead that you will not want to miss.
Kyoji Horiguchi: Japan, Flyweight, 25
Trained by “Krazy Bee” legend “Kid” Yamamato, Kyoji Horiguchi was well prepared for his entrance into the fight game. Horiguchi competed solely in Shooto for his first 12 fights. After earning the 2010 Rookie of the Year, 132 pound title and an 11-1 record in Shooto, it was clear that Horiguchi was destined for bigger things.
Horiguchi got the call in October of 2013 to fight Dustin “The Disciple” Pauge in his octagon debut. The bout would take place in the bantamweight division a big test for the 5’5″ Horiguchi who fought most of his previous matches at Flyweight. In the first it appeared that the size difference may have been too much for Horiguchi, Pauge secured a body triangle and came close to finishing it early. In the Second Horiguchi completely turned the tables landing a leaping right hook that dropped Pauge, Horiguchi was able to finish him off with some brutal ground and pound.
In his UFC Flyweight debut Horiguchi would square off against the#15 ranked Darrell Montague. Horiguchi used his superior footwork and lighting quick Karate blitzes to pick Montague apart en route to a unanimous decision.
Two more wins over Jon Delos Reyes and Louis Gaudinot earned Horiguchi a shot at the flyweight belt. Despite dominating the first round, Horiguchi was otherwise totally outmatched by the fastest man in the sport Demetrious Johnson.
Horiguchi has looked very impressive in most of his time in the cage, at times resembling a Lyoto Machida/Kid Yamamoto hybrid. Horiguchi may have been rushed to a title shot due to the lack of depth in the emerging flyweight division and should be ready for another title shot within two years.