Top 5 Asia-Based Fighters ready for the UFC and beyond

UFC prospects
UFC prospects

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has been edging itself into the Asian market slowly but surely. With past events in such locations as Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Macau and the Philippines, the largest promotion in the world still seems intrigued in the birthplace of martial arts and its athletes.

Just recently, another UFC Fight Night was announced in Manila for later this year and more events are rumored to be in the works in countries like South Korea, Japan and India. As a result, the UFC will be looking to sign the highest level of talent from regional promotions to fill up the fight cards.

There is no doubt every fighter wants a chance to compete at the highest level but only a few are worthy and qualified enough. Therefore, here is a list (in no particular order) of the five most accomplished and masterly skilled individuals Asia has to offer and some honorable mentions that could possibly step into the Octagon.

“One Minute” Kim Soo-Chul

Kim Soo-Chul
Kim Soo-Chul

Age: 24 years-old
Weight Class(es): Featherweight, Bantamweight
Record: 14 wins (5 TKO/KOs, 4 Submissions, 5 Decisions), 5 Losses (2 Submissions, 3 Decisions), 1 Draw
Last Ten Fights: 8-1-1
Title(s): Former ONE Championship Bantamweight Champion
Notable Win(s): Maike Linhares, Issei Tamura, Leandro Issa, Kevin Belingon, Motonobu Tezuka
Camp: Team Force (South Korea)

The South Korean Team Force mainstay and former ONE bantamweight champion has been on a tear for the last two years. During that span, he has annihilated UFC veterans Motonubu Tezuka, Issei Tamura, Wagner Campos, Marcus Brimage and just recently at ROAD FC 32 Jumabieke Tuerxun. In addition, he faced undefeated Jungle Fight bantamweight champion Maike Linhares at Rizin Grand Prix 2015 and bum rushed him for three rounds to get the unanimous nod. The last setback he had was back in late 2013 at ONE 11 when he battled Bibiano Fernandes to unify the bantamweight titles in a five-round war.

“One Minute” has a relentless attack with kicks and punches flying from all angles and a gas tank like a semi-truck. Also, he possesses strong wrestling and a granite chin which allows him to take risks. If anyone watches any of his fights, they can see he is always looking to finish his opponent. A lot of the time his fighting style can look wild but that is what works for him and this is something the fans can appreciate.

“Handsome” Kwak Kwan-Ho

Kwak Kwan-Ho
Kwak Kwan-Ho

Age: 27 years-old
Weight Class(es): Bantamweight
Record: 9 wins (6 TKO/KOs, 3 Decisions)
Last Ten Fights: 9-0
Title(s): TOP FC Bantamweight Champion, PXC Bantamweight Champion
Notable Win(s): Alp Ozkilic, Kyle Aguon, Park Han-Bin (2x), Trevin Jones
Camp: Korean Top Team (South Korea)

“Handsome”, that’s what the ladies call him and some men, is an undefeated striker that has been nothing short of spectacular so far in his career. Currently, Kwak is the TOP FC (Korea) and PXC (Pacific) bantamweight champion. Back at TOP FC 8, he TKO’d ironhead brawler Park Han-Bin for the inaugural bantamweight strap and then defended it this past May by edging former UFC flyweight contender Alp Ozkilic in a five-round banger. In PXC, Kwak earned a title shot by defeated relentless grappler Trevin Jones in a close split decision using defensive wrestling and strikes from distance. In January of this year, the 27 year-old Korean outclassed Kyle Aguon in every aspect of the game for five rounds to pick up his second belt at PXC 51.

The Korean Top Team standout is a technical specialist on the feet with a propensity to leap in with flying knees. His devastating combination of kicks and takedown defense has been what his adversaries find difficult to get past. He likes to sit back and pick apart each opponent with kicks to the legs and body. Even if he is taken down, it is not long before he is back up continuing his assault. When he tastes blood, he will charge in for the finish with no hesitation which has lead to six of his nine victories ended with the other guy laying on the floor with the referee hovering above them.

Alex “The Hulk” Volkanovski

Alex Volkanovski
Alex Volkanovski

Age: 27 years-old
Weight Class(es): Lightweight, Featherweight
Record: 12 wins (7 TKO/KOs, 3 Submissions, 2 Decisions), 1 Losses (1 TKO/KO)
Last Ten Fights: 9-1
Title(s): Roshambo MMA Lightweight Champion, Australian FC Featherweight Champion, PXC Featherweight Champion
Notable Win(s): Yusuke Yachi, Jamie Mullarkey, Rodolfo Marques Diniz, Jai Bradney
Camp: Tiger Muay Thai (Thailand)

Volkanovski is probably the most decorated among this group of warriors. He started off his career by ripping through the Australian MMA scene by snatching up the lightweight title for Roshambo MMA in early 2014 and then the next year he dropped down to featherweight to quickly become the king of Australian FC. Despite having two straps, he was still hungry to prove something so at PXC 50 in December of 2015 he challenged and took the featherweight belt from Yusuke Yachi by submitting him in the fourth frame. In his most recent fight, “The Hulk” defended his title at Australian FC 15 by smoking undefeated Jaime Mullarkey in the opening round without breaking a sweat.

The Australian trains primarily at Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket, Thailand, where he builds upon his already solid base. He holds extremely devastating ground and pound and works well against the cage in the clinch. In the standup department, a weapon all of his opponents are wary of is his overhand right that seems to find a home more often than not. He is currently on a 9-fight win streak with 8 finishes and most of them in the first round. Riding the momentum he has create can be perilous for any brave soul that attempts to step in the cage across from him.

“Captain Korea” Lee Yoon-Jun

Lee Yoon-Jun
Lee Yoon-Jun

Age: 27 years-old
Weight Class(es): Featherweight, Bantamweight
Record: 11 wins (6 TKO/KOs, 5 Decisions), 2 Losses (2 Submissions)
Last Ten Fights: 9-1
Title(s): ROAD FC Bantamweight Champion
Notable Win(s): Choi Mu-Gyeom, Takafumi Atsuka, Thiago Silva, Moon Jae-Hoon
Camp: Apgujung Gym (South Korea)

When you talk about the Korean MMA scene, you cannot leave out the quiet and calculated assassin reigning the bantamweight division in ROAD FC. Since debuting for the promotion back in 2013, he has only lost once and it was against the current flyweight champion, Song Min-Jong, that same year at ROAD FC 11 in the bantamweight tournament semifinals. That loss set something on fire inside the 27 year-old that propelled him to win nine in a row. In that span, he eliminated former DEEP bantamweight champion Takafumi Otsuka and dangerous Brazilian Thiago Silva which led him to his first title shot against quick boxer Lee Gil-Woo. In that fight at ROAD FC 20, he made it look easy by taking out the champ in the first round with flush knees and a head kick. After that, he defended the title in a close fight against tough striker Moon Jae-Hoon. Then, he decided that he wanted to go up in weight to challenge the featherweight king but in a non-title bout. Lee made the featherweight champ, Choi Mu-Gyeom, pay for signing on that dotted line by running circles around him and making his face resemble hamburger meat leading to the unanimous victory. In his most recent outing, everyone knows what happened to his last opponent George Roop, who was a victim of Lee’s bone shattering elbow to the shin.

“Captain Korea” is a cerebral individual that can always find a way to win and has never been knocked out. He owns the ability to mix up his wrestling, striking and foot work to find openings to capitalize. He does a phenomenal job switching stances to keep his foes guessing and when they do not expect it a kick to the body or the head lands. He also likes to use hard right hooks, left counter hooks and counter takedowns to work ground and pound when needed. It is difficult to say which discipline is his best because he never seems to stick to only one against any opponent which is a devastating weapon.

“The Bandit” Zebaztian Kadestam

Zebaztian Kadestam
Zebaztian Kadestam

Age: 25 years-old
Weight Class(es): Welterweight
Record: 8 wins (6 TKO/KOs, 1 Submission, 1 Decision), 2 Losses (2 Decisions)
Last Ten Fights: 8-2
Title(s): PXC Welterweight Champion
Notable Win(s): Josh Calvo, Ross Ebanez, Glenn Sparv, Kim Han-Seul
Camp: Legacy Gym (Philippines), Pancrase Gym (Sweden)

The Swedish transplant has been putting Asia on notice for the past few years by knocking out people left and right. However, the promotion he has dominated with an iron fist is Pacific X-Treme Combat (PXC). He is undefeated in six trips to the cage under their banner and five of those were finishes. At PXC 44 in June of 2014, he finally got his shot to fight for the vacant welterweight title against highly-touted submission artist Josh Calvo. Kadestam outlasted the American by punishing him on the feet and avoided the ground to snatch up the belt. Since then, he has successfully defended the belt twice via knockout against Cage and Bragging Rights welterweight champion Glenn Sparv and lightning fast Korean striker Kim Han-Seul.

The Legacy Gym Boracay member is a huge welterweight and one of the most dangerous strikers fighting in Asia today. He combines the European style of striking and Muay Thai into a perfect melody that he plays in the cage. On top of that, he displays the power to inebriate whenever he flings his appendages at an attacker while sitting in the pocket with confidence. The Swede can collapse fighters with a straight right blast or with kicks to the legs or body and then finish them off with some catastrophic ground strikes. Many worry he will be vulnerable to grapplers since he is so comfortable standing but he has shown he can wrestle and defend takedowns against some of the best the Pacific region has to offer.

Honorable mentions:

Kleber Koike Erbst 

Kleber Koike
Kleber Koike

Age: 26 years-old

Weight Class(es): Featherweight

Record: 20 wins (17 Submissions, 2 TKO/KOs, 1 Decision), 4 Losses (1 Submission, 2 Decisions, 1 DQ), 1 Draw

Last Ten Fights: 9-1

Title(s): REBEL FC Featherweight Champion

Notables Win(s): Miguel Torres, Yusuke Yachi, George Hickman

Camp: Bonsai Jiu-Jitsu (Japan)

 

“Kai” Kaiwhare Kara-France 

Kai Kara-France
Kai Kara-France

Age: 23 years-old

Weight Class(es): Flyweight, Bantamweight

Record: 12 Wins (7 TKO/KOs, 2 Submissions, 3 Decisions), 6 Losses (2 TKO/KOs, 2 Submissions, 2 Decision), 1 No Contest

Last Ten Fights: 7-3

Title(s): Bragging Rights Flyweight Champion

Notable Win(s): Crisanto Pitpitunge

Camp: Tiger Muay Thai (Thailand)

 

 

Will “The Kill” Chope 

Will Chope
Will Chope

Age: 25 years-old

Weight Class(es): Lightweight, Featherweight

Record: 32 Wins (6 TKO/KOs, 20 Submissions, 6 Decisions), 10 Losses (4 Decisions, 2 Submissions, 4 TKO/KOs)

Last Ten Fights: 8-2

Title(s): URCC Lightweight Champion

Notable Win(s): Takumi Nakayama, Kang Jung-Min

Camp: Juggernaut Fight Club (Singapore)

 

Takenaka Daichi

Takenaka Daichi
Takenaka Daichi

Age: 26 years-old

Weight Class(es): Featherweight, Bantamweight

Record: 10 Wins (4 Submissions, 2 TKO/KOs, 4 Decisions), 1 Draw

Last Ten Fights: 9-0-1

Title(s): Shooto Featherweight Champion

Notable Win(s): Shoko Sato, Alan Philpott

Camp: Paraestra Izumi (Japan)

 

 

Go Kashiwazaki 

Go Kashiwazaki
Go Kashiwazaki

Age: 20 years-old

Weight Class(es): Featherweight, Bantamweight

Record: 15 Wins (11 Submissions, 3 TKO/KOs, 1 Decision), 2 Draws

Last Ten Fights: 9-0-1

Title(s): ZST Bantamweight Champion

Notabel Win(s): Keisuke Fujiwara, Atsushi Kato

Camp: K-Place (Japan)