ONE FC inaugural Bantamweight Champion Kim SooChul has come a long way in his three short years as a professional fighter, from the top to the bottom and back up to the top of the food chain again. October 18, 2013 sees him look to claim ultimate glory when he faces Bibiano Fernandes for the ONE FC Bantamweight Title Unification.
After winning the Rising On Featherweight Championship his first time out of the box, a year later, in late 2011, he started a run that saw him drop three fights in a row. Then he picked up steam and climbed over Shoko Sato in ROAD FC and back into ONE FC to face the tough Kevin Belingon enroute to a championship fight. Belingon was being heralded as one of the top fighters to come out of the Philippines, while Kim was just some scrappy little Korean guy. Kim got the decision win and was handed Leandro Issa as his next opponent – the man who started his previous losing streak – in a rematch that would see the winner crowned ONE FC Champion. BJJ black belt Issa had the chops to take the title, and had shown remarkable tactical ability as well when he defeated Masakazu Imanari. It wouldn’t be far off the mark to say Kim was a heavy underdog.
The night of Kim’s title shot at ONE FC 6 was a masterpiece of match ups by Matt Hume. Dramatic finishes and upsets led to Kim’s bout with Issa, and without fail the tone remained the same in their match. Kim stuffed takedowns. He handled himself on the ground better than anyone expected. The coup de grace came in the second when he dropped Issa with an overhand right and scrambled on top to finish the job. The crowd went wild. The 20-year old catapulted himself onto the world stage and rightfully so.
A shoulder injury kept Kim from defending his strap in a reasonable time, and Bibiamo Fernandes versus Koetsu Okazaki was greenlit for the Interim Title. Bibiano claimed the belt, and from mountain in Wonju, South Korea, Kim SooChul began hungering for his next shot in the cage against the world-famous grappler.
MMA-in-ASIA interviewed Kim prior to his unification bout with Fernandes and asked the Korean prodigy about the title, his training, and his repetitive role as the underdog.
MMA-in-ASIA: When you started your run in ONE FC, you stunned everyone with your ability. What would you say has been the biggest reason for your success in winning the title?
Because nobody expected me to do anything special, so I wanted to make people shocked!
MMA-in-ASIA: Did you feel like the underdog? If so, what was it like, did it motivate you?
Yes, I think I’m always the underdog. I use the pressure like that everytime to make myself motivated.
MMA-in-ASIA: You are a very young fighter, many say you are only at the beginning of your career. What do you see for your future in MMA?
I’m still growing up now, and I want to fight with people who they say are strong fighters. Anyone. I don’t want to keep a small title – I want a real war.
MMA-in-ASIA: When you had a shoulder injury and ONE FC announced Bibiano as fighting for an interim title, how did you feel?
It felt awesome because I knew I would eventually get to fight with him.
MMA-in-ASIA: What would you say is your greatest strength as a fighter?
Fighting is the reason I keep breathing. It is my life.
MMA-in-ASIA: How do you think the audience will react when you meet him in the cage?
I just want them to make some noise!
MMA-in-ASIA: Do you think Koreans see you as their champion, and as representing the country?
Not yet because there are many great fighters in Korea. But one day I do want to be a fighter who represents Korea.
MMA-in-ASIA: What makes this championship belt important to you?
Actually the belt isn’t important to me. I mean if I beat Bibiano – which is what’s important – then automatically the belt will be mine. The title isn’t the first thing that’s important. I simply think the strongest fighter will get this title.
MMA-in-ASIA: Do you still feel like an underdog in this match?
MMA-in-ASIA: You’ve begged for this fight many times on Facebook. Were you angry you couldn’t be matched up sooner?
Of course because I couldn’t fight for over a year.
MMA-in-ASIA: Since you’ve had a long time to think about your opponent, does that make this fight special, or any different than other fights?
Yes, it’s different. Actually, I already respected him when I was just 13 years old. He is the strongest opponent I’ve ever faced in my life
MMA-in-ASIA: Because it is a title fight, does it give you more pressure?
I think Bibiano has more pressure than me.
MMA-in-ASIA: What do you think Bibiano is thinking about you right now?
Hmmmmm… that I’m “just a kid?” [laughs]
MMA-in-ASIA: Do you think he understands your style?
I think he doesn’t have any idea about me, he’ll just keep going his way like he always has before.
MMA-in-ASIA: What do you think of him as an opponent?
He’s an old man but he’s strong.
MMA-in-ASIA: Who are some of your training partners right now?
My coach, Mr. Jung, the CEO Of ROAD FC.
MMA-in-ASIA: Has MMA grown in your home since you first started? What is the MMA scene in Korea like now?
It’s huge. Because of my coach, Mr Jung. That’s it, no need to say anything else.
MMA-in-ASIA: What do you think about the MMA scene in Asia?
Hmmmmm… Asia is the ‘holy land’ of MMA, but it’s lost its past glory.
MMA-in-ASIA: Who do you see as other important fighters to watch in your division?
I can’t think about any other fighters right now.
MMA-in-ASIA: Do you have anyone you wish to thank?
I really what to thank my coach, Mr Jung. He trained with me three hours every day even when he was really busy because of ROAD FC 13. I will beat Bibiano and give the winnig glory to him.