TUF: China Finale fight card breakdown and analysis w/ Mike Haskamp

The Ultimate Fighting Championship makes its return to Macau, China on Saturday night with an eight bout fight card, headlined by an intriguing Welterweight contest between John Hathaway and Dong Hyun Kim, and a co-main event pitting the two 170-lbs tournament finalists from the TUF: China series, Wang Sai and Zhang Li Peng, against one another.

The card is also set to play host to some of the region’s top Asian MMA talents. Jumabieke Tuerxun, a fighter that’s been making waves both in and outside of China, finally makes his long awaited octagon debut in a match-up opposite Team Lakay staple, Mark Eddiva. TUF: China semi-finalists Wang An Ying and Albert Cheng will go to battle after impressing the masses during their stints in the TUF house, while Nam Yui Chul, the former ROAD FC champ, puts his four fight winning streak on the line against two-time UFC vet Kazuki Tokudome.

A Welterweight bout between Zak Cummings and Alberto Mina was scratched from the line-up after the former was expected to miss weight by at least 8-lbs before the fighter weigh-ins held on Friday. Mina, who received both his show and win money, refused to meet Cummings at a 178-lbs catchweight contest upon discussion with his coaches.

Former Shooto and Sengoku champ Hatsu Hioki returns to action in a Bantamweight tilt opposite Ivan Menjivar, and hard-hitters Shawn Jordan and Matt Mitrione meet in a match-up that is guaranteed to be a barn-burner.

Also on the card is a 145-lbs bill featuring Nam Phan and Vaughan Lee. Both fighters will be desperate to get back in the win column following poor results in their previous outings.

So in our build-up to Saturday’s momentous spectacle in Macau, China, I’m joined by Mike Haskamp, who was the co-owner of the recently demised Legend FC promotion in Hong Kong. Haskamp has a wealth of knowledge and experience on the regional MMA scene, and we are privileged to have him engage his thoughts on the TUF: China Finale event. We’ll be discussing the card through seven major questions, as follows:

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  • In the night’s first fight, Chinese-Kazakh Jumabieke Tuerxun takes on Mark Eddiva. Now, I think it’s pretty obvious that Bieke is a huge favorite here. Is this fight considered a mismatch should you factor in Bieke’s experience and Eddiva’s three-year layoff? Can the latter possibly pull off an upset?

Mike Haskamp: I’ll eschew the diplomatic “hey, anything can happen, especially with four-ounce gloves” response and just say that I think this is a mismatch. Not only is Bieke vastly more experienced (the 14-0 record shown on Sherdog is dramatically understated), but he won’t have to deal with the ring rust issues that Eddiva has. Again, don’t be fooled by the Sherdog record: Bieke has been fighting every couple of weeks in China over the past few months.

The one weakness Bieke has had in the past – that he sometimes undertrains – has been nullified by the stepped-up training camp he’s had in Xian and the fact that his coach Zhao Xuejun sent him to Phuket to finish out his camp. I think you’re going to see Bieke at his best, especially in his wrestling, which is where I think he will give Eddiva the most difficulty.

In Eddiva’s most recent fight three years ago, he was completely hittable and got dropped twice by knees in the clinch from an inexperienced fighter making his MMA debut. He was saved by his opponent’s lack of grappling experience when the guy gave up his back during what should have been a routine escape, but Eddiva was one or two punches away from getting knocked out.

I think this is a bit of a gift fight to Bieke. But the UFC is hedging its bets here: if Bieke loses, at least he loses to a fighter from another key market the UFC is targeting.

Thinesh John: I’ll be honest here – when the fight was first announced, the matchmaking made little sense to me. Bieke is one of few fighters from China who possesses a really strong wrestling base that compliments well with his Sanda roots. Bieke has been fighting on a regular basis too and with over thirty bouts and victories in his career, the momentum he’s been generating is certainly second to none. He’s been training at Phuket Top Team alongside Ian Enty, Andrew Leone and Don Carlo Clauss among others, so that has to further boost his chances of winning convincingly.

Eddiva, meanwhile, hasn’t fought in three years which is an awful long-time to be out, considering he’s making his promotional debut in the biggest fight organization in the world. Furthermore, the Team Lakay fighters have been criticized for their lack of grappling prowess, as evident in Dave Galera’s lopsided decision loss to Royston Wee at UFC: Singapore in January and the 0-6 mark they left at ONE FC 9: Rise to Power.

As with the rest of the Lakay men, however, I do expect Eddiva’s striking skills to be decent, but it’s his ground game that worries me. And this is a perfect sort of match-up Bieke can hope for, where he’ll be looking to exploit his Filipino counterpart’s lack of expertise on the canvas through takedowns and top control.

  • Is there a bout you’re personally looking forward to on the prelims? Why?

Mike Haskamp: Nam Yui Chul vs. Kazuki Tokudome.

I think this fight has all the makings of Fight of the Night. When Nam finds himself facing an opponent against whom he is evenly matched both standing and on the ground, he lets his hands go and turns it into a brawl. His fights against Adrian Pang (twice), Rob Hill, and Jadamba Narantungalag during his time at Legend are some of my favorites of all time. Tokudome is a game opponent. This one will be a lot of fun.

Thinesh John: Nam Yui Chul vs. Kazuki Tokudome.

I’ve been a follower of Nam’s since his days in Legend FC and believe me when I tell you folks, this kid has the whole package. Along with an all-round MMA facet, the South Korean is technically sound as well, and he will not hesitate to turn fights into wars if need be. He’s coming off two straight successful title fights against a very tough Kume Takasuke (another South Korean talent who could very well make his way to the UFC in the future) under the ROAD FC banner and those tussles were pivotal in determining if he was indeed ready to take the next step of his career.

Tokudome will be a good match-up for him in his octagon debut, but once again, Nam among others is a prime example of the plethora of South Korean starlets that are slowly but surely making themselves known and heard off.

  • Vaughan Lee vs. Nam Phan is another match-up where the fighters find themselves in must-win situations. Phan carried a lot of hype when he entered the UFC straight off his stint in TUF: 12. But evidently, the lack of consistency has been his downfall to date. Will submission ace Vaughan Lee use that to his advantage and scoop another submission victory? Or will Phan use his all-round game to control settings on their feet?

Mike Haskamp: I’ve been disappointed to see Phan not live up to expectations coming off his time on TUF. He’s an incredibly tough and well-rounded fighter with a style that’s always exciting to watch. I think this match-up against Lee is very much in Phan’s favor. His UFC losses have all been against high-level opponents (not including his first loss against Leonard Garcia, which I think most people would agree was a total robbery), and no one in the UFC has yet been able to finish him.

Phan is also a big bantamweight facing off against a guy who has already indicated his intentions to drop to flyweight following this fight. If Lee was serious when he said he planned to stand against Phan, I think Phan takes this pretty easily. And given how much I hate it when guys make the heart symbol with their hands (I’m looking at you too, Mario Yamasaki), I’m pulling for Phan to finish him in spectacular fashion.

Thinesh John: That’s been sort of Phan’s achilles heel to date – that consistency. We all saw what he was capable of in season twelve of The Ultimate Fighter. He was fast, exciting and his tilts with Leonard Garcia proved he was willing to go to great lengths to get a victory.

Phan’s losses in the UFC have come against stiff competition and that perhaps explains his Jekyll and Hyde run under the promotion’s banner. The fact that he hasn’t been finished in the octagon is real vindication to his heart and tenacity as well.

Likewise can be said of Vaughan Lee, though, who has gone 2-3 in the octagon. His resume, honestly, doesn’t entail the type of fighter he actually is. He’s a finisher, and having said that, his active guard is always fun to watch and I believe Phan will have to be vary about that come fight night. I won’t be surprised if Lee pursuits for takedowns while Phan tries to keep the fight standing. It’s a good match-up overall and I think people will enjoy this one.

  • Ivan Menjivar takes on Hatsu Hioki in the main card’s opener. Both guys will be desperate to put an end to their losing streaks, and get their UFC careers back on track. Who do you think has the edge in this one? Can Hioki land his trademark takedowns, or will Menjivar use his striking to great effect?

Mike Haskamp: I think Hioki is the clear favorite here. Both guys have had a couple of disappointing losses recently, but Hioki’s have all been against elite-level wrestlers like Guida and Elkins. Menjivar’s wrestling is far from world-class. And given the fact that Hioki has a reach advantage and decent footwork, I think it will be challenging for Menjivar to work his way inside to use his striking. I predict that Hioki takes this one by decision.

Thinesh John: Both guys find themselves in desperate need for a win, well at least to keep themselves safe from a pink slip. Hioki had a good start in his UFC career going 2-0, but since then, he’s suffered three consecutive defeats. I still believe the former Sengoku and Shooto champ is yet to hit his stride in the octagon. He’s better than what people have been crediting him for, but I guess it’s just his lack of finishes that disappoints everyone. Nonetheless, Hioki is just as capable on his feet as he is on the canvas, and let’s not forget about that granite chin – this kid is indeed tough to finish.

In my humble opinion, Menjivar’s best chance in this match-up is probably on his feet. I won’t be surprised if he manages to outpoint Hioki for a decision victory but then again, Hioki has good footwork and he knows how to use his range, so it will be easier said than done. But if the fight does indeed hit the mat, it’ll be all one way traffic in Hioki’s favor.

  • Quite simply, Matt Mitrione vs. Shawn Jordan has knockout written all over it. Both guys are proven finishers with only five of their combined twenty-nine fights making it to the distance. Are we guaranteed a first round KO in this one?

Mike Haskamp: I’m kind of surprised that the UFC hasn’t been promoting this fight more since everyone loves to watch two big guys stand and bang, and that’s exactly what we can expect here. I’ve been watching Meathead Mitrione ever since the heavyweights edition of TUF, and I always enjoy his go-for-broke style. Both Mitrione and Jordan have in common the fact that they’ve mostly come up short against the sort of top-flight, big-name competition who could have vaulted them into the title conversation with a win.

I think both of them see this fight as an opportunity to put themselves back on track. Mitrione’s state of mind will be the real driver of this fight: he was so incredibly frustrated by his loss to TUF cast-mate Brendan Schaub a few months ago, so if that setback was the catalyst he says it was for him to re-dedicate himself to training, I think he takes this one. But regardless, I think we’re in for a great fight and a Knockout of the Night – pardon me, Performance of the Night – fight.

Thinesh John: Man, this has “Fight of the Night” written all over it. Someone’s getting knocked out in this one. Look, I’m a fan of both guys, not because of records, their styles, etc. – just the simple fact that both these guys leave it all on the line each and every time they step into the octagon. While both men have been on the end of knockout defeats, they’ve dished out their fair share of knockouts en route to victories as well, so in this riveting clash, I believe it could come down to who lands first.

I’ll give Jordan the edge in the grappling department because of his wrestling pedigree. And while it would suck to see him attempt for takedowns to stay away from his opponent’s knockout prowess, don’t be surprised if he resorts to it.

  • Zhang Li Peng contests Wang Sai for the honour of being called the 170-lbs champ of the TUF: China series. Who takes this one and why?

Mike Haskamp: I was surprised when they announced welterweight as one of the weight classes for TUF China since most of the talent in China is at lightweight and below. However, I wasn’t surprised to see both Wang Sai and Zhang Lipeng announced as members of the cast. Both men have been part of the Chinese MMA scene dating back to China’s original MMA promotion, Art of War.

As is the case for many Chinese fighters, their records are misleading: they both have a lot more fights and a lot more wins. That said, I think Wang Sai is the clear favorite here for two key reasons:

1). Size difference – Wang Sai is a “true” welterweight, walking around significantly heavier than 170-lbs. Zhang Lipeng alternates between fighting at welterweight and lightweight, and should really be fighting at lightweight given his build. That size difference is going to play to Wang Sai’s clear advantage, particularly when considering…

2). Grappling – Although Wang Sai (like most Chinese fighters) comes from a striking/Sanda background, he has shown a strong commitment to and aptitude for grappling. He has good submissions and brutal ground-and-pound. He has trained under some excellent wrestling and Jiujitsu coaches, and he finished out his camp for this fight with TUF 1 competitor Mike Swick at AKA’s new Phuket location. Compare that to Zhang Lipeng, for whom grappling has always been an Achilles Heel, especially against larger opponents.

Given Wang Sai’s flashy style and strong chin, my bet is that he keeps it standing to start with in order to showcase his striking and play to the crowd, but that he’ll eventually take it to the ground to go for the finish.

Thinesh John: I’ve actually been hearing rumors that Wang Sai has penned a deal with a movie company, which leads me to believe he won’t mind losing to Zhang Li Peng to forgo the six-figure UFC contract and instead pursue his future endeavors in the movie industry. But don’t quote me for this. It’s just the word on the street.

Regardless, on paper, I think Wang Sai is the clear favorite. Zhang Li Peng has been exploited, grappling wise, in the past and I believe that’s what Wang Sai will hoping to take advantage off. And with the 28-year-old surrounding himself with training partners like Mike Swick at AKA: Thailand, I just can’t bet against him.

  • Career wise, Dong Hyun Kim and John Hathaway are almost mirror images of one another. Both guys’ records are similar, and they are incredibly well-rounded which makes this fight that much difficult to call. But, how big of a factor will Hathaway’s one-year layoff be? Will he have the cardio to go five rounds with an athlete like Kim?

Mike Haskamp: This fight was supposed to take place more than three years ago at UFC 120, but Kim was forced to withdraw due to an injury, setting the stage for Hathaway to suffer his only career loss to date against replacement opponent Mike Pyle. At the time, a Kim vs. Hathaway meeting made a lot of sense: they had collectively compiled a 9-0 record in the UFC against increasingly tough opposition, and Hathaway had just come off an impressive victory against Diego Sanchez.

Fast forward to today, and this match-up seems much less even. The level of competition Kim has faced is a level above Hathaway’s opponents. Admittedly, Kim has suffered his only two career losses during that time, but one was against Carlos Condit in what turned out to be a gatekeeper fight after which Condit beat Nick Diaz for the UFC interim welterweight title; and the other was the result of a freak injury against Demian Maia in a fight most people (including me) expected Kim to win.

And then of course there’s the layoff you mentioned. It’s been almost a year and a half since Hathaway last stepped into the Octagon. That sort of hiatus is a big factor, and while there are notable exceptions (like Weidman beating Silva after a year of inactivity), most fighters experience noticeable ring rust after an extended period on the sidelines. I’m actually a little surprised that Joe Silva is giving Hathaway such a tough opponent for his first fight back, but this contest is by no means unwinnable for Hathaway as long as his cardio, wrestling (especially takedown defense), and game-plan are on point.

Thinesh John: Hathaway’s one-year hiatus is the key factor in this bout here. While the brit was out having a spell on the sidelines, Kim has won back-to-back fights in ultra-impressive fashion, and he’s closer than ever to getting a title shot. His last outing against Erick Silva just proved how much of a threat he is in the Welterweight division, and to date, his only losses have come against Carlos Condit and Demian Maia – two fighters currently sitting in the upper echelon of the division.

I think both guys are very similar stylistically. Kim has that stellar Judo base and when he gets on top of you, he’s relentless with his ground and pound. But Hathaway’s no slouch on the ground either. I believe that’s his bread and butter, although he’s capable of handling himself stand-up wise as well.

Do correct me if I’m wrong but Hathaway has never been in a five round affair. Truth be told, neither has Kim, but the South Korean’s recent run of form is more than enough to convince me that he’s going to a take a decision win.

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Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@ThineshJohnMMA, @MikeH852) and keep up with the latest Asian MMA news from FightSportAsia.com on Twitter (@FightSportAsia) and Facebook

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Categories: Featured, MMA, UFC

Author:Thinesh John

20, Asian MMA nerd in Singapore.

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