Kim edges Hathaway in UFC match few North American fans saw

Sunday March 2nd, 2014

Dong Hyun Kim (L) knocked out John Hathaway in Macau in what were the early-morning hours in North America.
Victor Fraile/Getty Images

If a Brit falls in Macau and no one is awake to hear it, does it make for sound fight promotion?

I was considering ending this story right there and allowing the thought experiment to fend for itself like a Zen koan, much as the UFC did with Saturday's mixed martial arts event in China. Wait, you're thinking, there was a UFC event in China this weekend? My point exactly.

As luck would have it in these times of bad decisions, split decisions, and all decisions all the time -- two straight cards last month saw 10 fights go the distance, more than ever before in the promotion's 20-year history -- you actually missed a couple of pretty thrilling finishes. We'll get to those highlights, but not until we paint the backdrop.

First things first, yes, I'm making an assumption when I say you missed the fights. I'm just playing the percentages. The fights began at 5:45 a.m. ET and were a wrap by 10. West Coast fans might as well have given it the old college try and pulled an all-nighter on Friday to watch.

And where would they watch? Not on pay-per-view. Not on the Fox television network. Not even on one of Fox Sports' cable outlets. The Macau event was beamed on the UFC Fight Pass, the second of the company's cards to be exclusive to the two-month-old digital service, the first since a free preview period ended and fans were asked to pay up.

As if the deck weren't stacked against this fight card enough, there were only eight bouts instead of the usual dim sum cart array of 11 or 12, and about half of the fighters competing were barely known to anyone outside the Asian MMA intelligencia. Zhang Lipeng? Wang Sai? Those Beijing-based welterweights were in the co-main event, where the former beat the latter via split decision in the finale of the reality show The Ultimate Fighter: China.

Then there was Dong Hyun Kim, the event's headliner. He's no local boy, based some 1,200 miles away in Busan, South Korea. And he's also the owner of a name well known to many who follow MMA, having fought in the UFC a dozen times previously, a run of nearly six years that includes victories over the likes of Nate Diaz, T.J. Grant, and Matt Brown. Kim's only loss since 2011 was a fluky one in which he suffered a muscle spasm early against Demian Maia and could not continue.

All of the fighters mentioned in that roundup of Kim's resume highlights reside in the fighter rankings, either at welterweight or lightweight. Kim does not, but back in October he situated himself on the fringe of the Top 10 among 170-pounders with a knockout of Erick Silva, the Brazilian prospect. That was a case of a man known as "The Stun Gun" living up to his nickname.

On Saturday, the 32-year-old judo black belt lived up to the nickname some more. Stunningly. Those who were out of bed and watching his main event against John Hathaway on their tablet or smart phone might well have choked on their breakfast cereal when Kim (19-2-1, 1NC) knocked the Englishman out cold with a spinning back elbow. What made the decisive blow even more artistic is that it came in the same motion as his evasive maneuver to dodge a Hathaway (17-2) elbow. The end came at 1:02 of the third round, and sent Kim over the cage and into the crowd, not quite to the José-Aldo-in-Rio extent, but enough to get him some sweaty hugs. Upon his return to the cage, he did some flips ... perhaps because he could sense that the welterweight Top 10 is in his near future.

"I cannot tell you how happy I am," Kim said through a translator (Korean to English, leaving any Chinese monolinguals in the crowd out of luck)."I think I draw from the energy of all the fans who have come from Korea to watch this, and all the Asia fans."

What about the North Americans who set their alarm clocks? Get used to that. The UFC has been going global for a while, but 2014 will see at least half a dozen fight cards in Europe -- including next Saturday's in London, headlined by Alexander Gustafsson's attempt to secure a rematch with Jon Jones for the light heavyweight belt -- and twice as many in Brazil. Fight Pass will be the sole TV outlet for some of these fight cards, including next weekend's.

"There's no stopping," said Kim. "I am going to continue to go forward, forward, forward."

He was speaking for himself and his career. But he might as well have been talking about the UFC as a whole, particularly as a new media product looking to get noticed worldwide in a whole new way.

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