Back in May of last year, Dong Hyun Kim made his UFC debut at UFC 84: Ill Will against British fighter Jason Tan. Unknown to most casual MMA fans at the time, Kim was actually making history under the South Korean flag in that he had become only the second Korean fighter to set foot into the Octagon since Joe Son at UFC 4. After three rounds of action that saw the "Stun Gun" tactically out-strike Tan and pick him apart, Kim ended the bout via a technical knockout in the third round to become the first Korean to win in the UFC. Most fans didn't see this match as it was on the undercard, but the nation of South Korea erupted overnight after the battle aired three times on Korean network Super Action.
As John Evans over at Sherdog.com pointed out in an article back in early June, Koreans are absolutely "fanatical" about their athletes. Even athletes such as Denis Kang and Yoshihiro Akiyama are highly regarded within the country even though Kang was born in France and raised in Canada, and Akiyama surrendered his Korean citizenship in 2001 and subsequently defeated Ahn Dong-Jin of South Korea in the 2002 Asian Games gold medal match.
Interestingly enough, Dong Hyun Kim is now being included in that short list of Korean athletes that citizens of the nation are rallying behind. His recent bouts have been re-aired countless times on television, and he single-handedly brought Korea's #1 network, Super Action, back from dismal ratings after PRIDE shut down in Japan. With Yoshihiro Akiyama stepping into the Octagon at UFC 100 as well, Super Action should begin seeing some huge ratings considering Akiyama is a national icon in South Korea.
For all the flak that Zuffa has received from MMA fans regarding sponsorships, restrictive contracts, and low pay, Zuffa has managed to appeal to new markets with wise acquisitions. Re-igniting the passion for MMA in Korean fans was a bold risk for the UFC to take, but Dong Hyun Kim's performances in the UFC have proven that the UFC could potentially make solid revenues in the market. It also sets up the potential for the UFC to carve out a piece of the pie within a market that has been deemed "impossible" to deal with in the past.
In order for that appeal to continue for Zuffa in South Korea, Kim needs to continue his winning ways. He'll face Canadian up-and-comer T.J. Grant at UFC 100 in what should be a chance for "Stun Gun" Kim to "show off" to his native country. The only problem is that Grant isn't exactly a pushover opponent as he was able to upset PRIDE veteran Ryo Chonan at UFC 97 back in April.
Although the Nova Scotia-native is formidable on the floor, Kim's overall style and tactics in the cage should outweigh Grant's abilities in this fight. Kim's powerful strikes coupled with his judo tactics make for a very formidable opponent for anyone in the cage. I expect Kim to win and the UFC will continue to ease Kim into tougher opponents as his appeal in Korea grows. If Akiyama happens to defeat Alan Belcher at UFC 100, the UFC will have a duo of Asian market draws that could truly put their foot in the door.
The more intriguing question for me is whether or not Kim will evolve into a fighter that can make a run toward the top of the division. A lot of fans felt that Matt Brown won their matchup at UFC 88, and Karo Parisyan was able to defeat Kim in lackluster fashion at UFC 94 before having the result overturned due to a positive drug test. Many fans also felt that the Parisyan matchup could have gone either way as well. These results inevitably beg the question: will Kim evolve into the type of fighter that can regularly punish weaker opponents ? At any rate, a win is a win in the Octagon, and Kim seems to have the skill set to be a real success in the UFC. I'm sure Zuffa is hoping Kim continues on the road toward the top as well.photos via ufc.com