South Korea has quickly become a new region in the world in which mixed martial arts has begun to grow at an exponential rate. While boxing has been a part of the culture since the mid-1920's, mixed martial arts has only recently begun to gain appeal. It's surprising it didn't gain acceptance sooner considering Korea's excellence in various combat sports, which includes medals at the Olympics. With South Korea's rise in the mixed martial arts scene, it's only fitting that a Korean prospect makes our list. At #4, Spirit MC and M-1 veteran Ui Cheol Nam (10-2-1) makes a stand as a promising up-and-coming fighter in the Asian scene.
Offensive Skills: Nam's striking is average at best, but the aggression and power he brings has put most of his opponents in retreat mode. He has a nice jab, hook combination that he likes to throw, and he'll occasionally mix in uppercuts that have proven to be quite threatening to his opponents. He definitely needs some work in how he moves in the ring, but he shows some promise -- especially with his imposing aggression and pace he brings out of the gate.
His ground game has been somewhat problematic as his takedown defense really hasn't developed. He has, however, improved in his jiu-jitsu game. He has a rather tough rubber guard that many opponents have found difficult to pass, and for such a bulky lightweight -- his flexibility is impressive. Brazilian prospect Hacran Dias had all sorts of problems trying to escape it, and was nearly caught in a gogoplata during their match back in July of 2009.
Defensive Skills: Defense isn't exactly a priority for Nam, and his weak takedown defense has been his crutch. From the bottom, Nam has continued to improve, but he still hasn't improved the very skills that would keep him on his feet, an area in which he's much more threatening.
Progression & Learning Ability: One of the areas that I've been impressed with is Nam's grappling ability. While he's far from being a whiz in the submission game, he's held his own against very solid competition on the ground. He neutralized a dangerous submission threat in Hacran Dias, and even in losses to Dave Jansen and Mikhail Malyutin -- he was able to, at the very least, avoid any overwhelming damage. He's went from being a guy with a very limited ground game to a fighter who can threaten from the bottom.
He definitely needs work in honing his boxing skills, but Korea isn't exactly deficient in trainers who could help him become a more technical striker. With the right training, he could progress quite nicely.
Environment: Korea does have some limitations when it comes to training camps, but it isn't as isolated as some of the Eastern European countries who just haven't been able to attract major trainers. His camp, Team Posse, hasn't had the best track record in Asia, and it may serve them well to attract some better fighters into the camp. I don't see it as a major problem at this point in his career, but he will more than likely need to move to a bigger and better camp if he intends on moving up the ranks.
Potential: Nam is one of the prospects on our list who will either be a decent mid-level talent in a promotion like Sengoku, or he'll be a major bust. It's a chance that we're willing to take, but the appeal for us has mostly revolved around the excitement he brings to any fight. While he isn't the most technically sound fighter, he's a guy that I look forward to watching in the ring.
Does that deserve a high ranking on our list? If we look at what Nam has done and compare that to the region in which he's fighting, his performances are quite impressive considering the amount of training he's went through. The fact that Nam actually took it to such a high-level prospect like Hacran Dias speaks volumes about what he could become.
There are certainly some prospects in the U.S. that would overcome his overall skills, but this ranking is more about the potential that is there. We also have to factor in that he's doing all of this in a mixed martial arts scene that is relatively new. While he could probably be swapped into various spots in our top ten, it's hard to deny a guy a solid ranking when his entrances involve Asian "gangsta" rap and old school Wanderlei Silva staredowns. Alright, perhaps not. In any case, Ui Cheol Nam sits at #4 on our 2011 World MMA Lightweight ranking.
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