Brazilian special forces policeman Paulo Thiago had one of the more memorable entrances into the UFC. Debuting at UFC 95 against Josh Koscheck, Thiago shocked the world by bashing Koscheck's skull with a meat-hook left hand in the 1st round. Koscheck's AKA stablemate, Jon Fitch, was called up to avenge the unexpected calamity, but Thiago sustained his momentum after dropping a decision to Fitch by out-gunning Jacob Volkmann on the score cards and walloping Mike Swick with another trademark haymaker before pouncing with a brilliant top-side D'arce choke to seal the finish.
Unfortunately, Thiago's initial win ratio of 3-1 would be reversed, as his stock took a hit with the 1-3 pace that followed: he offset back-to-back losses (Martin Kampmann, Diego Sanchez) with a decision win over David Mitchell, but suffered a cruel and merciless beating at the hands of knockout artist Siyar Bahadurzada in his latest turn.
Dong Hyun Kim is painfully aware that devastating knockout losses are part of the game. Barring a decision loss to Karo Parisyan that was later changed to a No Contest, Kim remained unbeaten in his opening UFC run with a 5-0-1 clip. The prestige of his opposition continued to rise and culminated with a stellar showing against current top lightweight contender Nate Diaz. As a testament to Kim's unreal top game, he bears the rare honor of effectively stifling Diaz's creative guard-work with brilliant grappling control in all but the final frame.
At the apex of his career, "Stun Gun" was elevated to a match with Carlos Condit, the present interim welterweight champion who'll face Georges St. Pierre at UFC 154 next weekend. Still quasi-undefeated at the time, his only non-victories being the aforementioned No Contest and a shady draw in 2007 with Hidehiko Hasegawa for the DEEP championship (after Kim had throttled him by TKO in a non-title bout), Kim was thoroughly annihilated by Condit via 1st-round flying knee.
Responding well to suffering his first defeat definitively, Kim got back in the saddle with a hard-fought decision over the stalwart Sean Pierson but incurred another frustrating loss via freak injury to welterweight debutante Demian Maia in his last outing.
Both Thiago and Kim have a foundation in Judo but the similarities end there. Thiago's style is accented by his rugged brawling and malicious boxing; the man hurls each punch with evil intentions and every ounce of torque he can muster. Kim, on the other hand, is more of a steadily pressing technician who intelligently shrinks the gap with simple strikes in order to impose his high-level Judo skills in the clinch. Once the fight hits the mat, Kim is machine-like in maintaining control, shutting down sweep and submission attempts and drenching foes with a nonstop stream of ground-and-pound and positional dominance.
Thiago is a BJJ black belt who's shown shades of brilliance, such as the Balloon Sweep he nailed at UFC 121 on Diego Sanchez and his cerebral finish of Swick. Conversely, the performances that apply most to this match up are Thiago's defeats to Kampmann and Fitch, both of which were accomplished through takedowns and top control that entirely neutralized his offensive potency. Kim is not a mirror image of either opponent but his takedowns are superior to Kampmann's and his top-game is about on par with Fitch's -- both of which are tremendous compliments to his skill.
Thiago's submission grappling has been an excellent auxiliary weapon to his haywire striking but not entirely effective as his main source of offense. In plain terms, if Kampmann can hit takedowns on Thiago regularly, Kim should be able to as well, and then ride out the round with frenetic pressure from the top position. Thiago's chances seem to boil down to landing the money shot on the feet, which is never impossible but always a less than appealing situation. The betting lines reflect this outlook with Kim standing as the heavy favorite in the -260 range.
My Prediction: Dong Hyun Kim by decision.