Two-time UFC bantamweight Kyung Ho Kang (11-7) will welcome ZST/Pancrase veteran Shunichi Shimizu (28-8, 10 Draws) to the big leagues in the main card's opening tussle.
Though the 26-year-old Kang is without a win in his pair of UFC turns, both defeats -- Alex Caceres and Chico Camus -- were not without controversy. In the decision against Caceres, which was initially deemed a split vote but later changed to a No Contest when "Bruce Leroy" failed his drug test, 11 of the 12 media sources on MMA Decisions penned in Kang as the winner. Against Camus, Kang was the victim of an undoubtedly effective up-kick and ground-and-pound outburst late in the fracas, but many felt the single strike wasn't enough to outweigh Kang's commanding 3rd-round performance summarily.
Regardless, proving he's on the level of Caceres, a uniquely proportioned and equipped 135'er, bodes well for Kang's future potential. Adopting the consummately humble "Mr. Perfect" nickname, Kang, a Jiu-Jitsu fighter at heart, has closed out eight of his 11 wins by submission with two TKO's; six stoppages came in the first frame. He's also a durable opponent as finishes account for just two (one TKO and submission apiece) of his seven defeats (with one DQ and four decisions).
Kang entered the Octagon having won five of his last six; however, in his lone loss to Andrew Leone, Kang was docked one point per round for missing weight and later avenged the defeat with a 2nd-round submission, becoming the Road FC bantamweight champion in the process.
Shunichi Shimizu boasts a hefty 48 career fights (including his 10 draws), which is a strong tenure for a 28-year-old fighter. "Rolling Star" has split most of his career between DEEP, Pancrase and ZST, and finally bested ZST bantamweight champ Keisuke Fujiwara (decision) after two previously unsuccessful attempts.
Fujiwara, former Sengoku featherweight champ Masanori Kanehara (2nd-round armbar loss) and recent UFC acquisition Motonobu Tezuka (decision loss) make up Shimizu's most notable opponents. Tezuka is also responsible for the only flaw on Shimizu's recent eight-fight streak and he's won the last five in a row. Overall, Shimizu has finished 23 of his 28 wins with 19 submissions and four TKO's, though his level of competition pales in comparison to Kang's.
The following is a highlight reel of Shimizu courtesy of Youtube:
There are a few aspects that make Kang a fairly atypical bantamweight, namely his height (5'9"), length (73" reach) and his MMA-attuned grappling style. He's an exceptionally lanky 135'er with solid takedowns, excellent submission and scrambling abilities and a serviceable striking game. His stand-up would be somewhere above "serviceable" if his defense was better, or even present for that matter. Kang's not bad when he's on the trigger but he's been entirely hittable in both UFC outings.
Having honed his style in the ranks of ZST and Pancrase, Shimizu has legitimate Judo, submission and scrambling prowess, but his showman's striking is geared more toward flash and entertainment than tried and proven efficacy. That makes it quite possible for him to capitalize on Kang's defensive porosity on the feet, but his wild striking tendencies are more likely to actualize as a significant disadvantage.
While that might not sound emphatic, the problem is that Shimizu will then be forced to rely heavily on his clinch, takedown and grappling skills -- Kang has not only demonstrated a strong grasp in those areas but did so against a level of opposition that Shimizu has yet to encounter. Additionally, since Shimizu must be in contact range to engage Kang in those phases of combat (clinching, takedowns and grappling), Kang's stretchy proportions should provide him an enhanced degree of leverage and control. Kang's length will obviously influence the striking interplay and he should be able to dictate the pace in free-form striking, and Shimizu's lack of knockout power will alleviate Kang's shortcomings in the defense department.
Really, Shimizu is like a slightly smaller and less polished version of Kang but with divergent striking habits. Perhaps Shimizu's sporadic ventures to Tiger Muay Thai in Phuket, Thailand, will help shape his striking into a more traditionally effective package. Or Shimizu might go balls out and utilize his unpredictable kickboxing arsenal to catch Kang off-guard and/or exploit his sketchy defense.
The X-factor is Shimizu's takedown and scrambling game -- it's difficult to gauge how they'll stack up here with any accuracy. Shimizu is undoubtedly skilled and aggressive in transitions but Kang's feisty affairs against superior competition gives him an edge by default, though that's hardly an impermeable assessment.
Overall, the signs point to Kang utilizing his aggressive striking to control the tempo and his size and length to steer the grappling exchanges en route to a decision.
My Prediction: Kyung Ho Kang by decision.