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Welcome to the UFC: Johns & Kwan Ho

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Two new bantamweights are set to battle it out on the upcoming UFC Belfast undercard.

Welcome to the UFC

While the UFC gets its fair share of prospects, it’s actually not that often that two prospects make their debuts fighting one another. In fact, of all the current UFC fighters set for their first bouts in the Octagon, Brett Johns and Kwan Ho Kwak are the only two facing fellow untested talent - at least until Alex Enlund vs. Martin Buschkamp gets re-booked. Johns and Kwan Ho will face off on the undercard of this week’s UFC Belfast show, as part of the event-doubleheader weekend. So...

Who is Brett Johns?

“The Pikey” is a 24-year old bantamweight fighting out of Swansea, Wales. He’ll actually have the honor of being the first Welsh fighter to set foot in the cage - followed closely by Jack Marshman. Johns trains out of the Chris Rees Academy, of which he appears to be the most notable fighter to date. He’s coming to the UFC as the reigning Titan FC bantamweight champ - and former Cage Warriors champ - with an unbeaten 12-0 record. That record includes wins over UFC vet Walel Watson and prospects Anthony Gutierrez, James Brum, James Macalister, and Sam Gilbert. In general, it looks like Johns has spent the last four years fighting the best possible young competition he could. The flip side of that is that Johns doesn’t have the highest finish ratio out there, with six of his bouts going to decision. Outside of MMA, Johns is a black belt Judoka, having practiced the art since childhood.

What you should expect:

The comparison the leaps to mind when watching tape on Brett Johns is Henry Cejudo - perhaps without the same absurd athleticism. And that’s not to say that Johns isn’t a good solid athlete, but Cejudo is obviously something very special there. Otherwise Johns has a lot of the same approach to fighting, principally that he attacks with his boxing in short bursts and uses opponents’ resulting aggression to hit reactive takedowns. He’s a decent defensive fighter when he’s out at range, but he seems to either be all offense or all defense without a ton of crossover between them.

His tendency to come in on a straight line behind a blitz of punches makes him a bit hittable, but he mixes his strikes well, and can use his blitzing style to disguise takedown entries. And that’s the real technical centerpiece of Johns’ game, his wrestling. He’s got a knack for driving through takedowns even when he doesn’t always set them up perfectly. His reactive shot is great, and he complements it nicely with a damaging top game from guard. He hasn’t always shown the best grappling control on the mats when sub hunting, but has the toughness and scrambling ability to get himself out of trouble.

To get better acquainted, here’s Johns’ recent bout against Walel Watson at Titan FC 33:

Who is Kwan Ho Kwak?

27-year old “Handsome” Kwan Ho Kwak is the reigning Top FC and PXC title holder and the latest UFC fighter from Korean Top Team. The bantamweight trains alongside UFC talents Dongi Yang, Hyun Gyu Lim, and Tae Hyun Bang, along with a large roster of competitive regional fighters. Like Johns, Kwan Ho is coming to the UFC with an unbeaten record, currently standing at 9-0. His biggest win to date is over UFC vet Alptekin Ozkilic, but his recent run includes some solid regional prospects - a nice departure from some early can crushing. Unfortunately, a stretch of better competition has also meant that Kwan Ho’s stoppages have dried up. After starting his career with five straight knockouts, he’s been to decision three times in his last four fights. Outside of MMA, Kwan Ho has a background in Yong Mu Do, a martial art combining Taekwondo, Judo, and several other forms.

What you should expect:

When it comes to pure athletic ability, not that many fighters are going to compare to Kwan Ho Kwak. He’s got the kind of fluidity, dynamism, and lightning speed that no amount of time in the gym is really going to bring you. And, unlike a lot of other Korean fighters, he actually mixes that with a pretty defensively aware striking game. He throws a lot of single shots, but can mix up his combinations and has a knack for finding the right shot for the right opening and getting out before his opponent can counter. Whether it’s knees kicks, or punches, Kwak’s timing and entries are often superb. At times, his tendency to stick and move means that he doesn’t do the best job following up on hurt opponents, but the potential to cause damage is there in everything.

The biggest questions for Kwan Ho at the moment seem to surround his wrestling and his cardio. His takedown defense looks like it’s almost purely athleticism based - especially in open space - with little attention paid to sprawling well or getting position. He tries to use his speed and footwork and explosive ability to shuck his opponent off. If that doesn’t work, he’s going down. He has some scrambling ability to compliment that, but he needs more consistent technique at the UFC level. Otherwise, Kwan ho has been 5 rounds before, so his cardio isn’t necessarily bad, but he puts a lot of energy into his strikes and some of his defense and movement seem to fade pretty quickly because of it.

To get us better acquainted, here’s his last bout against Alptekin Ozkilic at Top FC 11:

What this means for their debut:

This is going to be a tough fight. Unfortunately for Kwan Ho, his weakness is exactly Johns’ strength. Kwan Ho is the better athlete of the two of them, with the more dangerous, polished striking, but if he can’t stay upright, it’s going to be hard for him to get the win. Either way, this should be an excellent bout between two fighters who absolutely look like they could climb to the top 15 of the division.