The bar has been set pretty high heading into this year, as 2013 might have been the best 12-month run in UFC history. It seemed like every event produced something awesome to talk about.
Whether it was amazing performances from unheralded talents early in the year or the successive shows with Fight of the Year candidates as the New Year drew closer, the action inside the Octagon exceeded expectations last year, and now the time has come to kick off the most ambitious fight schedule yet. You will be able to see every fight from Singapore on UFC Fight Pass.
With the stage set, these are the UFC Fight Night: Saffiedine vs. Lim Crystal Ball Predictions.
Tarec Saffiedine (14-3) vs. Hyun Gyu Lim (12-3-1)
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK – JANUARY 12: (L-R) Tarec Saffiedine punches Nate Marquardt in their welterweight championship bout during the Strikeforce event on January 12, 2013 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Lim has been very impressive in his two UFC appearances to date, showing serious power and improved conditioning from one fight to the other. He is a massive man for the welterweight ranks and is definitely someone to keep an eye on throughout this year, but Saffiedine should emerge victorious in this one.
The final welterweight champion in Strikeforce history, the Belgian kickboxer is too clean and technical to get caught in a slugfest with Lim. While the extended time off is worrisome, the reality is that Saffiedine was only fighting every six months under the Strikeforce banner, so he should be able to shake off the rust and find a rhythm relatively quickly.
Look for Saffiedine to use his kicks effectively here, chopping at Lim’s legs to limit his mobility and sap some of his power. In a battle of technique versus power, Saffiedine’s ability to rip off crisp combinations and avoid trouble will control the contest.
Prediction: Tarec Saffiedine by Unanimous Decision
Tatsuya Kawajiri (32-7-2) vs. Sean Soriano (8-0)
Soriano has a bright future and was deserving of a call to the UFC outside of being a short notice replacement here. While he should find some success inside the Octagon later in the year, Saturday’s contest could be a case of too much, too soon.
Kawajiri is as experienced as anyone in the division, and has looked renewed since dropping down to featherweight, garnering wins over the likes of Joachim Hansen and Michihiro Omigawa in the process. He’s incredibly durable, having only been stopped by strikes twice in his career, and holds a significant edge in the submission department.
After feeling each other out on the feet, the Japanese veteran should turn to his grappling game, which he has been more successful with since transitioning to featherweight. Though Soriano trains with a great team and has a bright upside, Kawajiri should be able to soften him up and force him to tap in this one.
Prediction: Tatsuya Kawajiri by Submission, Round 3
Luiz Dutra Jr. (11-2-1) vs. Kiichi Kunimoto (15-5-2)
This is a really interesting matchup between two veterans finally getting a chance to prove themselves on the biggest stage in the sport.
Dutra was the first pick of Team Nogueira on Season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil, but was forced from the competition due to torn ligaments in his hand following a quarterfinal victory over Pedro Irie. Officially, he hasn’t fought since April 2012, which is worrisome.
The 32-year-old Kunimoto has rattled off four straight wins and has just a single loss in his last 12 appearances, and makes his UFC debut off a submission win over former WEC and UFC competitor Edward Faaloloto.
In a fight that should feature lots of time battling for position on the canvas, the former Pancrase fighter Kunimoto gets the nod. He’s the more active of the two on the ground, posting a higher finishing percentage and showing more aggressiveness when it comes to finding openings and searching for holds. Even if he’s unable to connect on something, he should do enough to earn the victory.
Prediction: Kiichi Kunimoto by Unanimous Decision
Kyung Ho Kang (11-7) vs. Shunichi Shimizu (28-8-10)
SINGAPORE – JANUARY 01: Kyung Ho Kang of South Korea in action during the UFC Fight Night Singapore Open Workouts at the Skating Rink at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sand on January 1, 2014 in Singapore.
Kang is one of the better fighters without a win inside the Octagon. He lost a questionable decision to Alex Caceres in his debut, only to have the fight ruled a No Contest when "Bruce Leeroy" popped hot for marijuana post-fight, and followed it up with another close decision loss to Chico Camus in August.
The third time should be the charm.
While Shimizu has a ton of experience for his age, the 28-year-old has 46 fights, he hasn’t faced the same level of competition as Kang, and fighting in the Octagon for the first time can be a tricky thing.
Kang showed a solid mix of striking and grappling in each of his previous two appearances, and should use the same blend of skills to earn his first UFC victory here.
Prediction: Kyung Ho Kang by Unanimous Decision
Max Holloway (20-4) vs. Will Chope (19-5)
These two young featherweights should team up to deliver a very entertaining fight.
The 23-year-old Chope has won 14 consecutive contest, including 10 first-round finishes, and is 18-1 over his last 19 bouts, while the 22-year-old Holloway already has six UFC appearances under his belt, including sharing the cage with two of the division’s top up-and-comers, Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier.
SINGAPORE – JANUARY 01: Will Chope of Thailand in action during the UFC Fight Night Singapore Open Workouts at the Skating Rink at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sand on January 1, 2014 in Singapore.
While Chope’s run of success is hard to overlook, Holloway’s experience in the Octagon and track record against superior competition makes him the pick here.
He works combinations like a seasoned vet in the stand-up, making particular good use of his length and working the body effectively. Even though Chope is the taller of the two, Holloway should be able to close the distance and be successful inside, earning the victory in the process.
Prediction: Max Holloway by TKO, Round 2
Katsunori Kikuno (21-5-2) vs. Quinn Mulhern (18-3)
Mulhern drops down to lightweight for the first time after a first-round knockout loss to Rick Story back in March, and has the unenviable task of facing off with Deep and Dream veteran Kikuno in this one.
A slick grappler, Mulhern doesn’t have the dynamic entries and wrestling background needed to impose his will on opponents at this level, and if he does, the Team Jackson-Winkeljohn fighter hasn’t shown it yet.
After starting his career 3-1-2, Kikuno has gone an impressive 18-4 since, with his losses coming to respected and highly ranked opposition like Eddie Alvarez, Gesias Cavalcante, and Satoru Kitaoka.
This bout feels like it should play out similarly to Mulhern’s last UFC appearance, with Kikuno keeping the fight standing and launching rockets in Mulhern’s direction, much like Story did last year in Montreal at UFC 158.
Prediction: Katsunori Kikuno by TKO, Round 1
Royston Wee (2-0) vs. Dave Galera (5-0)
Wee is the first fighter from Singapore signed to fight in the UFC, while Galera is the first Filipino National, and both (obviously) are making their UFC debuts here.
SINGAPORE – JANUARY 01: Dave Galera of Philippines in action during the UFC Fight Night Singapore Open Workouts at the Skating Rink at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sand on January 1, 2014 in Singapore.
This honestly is a coin flip fight on paper, as both have limited experience and unblemished records against equally inexperienced opposition. Galera gets the nod based on having a few more professional rounds under his belt, none of the pressures of fighting at home, and trains with a team (Lakay MMA) that has produced One FC standouts Honorio Banario, Kevin Belingon, and Eduard Folayang.
Prediction: Dave Galera by Submission, Round 1
Mairbek Taisumov (20-4) vs. Tae Hyun Bang (16-7)
A member of Korean Top Team alongside headliner Hyun Gyu Lim, Bang returned after a 32-month absence to earn the 16th win of his career in June. Seven months later, he’s fighting in the UFC, making his debut opposite another newcomer, 25-year-old Austrian Taisumov.
Bang has faced current UFC competitors Jorge Masvidal and Takanori Gomi in the past, losing to both men under the Sengoku banner, but the extended time off and Taisumov’s 95% finishing rate earn the Austrian the nod here.
Prediction: Mairbeck Taisumov by TKO, Round 2
Dustin Kimura (10-1) vs. Jon delos Reyes (7-2)
This is another fun one between two talented youngsters, as the 24-year-old Kimura faces off with 26-year-old newcomer delos Reyes.
Kimura has to be the pick here simply based on having already registered a win in the UFC. The long and lean Hawaiian was beaten by Mitch Gagnon last time out, but was impressive in scoring a third-round submission victory over Chico Camus. While delos Reyes is a finisher â seven fights, seven finishes â this is easily the biggest test of his career, and he might not be ready to pass it just yet.
Prediction: Dusitn Kimura by TKO, Round 2
Leandro Issa (11-3) vs. Russell Doane (12-3)
The opening bout of the evening is another pairing between UFC newcomers, as 30-year-old Brazilian Issa shares the cage with Hawaiian Doane.
While Issa had a solid 3-1 run in One FC over the last couple years, Doane enters off a TKO victory over former UFC competitor Jared Papazian in November, and earns the nod on the strength of that win.
Two of Issa’s three career losses have come by way of TKO, while Doane has earned have of his 12 victories in that manner. Fresh off an impressive victory over the most well-known opponent the two have combined to face, Doane becomes the selection in the first UFC fight of 2014.