UFC fighters vow to put on show for S. Korean fans

September 8, 2015
From left, Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters Kim Dong-hyun, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Mirko Filipovic, Benson Henderson  pose for photos with a ring girl after the press conference in Seoul. (Newsis)

From left, Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters Kim Dong-hyun, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Mirko Filipovic and Benson Henderson pose for photos with a ring girl Arianny Celeste after the press conference in Seoul. (Newsis)

SEOUL (Yonhap) — The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) fighters scheduled to compete in Seoul this fall vowed on Tuesday to put on entertaining shows in their first appearance in South Korea.

The UFC, the world’s largest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion company, will make its South Korean debut on Nov. 28 with the UFC Fight Night 79.

The bout between Ben Henderson and Thiago Alves will be the headliner at Olympic Gymnastics Arena in Seoul. In other bouts, South Korean Kim Dong-hyun will take on Jorge Masvidal and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic will face Anthony Hamilton in a heavyweight duel.

Yoshihiro Akiyama, a fourth-generation Japanese of Korean descent popular here by his Korean name, Choo Sung-hoon, will step into the Octagon against Alberto Mina.

The UFC announced its decision to come to South Korea in May, saying the country has some of Asia’s best MMA fighters. Tickets for the event opened Tuesday, and the UFC marked the occasion with a press conference in Seoul attended by Henderson, Kim, Akiyama and Filipovic.

Henderson also has a Korean connection, having been born to a Korean American mother and an African American father. He said he’s looking forward to competing before his family members.

“My mom will definitely be in attendance,” Henderson said. “My wife, son and my brother will also be here. I have about 60 different cousins on my mom’s side of the family, and I am trying to get tickets for them.”

Henderson (22-5-0), the former UFC lightweight champion, was victorious over Brandon Thatch in his welterweight debut in February. He has never faced Alves before.

Alves (26-10-0), ranked 13th among UFC welterweight fighters, lost his most recent match in May to Carlos Condit.

Filipovic (31-11-2), a huge fan favorite in South Korea who turns 41 on Thursday, is riding a three-bout winning streak. It will be his first match against Hamilton (14-4-0).

“I know I have a huge fan base in Korea. I’ve never fought in Korea, if you don’t count my visit in 1996 as an amateur,” Cro Cop said. “I am very happy I will be a part of this UFC show here.”

Kim (20-3-1), dubbed “Stun Gun,” is the seventh-ranked welterweight fighter. In his most recent bout, he beat Josh Burkman in May and has won five of his past six.

Masvidal (29-9-0), ranked 15th in lightweight, has won four of his last five, and defeated Cezar Ferreira in July. He and Kim have never faced each other.

Kim said it was “a dream come true” to have a UFC event in South Korea. He added he will take the safe route to make sure he comes out victorious before home crowds.

“It’d be nice to have an exciting fight but it’s important to win before all my family and friends,” Kim said. “I will leave it to Ben, Sung-hoon and Cro Cop to entertain the crowds.”

Akiyama (14-5-0), who will be up against the undefeated Mina (11-0-0), has carved out a successful career as a TV personality in South Korea. He’s been starring alongside his wife, Shiho Yano, and daughter, Sa-rang, on “The Return of Superman,” a reality show following celebrity fathers looking after their children alone without their wives.

The 40-year-old, who once competed in judo, insisted he is an MMA fighter at heart.

“I understand that people who watch me on TV think of me as a father figure,” he said. “But fighting in the UFC Octagon is where I belong. I will do my best to show that side of myself.”

Other South Korean fighters for UFC Fight Night 79 are: Choi Doo-ho, Bang Tae-hyun, Nam Yui-chul, Yang Dong-i and Lim Hyun-gyu.