The first UFC Event of 2014 isn't exactly full of household names. But that doesn't mean there aren't a number of exciting fights to look forward to on January 4th. Headlined by the final Strikeforce Welterweight Champion, Tarec Saffiedine, and up-and-coming Korean prospect, Hyun Gyu Lim. A number of Asian prospects fill out the rest of the card, and this is a much watch event for any fight fan who wants a glimpse at the future of MMA. Check out our official predictions for the main card below, and make sure you guys head over to http://www.ufc.tv/ to subscribe to the UFC Fight Pass now. It's completely free until February 28th so don't miss out on this opportunity.
MAIN CARD PREDICTIONS
1st Fight: Kyung-Ho Kang vs. Shunichi Shimizu
Kyung-Ho Kang aka 'Mr. Perfect,' has been far from that in his MMA career thus far. With a professional record of 11-7, Kyung-Ho is looking to rise from the ranks of 'average' to be counted among the growing influx of talented South Koreans in the UFC. After a no-contest in his UFC debut due to an opponent's failed drug test, and a unanimous decision loss to Chico Camus at UFC 164, Kang will be trying to get one in the win column this Saturday night.
Shunichi Shimizu's record is a bit difficult to decipher. His official professional MMA record is 28-8-10. Why does he have 10 draws? How has he had 46 professional fights at just 28 years of age? The validity of said record certainly deserves to be called into question. Many of the draws can be explained by strange 1 and 2 round bouts, and the same reasoning helps to explain how Shimizu has maintained a pace of over five fights per year since 2005. Ultimately, his past isn't important. The ultimate test of skill comes in the Octagon and the Japanese Shunichi Shimizu will be looking to prove his worth to the world. I believe he will succeed.
Winner: Shunichi Shimizu
By: 2nd round submission via armbar
Kiichi 'Strasser' Kunimoto is a talented welterweight prospect out of Japan with a deadly arsenal of submission techniques at his disposal. Currently holding a record of 15-5-2 (1NC), 8 of his wins have come via tap out. With everything from armbars, guillotines, and triangle chokes to arm-triangle chokes and shoulder chokes, Kunimoto is dangerous no matter where the fight goes. Coming off a four fight winning streak, Kiichi looks to bring his unique submission game inot the Octagon on Saturday night.
With only two losses on his record, both due to injury, and two decisive wins over UFC Welterweight Fabricio Camoes, Luiz Dutra is a shining new addition to the 170 lb division. As a cast member of TUF Brazil 2, he was the first overall pick on Team Nogueira. After knocking off opposing #1 pick, Pedro Irie, Dutra was forced to pull out of the tournament due to injury. Nevertheless, he has received his shot at UFC glory and is sure to take the fight to Kiichi Kunimoto. This should turn into a highly technical jiu-jitsu match, effectively canceling out any finishes, and I think Luiz Dutra will walk away the victor.
Winner: Luiz Dutra
Tatsuya Kawajiri has been competing professionally in mixed martial arts since 2000, and he's accomplished quite a bit in his MMA career. He is the former Shooto Lightweight Champion and he even earned Pride Fighting Championship's 'Fight of the Year' honors for his back and forth battle with Takanori Gomi in 2005. One achievement has alluded Kawajiri for all these years, however. He is yet to earn a victory in the UFC. Entering the Octagon for the very first time this Friday, Kawajiri will be looking to use his well-rounded skills to finish this fight by any means necessary.
Fellow UFC newcomer, Sean Soriano will be looking to start his career off right, by defeating a true veteran of the sport and remaining undefeated in his professional MMA career. Making your UFC debut can be stressful under any circumstances, but to do it against a world class Asian superstar on what is essentially his home turf in just your 9th professional fight is practically unfathomable. A win here will likely go unnoticed by the general fan base, but you can count this journalist among the impressed. That being said, I have to side with experience and crowd support on this one.
Winner: Tatsuya Kawajiri
By: 1st round submission via triangle choke
Main Event: Tarec Saffiedine vs. Hyun Gyu Lim
Tarec Saffiedine is riding an impressive win streak, defeating his last four consecutive opponents and winning seven out of his last eight since 2010. His one loss was at the very capable hands of surging UFC contender Tyron Woodley via unanimous decision. His most recent fight against Nate Marquardt headlined a stacked Strikeforce card in which Saffiedine was crowned the last ever Strikeforce Welterweight Champion. Saffiedine is the real deal and possesses the skillset and talent to make a serious run at UFC gold one day. This card was originally headlined by Saffiedine and Jake Ellenberger, and had this remained the matchup, I would be more inclined to pick Saffiedine. Now that Ellenberger has been replaced by Lim, however, the tables have turned.
There are several factors that make Lim a terrible matchup for Saffiedine. The most obvious of which is his size. Lim is one of the largest welterweights in the division, standing 6'2" tall with an astounding 79" reach advantage over the top 4 ranked UFC Heavyweights in the world (Velasquez, Dos Santos, Werdum, Cormier). Lim seems to have heavyweight power as well. Nine out of his twelve wins have come way of knockout and he looks to add a third consecutive KO victory against Saffiedine at UFC Fight Night 34. At 2-0 inside the Octagon and 7-0 since 2010, Lim is, in my opinion, the most promising Korean fighter in the UFC since Dong Hyun Kim and Chan Sung Jung. He's a finisher, he's learning to use his height and reach to his advantage, and he has explosive knockout power. This fight is slated for firve rounds, but I don't expect us to need more than one.
Winner: Hyun Gyu Lim
By: 1st round TKO via punches