For a moment, Dong Hyun Kim's recent Brazilian excursion hardly looked like ‘best of his career' type material. After failing on all but one of his go-to takedowns in the opening frame last October, a weary but relentless Kim pressed on, stalking down Erick Silva, swinging his tired arms like clubs and breathing heavy with each whiff, until finally six years of hard work culminated in one spectacular sequence.
Silva threw a left hook. Kim threw a left hook. Silva's missed. Kim's most certainly didn't.
Just like that, welterweight's next big thing laid unconscious on the mat, and Kim, after a UFC journey longer than most, had improbably completed what he now calls "truly the best fight I've ever had."
"I flew halfway around the world to fight against Erick Silva," Kim told MMAFighting.com through a translator ahead of Saturday's TUF China Finale. "So physically, I was a bit tired. But mentally I was there from the very first round. In the second round I realized that the takedown wasn't going to work on Erick Silva so I decided to switch to the striking. I think being more aggressive with my striking certainly gave good results, and to be quite honest, I felt really out of this world.
"I think of all the things that have happened in my life, whether in sports or just in my personal life, I cannot recall once where I've gone from, really, worst to best, and feeling what I felt at the time. My head coach, he's had like 400 matches that he's cornered, and he still says that had to be one of his greatest moments ever being in the corner."
Kim's stunning finish propelled him to where he is now, ranked No. 11 on the UFC's official welterweight rankings and set to headline his first Zuffa main event opposite John Hathaway this weekend.
It also marked the South Korean's first knockout win since he finished off Jason Tan in his UFC debut back in 2008. Yet while the ride between those moments in time has been a long one, Kim considers himself a patient fellow.
"You know, I'm not really pessimistic or down on that because there's an old saying in Korean. If you eat too quickly, then you may get indigestion. So in other words, you've got to take it slowly, one step at a time," Kim explained. "The longer time you spend to really build your career, you get a solid foundation so it's not going to just crumble away so easily overnight. When you rise to the top too quickly, sometimes you come down that quick.
"It has taken a little more time to get to where I am, but I try to look at the positives rather than the negatives in the whole thing."
Kim may not be one to complain, but realistically, it's almost surprising that it's taken this long for the rest of the world to start taking notice.
Since 2008, Kim has fought 12 times in the UFC. Discounting a freak injury against Demian Maia, he's really only lost once, and it happened to come against the No. 2 guy in the division Carlos Condit. Throw that setback away, and all you'll see are wins against the likes of Matt Brown, T.J. Grant and Nate Diaz, along with a slew of other recognizable names.
It's a curious ‘what if' game to play, asking what could've been had the Maia fight worked itself out to a different outcome. By this point Kim may have had five straight wins in a ridiculously stacked division. Surely by then he would've opened some eyes and heard his name sung among 170's top contenders.
Yet while most men could drive themselves insane lamenting Lady Luck in such a scenario... Kim, well, he isn't like most men.
"Looking back, yeah, [it's] something that I wish had not happened. But I'm a pretty positive thinker," he said. "If it had not happened and I would have beaten Maia, then maybe you guys would not have seen me have a great fight against Erick Silva. That might not have happened.
"Certainly, I've taken a [long] route to get to where I am, but because of that, I've been able to go back to the drawing board and be able to work on what I've needed to work on and continue to rack up the win column, and make some money along the way. I think I've been able to really refocus and reevaluate myself as a fighter. I don't really see any negative in that. It's taken a little bit of time to get to where I am, but I'm quite content to be where I am now."
Where Kim is now is a contender poised to make the leap into the conversation if he can dispatch Hathaway, who's working off a 518-day layoff, with the same kind of explosive force he did Silva.
Some may call Kim's knockout win a fluke, and that'd be fair. After all, his past seven wins had arrived via decision, and he's always been known as one of the division's toughest grinders. But the thing is, in speaking with him, Kim appears keenly aware of the fact that his victory over Silva was not treated the same as his previous seven.
It's a cold reality of today's UFC landscape, but all wins are not created equal. Often times an electric defeat can boost a fighter's stock as much, if not more than a lackluster win. And now that Kim has tasted the scintillating fruits of the other side, he understands the tremendous value of excitement, and he's hungry for more post-fight bonuses.
"I don't think it's important what kind of result I deliver. I think it's important now that, win or lose, I really need to deliver the result that the fans want to see, the type of match that these fans want to see. That's really the focus that I've learned to put my emphasis on," Kim declared.
"I'm not going to really put focus on winning this particular fight, but (rather) how I really perform in this particular fight. The UFC is going to finally recognize that, hey, ‘Stun Gun' is really ready and has all the tools to be able to go contend for a title. This year is going to be a make or break year for me to really rise to the top. I am going to use this as the year where I'm going to put everything on the line."