To a large contingent of diehard MMA fans, the main event of Saturday’s UFC 206 card in Toronto begins long before Max Holloway and Anthony Pettis step into the Octagon. To them, featherweights Dooho Choi and Cub Swanson are the real headliners.
“I am very grateful and happy that fans think it's the real main event,” Choi said through manager / translator Alan Cho. “I think my previous fights and Cub's previous fights have affected fans' thoughts. I will always fight the way fans expect and enjoy.”
In the case of Choi, that means chasing the knockout with something best described as a nonchalant intensity. Choi pressures opponents quietly but consistently, and then all of a sudden…BOOM.
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Three UFC fights have seen three first round knockouts for “The Korean Superboy,” with Juan Puig, Sam Sicilia andThiago Tavares during their bout this past July" align="right" /> Thiago Tavares all recipients of Choi’s power. And the scary part is that he’s made it look easy.
“Everyone has a strategy and training,” he explains. “But there is no one in the Octagon that reproduces it perfectly. I think, imagine, and train - and show it perfectly in the Octagon. So it looks easy. But in fact, there was no easy fight.”
And it won’t get any easier with the veteran Swanson, who may very well have the best boxing in the featherweight division. Choi knows what he’s up against, but his confidence is unwavering.
“Cub Swanson will be the toughest fighter I've ever faced,” he said. “I wonder if he will be tough fighting me.”
The kids today call that swagger, and when you mix it in with fight-stopping power and a baby face that belies his 25 years of age, it’s no wonder that Choi has gone from virtual unknown to cult hero in the space of two years. He’s not done packing his bandwagon full of fans yet, though.
“I am going to learn to speak English,” the South Korea native laughs. “After this fight, there will be more fans.”
Suffice to say that Choi is not your typical 25-year-old. Not many can compete at this level of the sport at that age and still keep everything else in line along the way. Choi is doing it though…with style.
“I am 25 years old, but I am a different 25-year-old,” he said. “I think I think differently than others. I will make my goals realistic. I will show it to my fans and everyone else.”
What may be the most impressive aspect of his success in the UFC is that unlike many fighters from other countries who struggle with the long trips to the United States to fight or dealing with the bright lights and the Octagon, Choi has shown no signs of cracking under the pressure to be someone special in the biggest promotion in the world.
“I do not think I am good at adjusting to the time difference or adapting to the local scene,” he admits. “But there is no difference whether I'm fighting in Korea or here; there is me and my opponent in the Octagon. I am just fighting them. Fighting on the road is never comfortable, but the fighting is the same no matter where you are fighting.”
Maybe that’s the attitude a fighter has to have, but Saturday night will be unlike anything he’s experienced before, both in opponent and potential impact on his career. The featherweight division has been at the top of the headline stack throughout 2016, and the last major word about it will likely come from Holloway and Pettis. Unless Mr. Choi has his way. In that case, ready for the invasion of “The Korean Superboy” in 2017.
“No matter how the featherweight division is going, what I have to do does not change,” he said. “I have to fight until I become a featherweight champion. I want to fight for the title in 2017, and I will. I will do it for me and my fans.”