UFC debuts don’t get much better than the one turned in by Dooho Choi against Juan Puig in November of 2014. It only took the highly-touted featherweight prospect 18 seconds to dispatch his foe via knockout, but considering that it’s taken a year for him to return to the Octagon, “The Korean Superboy” isn’t dwelling too much on the past.
“Even if I had a fantastic debut in the UFC, I try not to think about that too much,” he said. “That happened a year ago and now I only try to focus on the future. I am still a young fighter and I believe I will only get better from here.”
Given his previous efforts, it’s hard not to share the 24-year-old’s enthusiasm for his future. A pro since 2009, Choi has won 12 of his 13 fights, with a 10-fight winning streak and six consecutive knockouts highlighting matters thus far. It’s why his matchup with fellow knockout artist Sam Sicilia this Saturday in Seoul has fight fans drooling, knowing that the odds of either a Fight of the Night slugfest or a highlight reel finish are fairly high. Choi appreciates such high expectations, but he’s clear on his intent.
“I am not sure if we will get Fight of the Night, but I will be fighting for Performance of the Night,” he said. “As in any fight, it can go either way, but I believe I will knock him out in the first round.”
Half of Choi’s wins have come in the opening frame, making him a fine representative of the next generation of Korean MMA fighters. The first generation is well represented on Saturday’s card, providing a nice mix of the present and the future of a sport that wasn’t always seen as such in Korea.
“In the beginning, MMA was viewed as just street fighting here in Korea,” Choi said. “But as the sport grew and people of have more understanding as to what MMA is all about, they are now viewing it as a sport and not just two guys fighting in a cage.
“There was no real MMA in Korea when I started, so I grew up watching PRIDE,” he continues. “But as the sport started to grow, I looked up to some fighters like Dong Hyun Kim and ‘The Korean Zombie,’ Chan Sung Jung.”
Kim has turned into a legitimate finisher in recent years, and Jung – who is currently fulfilling his mandatory military service – needs no introduction when it comes to providing excitement to UFC fans. Choi may be next in line, but as he competes in his home country for only the second time as a pro – and the first as a UFC fighter – he has to prove that he can handle the pressure Saturday’s bout will bring.
“I am not really focusing on the fact that I will be fighting in Korea, but focusing on the fight itself,” he said. “I have trained extremely hard for this fight and I believe one hundred percent in my training and training partners. I am confident that I will come out as the victor.”
As for South Korea hosting the UFC for the first time, Choi says “I knew that the UFC would eventually come to Korea, but it came a lot sooner that I expected. I think this is because there are more Korean fighters in the UFC than before, and for this reason the fan base has grown exponentially also.”
That fan base will be cheering for the Gumi native as soon as he walks out of the tunnel on Saturday. He hopes it will get even louder by the time the fight is over. From there, it only gets better.
“I am extremely about the fact that the UFC finally came to Korea and I am more excited about the fact that I get fight in front of the Korean fans,” he said. ”I would like to finish off 2015 with a solid win against Sam Sicilia. And in 2016, I would like to fight more and show the fans what kind of a fighter I really am.”
Thomas Gerbasi is the editorial director of UFC.com, has covered the sport since 2000 and has authored the official UFC encyclopedia and UFC: A Visual History. Follow him on Twitter @tgerbasi