There are very, very few fighters that come into the UFC with a mere three professional fights under their belts, but the scouts had seen enough in Hu Yaozong to make an exception back in 2017.
After going 0-2 to start his UFC career, the uninitiated would argue that’s precisely why fighters don’t get signed after three professional bouts. But dismiss “Totoro” at your peril, because there’s always more to the story.
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When he kicks off the UFC 264 Early Prelims on Saturday vs Alen Amedovski, Hu will be competing in his third weight class in as many UFC fights.
He made his promotional debut at heavyweight during 2017’s UFC Shanghai event. Announcer Jon Anik noted that at 232 pounds, Hu was “undersized in terms of the weight.” That wasn’t the only story of his short-notice debut, but the heavier and more experienced Cyril Asker came away with the submission victory that night.
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Slimming down to light heavyweight for his follow-up made a visible difference for Hu, who went the distance with veteran Rashad Coulter in 2018. The judges gave the tilt to Coulter in Beijing, but Coulter spent long stretches of the bout at the mercy of the Hu’s clinch work. He also ate shots that would have turned other men to dust. Hu looked far more seasoned at the bout’s conclusion than his 3-2 record would indicate.
If the move from heavyweight to light heavyweight gave him the endurance to go from getting finished to going the distance, Hu hopes his transition to middleweight this Saturday will return him to the dramatic finishes that punctuated his first three MMA wins.
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The move to middleweight was recommended by the nutrition team at the Shanghai campus of the UFC Performance Institute.
It’s a move that could pay huge dividends if the towering 6’3” hulk can maintain most of his muscle mass, and his already-deft hand speed could potentially pose a new set of problems for the 185-pound division. A Greco-Roman wrestler since the age of 14, Hu was already accomplished on the ground when he transitioned full-time to MMA at age 19.
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After spending his formative MMA years under the tutelage of the famed Jackson-Wink crew in New Mexico, Hu has seamlessly made the Performance Institute his fight camp home, and he has trained for Saturday with help from fellow UFC luminaries like Li Jinglang and Song Kenan.
In Amedovski, he meets another man looking for his first UFC win. On a card like UFC 264: Poirier vs. McGregor 3, it might be understandable to expect fireworks from some of the more marquee matchups further up the card, but the urgency of both combatants will bring to kick off the Las Vegas extravaganza is reason enough to be in your seat at starting time.
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Photos and video snippets emerging from the Shanghai PI reveal a much different Hu than the one we last saw, both in physique and technique. Now aged 26 and nearly three years removed from his last fight, there is perhaps no better time for a rebirth and a reset for the career he envisioned.
“It represents the highest honor for me to fight in the UFC, and it means I get a chance to perform on the highest-level stage of MMA in the world. I’m so honored.”
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