The journey down the Road to UFC began in force for 32 athletes across four weight classes this weekend, as returning competitors from last season and a host of new names made the walk to the cage at the UFC Performance Institute in Shanghai for the opening rounds of this year’s “win and advance” tournaments.
Last season produced a wealth of exciting performances and UFC opportunities for Park Hyun Sung, Rinya Nakamura, Lee Yeong Jeong, and Anshul Jubli.
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Saturday, the process of determining who would join that quartet of competitors on the UFC roster began anew with two five-fight events, each featuring one tournament matchup from each of the featured weight classes — flyweight, bantamweight, featherweight, and lightweight — as well as one non-tournament contest.
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Here’s a recap of what transpired in the opening collection of bouts.
Road To UFC Official Results
May 27, 2023 | UFC Performance Institute Shanghai
Nyamjargal Tumendemberel (29-28, 29-28) defeats Topnoi Kiwram (29-28) by Split Decision
There was no feeling out process in the opening bout of the day.
Nyamjargal Tumendemberel charged right across the Octagon and took the fight to Topnoi Kiwram, who was more than willing to meet him head on and trade hands. Grappling became a more featured part of the equation later in the fight, with neither man garnering a major advantage or doing significant damage, leaving the judges tasked with determining the winner.
When the scores were tallied, the judges were split, with Tumendemberel coming away on the happy side of things. With the victory, the Mongolian flyweight advances to 7-0 as a professional, while Kiwram falls to 9-5 with the loss.
Rei Tsuruya defeats Ronal Siahaan by Submission (Kimura) at 1:19 of Round 2
Rei Tsuruya hit a takedown 10 seconds into his clash with Ronal Siahaan, and never allowed his Indonesian foe off the canvas, quickly working to the back and attacking a twister. While Siahaan gutted his way through, Tsuruya stayed a step ahead at every turn, constantly flowing to the next dominant position and continuing his attack.
Early in the second, Tsuruya hit a lovely head-and-arm throw, landing in the scarf-hold position before straightening out Siahaan’s right arm and attacking with kimura that drew out the tap.
Just a dominant showing from the young Japanese fighter, who remains undefeated and maintains his 100 percent finishing rate with the victory.
Yizha defeats Wuziaziebieke Jiahefu by Submission (Armbar) at 2:32 of Round 1
Yizha was frustrated by landing on the wrong side of a split decision verdict in last season’s featherweight finale, vowing to keep things out of the hands of the judges this time around, and he made good on that promise on Saturday.
While Wuziaziebieke was the one to bring the fight to the canvas, Yizha was quick to shift his hips and set up an armbar attack, securing the tap as soon as he shifted belly-down. Just a brilliant effort from the returning featherweight hopeful.
Mark Climaco (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) defeats Jung Hyun Lee by Unanimous Decision
The second of the flyweight contests was an ultra-competitive back-and-forth, with Mark Climaco and Jung Hyun Lee going toe-to-toe for 15 minutes.
Climaco pressed with his grappling in the first, repeatedly getting Lee to the canvas, only to have the 20-year-old South Korean pop right back up to his feet. The second was contested exclusively on the feet, with Lee holding the advantage and stinging Climaco in the closing moments before the duo resumed engaging on the feet for the majority of the third as well.
Neither man was ever able to establish clear dominance, resulting in the judges being called upon to determine a winner. In the end, all three judges saw the fight in favor of Climaco, who advanced to the semifinals and handed Lee the first loss of his professional career.
SangWon Kim defeats Keisuke Sasu by KO (right hand) at 1:42 of Round 2
SangWon Kim made sure that Keisuke Sasu failed to advance beyond the opening round for the second consecutive season, dispatching the returning Japanese competitor with a laser-targeted right hand early in the second round.
After an uneventful opening frame where the two men spent the majority of the round grappling and scrambling, Kim came out pawing with individual strikes to start the second, biding his time before following a wide left hook with a rocket of a right that found the target. Sasu spun to the ground and the end came seconds later, catapulting Kim into the next round.
Just a blistering finish to wrap up the opening collection of fights on the Road to UFC.
May 27, 2023 | UFC Performance Institute Shanghai
After the top half of the brackets in the flyweight and featherweight tournaments were sorted in Saturday’s opening event, the remaining quarterfinal matchups in each weight class hit the Octagon in Episode 2 of Road to UFC on Saturday.
Here’s a look at what transpired at the UFC Performance Institute in Shanghai.
Taiyilake Nueraji defeats HanSeul Kim by KO (left elbow) at 1:38 of Round 2
Taiyilake Nueraji and HanSeul Kim left their defensive fundamentals at home in Episode 2’s non-tournament opener, slugging it out in a high-volume, wildly entertaining scrap in the welterweight division.
After a back-and-forth opening frame, Nueraji collected a walk-off finish early in the second, smashing home a step-in left elbow that landed flush and sent Kim tumbling face-first to the canvas.
Just an absolute thunderous finish and wild fight to kick off this episode. With the win, Nueraji advances to 9-1 in his career, making good on the lofty praise heaped upon him by the UFC PI staff in Shanghai and putting him on the radar as a potential new addition to the roster in the future.
Jiniushiyue defeats Billy Pasulatan by TKO (strikes) at 1:56 of Round 1
Spurred on by the chaos from the opening contest, Jiniushiyue and Billy Pasulatan didn’t waste any time getting after it in their flyweight tournament quarterfinal matchup, with the Chinese fighter pounding out a first-round stoppage win.
Pasulatan threatened with a buggy choke after being taken down early in the contest, but Jiniushiyue remained patient, worked free, and then cranked up the pressure and output. He quickly scrambled to top position, flattening out Pasulatan, and raining down punishment, forcing referee Marc Goddard to intervene.
That’s now six straight wins for “Little King Kong,” who moves to 12-2 overall with the victory.
Koya Kanda (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) defeats Yibugele by Unanimous Decision
Featherweights Koya Kanda and Yibugele engaged in a tactical, tense back-and-forth midway through Episode 2.
Kanda looked to assert his grappling advantage, but Yibugele was up to the task, turning this fight into a competitive affair where the strikes landing on entries became the real deciding factor in the contest. Each time Kanda tried to close the distance, he and Yibugele exchanged, affording the Mongolian competitor the opportunity to land counters and back Kanda off. Even after Kanda landed a thudding left hand in the final half of the third, Yibugele responded in kind, drawing a roar from the crowd that remained vocal and engaged through to the final horn.
When the judges’ scores were totalled, all three officials saw the fight in favor of Kanda, who joined his teammate Rei Tsuyura in advancing to the semifinals in their respective brackets.
SeungGuk Choi (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) defeats Sumit Kumar by Unanimous Decision
A finalist last season, SeungGok Choi took the first step towards completing the Road to UFC on Saturday, defeating Sumit Kumar to advance to the semifinals.
Kumar came out looking to wrestle and was relentless in his pursuit, but the technical advantages and experience edge possessed by Choi was too much for the Indian fighter to overcome. Choi remained patient, scrambled well, and picked his spots against the aggressive, but raw Kumar, really showing his advantages in the third and final round.
It wasn’t easy, but Choi did enough to advance, and will meet Jiniushiyue in the next round as he looks to return to the finals for a second straight season.
Li Kaiwen defeats Lu Kai by TKO (strikes) at 1:11 of Round 1
Li Kiawen didn’t waste any time closing out the second episode of Road to UFC and dispatching his rival Lu Kai, finishing things in under 90 seconds.
After pushing and shoving each time they interacted all week, Li started the contest with a running flying knee attempt, and then hurt his former training partner with a clean right hand that sent Lu crashing backwards to the canvas. “The Underdog” stayed on the attack, continuing to punish Lu until referee Marc Goddard was forced to step in and halt the action.
This was an absolute statement win from Li, who moves to 11-5 overall and will face off with Kouya Kanda in the semifinals.
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