While many fight fans were still in a UFC 280 hangover, those who stuck around got treated to an electric display of top Asian talent in the Road to UFC semifinals.
Seven tournament bouts and two non-tournament bouts served as the encore show at the Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi on Sunday. By the end of the two episodes, four tournament finals are set for early 2023 (likely February) featuring some incredible Asian prospects.
Here’s a full recap of the thrilling events of the Road to UFC semifinals and the tournament finals matchups:
Road to UFC: Episode 5
Non-Tournament Lightweight Bout: Keisuke Sasu vs. Balajin
In a non-tournament fight between two skilled, but contrasting grapplers, Keisuke Sasu returned strongly after a disappointing showing in the first round of the tournament. Balajin was dropping to featherweight for the first time, and the big cut could have had a hand in his drained performance.
While Balajin was able to spend most of the fight on top peppering Sasu with short strikes, Sasu was the fighter with the more potent offense. He continually attacked Balajin with the guillotine in every round, even jumping into guard in pursuit of the submission.
Balajin’s ground control continued throughout the fight, but Sasu’s submission attempts and knees in the clinch earned him the unanimous nod from the judges, who scored the fight 30-27, 30-27, and 29-28.
Lightweight Semifinal Bout: Jeka Saragih vs. Ki Won Bin
The dark horse run of Jeka Saragih continued with an earth-shattering knockout of Ki Won Bin in the first round. The two traded fast and heavy early, with Saragih looking to score with power shots down the middle.
Charging at Ki, the Indonesian finally clocked his opponent flush and knocked him unconscious with a straight right that echoed throughout the arena. The official time of the knockout was 2:41 of round one, and Saragih looks poised to have everything he needs to become the first Indonesian UFC star.
Flyweight Semifinal Bout: Qiulun vs. Choi Seung Guk
In a fast-paced flyweight semifinal, Choi Seung Guk of South Korea battled Qiulun of China to a decision, and earned a spot in the finals.
The two tacticians made their reads early in the fight, with Choi scoring with low kicks and counter rights. Qiulun was ultimately the faster fighter, but struggled to put his power where it counted. Choi, on the other hand, got the better of the counters and landed the stronger blows.
The second round was likely locked for Choi, who was able to secure two trips to the mat, although was unable to mount any offense from them.
The third round closely resembled the first, with Choi proving more successful in countering Qiulun as the Chinese-Tibetan attacked with single strikes. The judges scored the fight unanimously 29-28 for Korean Zombie MMA’s Choi, who is now a Road to UFC finalist.
Featherweight Semifinal Bout: Yi Zha vs. Koyomi Matsushima
The first of two featherweight semifinals was a brilliant class of dispositions and skill as Chinese-Tibetan Yi Zha barely won a decision over former ONE Championship contender Koyomi Matsushima.
Zha, the far more aggressive fighter, shot right out of the gate for a takedown against Matsushima. The Japanese grappler was able to sprawl out of it, but the pace had been set for a furious three rounds. The two traded in round one, with Matsushima finding a home for an overhand right and Yi landing a tricky superman punch off the cage.
Matushima landed some heavy low kicks in the second round that numbed the leg of Yi, sending him spinning to the mat. Matsushima initiated the takedown sequences of the round, but was unable to keep Yi down, triggering some dazzling scrambles between the two.
The tide shifted in the third round back to Yi, who clinched and controlled the back of Matsushima from the turtle position for several minutes. The knees from Yi to the body of Matsushima were scoring throughout the round and likely sealed the fight for Yi, who overall dealt more damage and utilized more control. The judges were split in their verdict, with one judge giving the fight 30-27 to Koyomi, and the other two scoring it 29-28 for Zha.
Road to UFC: Episode 6
Non-Tournament Catchweight (175lbs) Bout: Gian Siqueira vs. Samandar Murodov
Due to Brazil’s Gian Siqueira missing the welterweight limit by four pounds, his fight with Tajikistan’s Samandar Murodov was changed to a catchweight fight.
The extra weight did Siqueira little favors; however, Murodov was able to take him down and control the back and on top from full guard for the majority of the first round. Near the end of the round, Murodov once again took the back and locked in a choke in the closing seconds.
The tap was mere milliseconds before the first horn, awarding the rear naked choke finish to Murodov at 4:59 of round one.
Lightweight Tournament Bout: Anshul Jubli vs. Kim Kyung Pyo
One of the best fights of the night went down between India’s Anshul Jubli and South Korea’s Kim Kyung Pyo, and the fight went down to the wire.
Jubli, a relative unknown, was absent from the opening round of the tournament due to his opponent dropping out. The Indian fighter surprised the Etihad Arena crowd with competent striking knowledge and a highly effective jab. Throughout the first and into the second round, Jubli scored with the jab and knees from the clinch over and over, with “Red Horse” looking to counter with heavy hands.
The momentum began to shift towards the end of the second as Jubli tired and Kim was able to find his mark, completing two takedowns at the end of the round. Just past the one-minute mark of round three, Kim was able to lock in another takedown, but was only able to keep Jubli down for twenty seconds. The two fighters, worn from the pace of the fight, traded to the end.
The judges were once again divided. With one judge scoring the fight 29-28 for Kim, and the other two giving the fight to Jubli 29-28.
Flyweight Tournament Bout: Topnoi Kiwram vs. Park Sung Hyun
A tense battle of former teammates saw charismatic Thai fighter Topnoi Kiwram fight South Korean Park Hyun Sung.
Topnoi flexed his strengths early in the fight against Park with punches and kicks. A stinging three-punch combination briefly dropped Park, who rebounded with a takedown. Topnoi couldn’t shake Park off of his back, even trying to stand and dump him off.
Park locked in the rear naked choke and got the tap at 3:05 in round one, and the two seemed to resume their previous friendship afterward.
Bantamweight Tournament Bout: Rinya Nakamura vs. Shohei Nose
In an all-Japan affair, Rinya Nakamura and Shohei Nose fought for a spot in the finals, with Nakamura scoring his second first-round finish of the tournament.
Nose desperately tried to clinch up and get the fight to his comfort zone on the ground, but Nakamura was able to keep his distance and punish Nose with counters. A knee from Nakamura quickly dropped Nose to the canvas, which began a wild firefight that saw him overpower and smash Nose with punches against the cage.
When it appeared the fight wasn’t going to improve anytime soon for Nose, referee Dan Movahedi mercifully saved him from more destruction at 2:21 of the first round. Nakamura is one of the most fearsome prospects to come out of this tournament, but he’ll face another crafty foe in Toshiomi Kazama in the finals.
Featherweight Tournament Bout: Lu Kai vs. Lee Jeong Young
South Korea’s Lee Jeong Young proved why he was such a big favorite with a commanding finish over Chinese judoka Lu Kai.
“The Korean Tiger” was coiled to strike from the opening bell, clipping Lu with two right hooks, leaving him badly dazed on the canvas. The stoppage came at just 0:42 of the first round, setting Lee against Yi Zha in the finals.
See below for the Road to UFC tournament finals matchups, and stay tuned to The AllStar for more Road to UFC updates.
ROAD TO UFC TOURNAMENT FINALS:
Lightweight: Anshul Jubli vs. Jeka Saragih
Featherweight: Lee Jeong Young vs. Yi Zha
Bantamweight: Toshiomi Kazama* vs. Rinya Nakamura
Flyweight: Choi Seung Guk vs. Park Sung Hyun
*Due to Kazama’s semifinal opponent Kim Min Woo missing weight, Kim was ruled out of the tournament, and Kazama advanced to the finals