South Korea's Choi making waves in UFC

Not everyone in South Korea knows Choi Doo Ho yet, according to him. But soon, the mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter might become a household name in his country.

The 26-year-old featherweight's stock has skyrocketed last year, ironically, despite his loss to American Cub Swanson at the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 206 event on Dec 10.

Even though he suffered his first defeat in six years, that contest in Toronto earned the Fight of the Night bonus, which carries a US$50,000 (S$69,295) payout to both fighters.

The bout was also named Fight of the Year at the World MMA Awards last year.

Unperturbed by the defeat, the boyish-looking South Korean, one of the breakout stars in 2016, believes that he has already made improvements.

Choi said in a telephone interview from Busan, South Korea where he is based: "That loss showed me some of my weaknesses which I had never known I had before; I had thought I was good. So it's not really a huge setback for me, because I noticed these weaknesses and tackled them."

He noted areas of improvement, saying: "Looking back at that fight, for instance, I was trying to counter-attack every single attack from my opponent. I also need to work on my footwork when I shift to the sides."

Since making his UFC debut in 2014, his rise has been meteoric. His first three bouts ended in first-round wins and two of them were knockouts.

UFC president Dana White has tipped the South Korean to become a future star, saying: "The way this kid (Choi) throws his right hand, it is almost identical to the way (UFC lightweight champion) Conor McGregor throws his."

But for now, Choi brushes aside any hype from observers around him, as his next mission is to take out American Andre Fili at UFC 214 on July 29.

Choi, who has a 14-2 career win-loss record, said: "Of course, I'm aiming to become a champion. But for now, I just want to put down my next opponent and be a stronger fighter."

While he is focused on his next fight, Choi believes that he is making big strides in his quest to become Asia's first UFC champion.

"UFC has a large roster of fighters who are among the best in the world. There are monster fighters within the organisation," said Choi.

"I decided to enter into this career because I want to be the best fighter in the world. I want to have more fights and then my name will be more widely known. Competing with the best is what I want to do."

Alvin Chia

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2017, with the headline 'South Korea's Choi making waves in UFC'. Print Edition | Subscribe