Hyun Gyu Lim didn’t have a big reputation when the UFC picked him up last year, but the Korean Top Team welterweight has rapidly made a name for himself after back-to-back stoppage wins inside the Octagon.
Lim let his knees do the talking in both UFC outings, finishing Marcelo Guimares in the first round and Pascal Krauss in the second, but will have his work cut out trying to outstrike his next opponent.
On Jan. 4, he is taking on renowned kickboxer Tarec Saffiedine in the main event of UFC Fight Night 34. The 28-year-old was initially scheduled to face Japanese newcomer Kiichi Kunimoto, but was elevated to headline status following an injury to Jake Ellenberger.
The change of opponent might have been unexpected but, according to Lim, it was not entirely unwelcome.
“I do feel like a win over Tarec would mean more than a win over Kunimoto, no disrespect intended. I want to be the best, and in order to be the best you have to beat the best, and Tarec is definitely top-level competition. I'm excited at the opportunity and am determined to make the most of it,” he said.
With Ellenberger withdrawing more than a month before the event, Lim has had plenty of time to make adjustments and is not worried about the prospect of fighting for an additional two rounds.
“I was already training for Kunimoto, so I didn't have to change much. Obviously their fighting styles are different, so I've changed a few sparring partners, but not much else. We were already training to go five rounds,” he said
Saffiedine was a successful amateur kickboxer in his native Belgium, who also holds a black belt in a style of Karate that incorporates ground fighting. The Team Quest protégée is also a BJJ purple belt with five submission wins to his name and Lim says that stylistically this is an opponent unlike any he has faced before.
“Tarec's striking is different from most of the opponents I've faced, and we're adjusting to that accordingly. Everyone is dangerous, and I haven't gotten this far in my career by sleeping on anyone. That being said, this is an MMA fight and I expect both of us to utilize all of our skills to put on an exciting fight. Whether it's standing or on the ground, I'm confident I can beat Tarec,” he said.
One factor that could play into the Korean’s favor is that this fight is taking place in Singapore, a few hours flight away from his native Seoul. He doesn’t need to worry about coping with a long flight or adjusting to a new time zone and says he hopes to fight for the UFC even closer to home in the future.
“I think fighting in Asia will be much easier because I don't have to worry about jet lag, which a lot of people underestimate. Having fought all over the world, I can definitely say that fighting close to home is more comfortable. UFC, please come to Korea! We can fight in my backyard!”
Although Saffiedine will be making his UFC debut, he was undefeated as Strikeforce welterweight champion and would be the biggest scalp of Lim’s career to date. However, the Korean is not getting too hung up on his opponent’s accomplishments or status.
“Beating a champion is great, but I tend not to look at those things. I will be fighting a man not a belt, so I focus on the fighter. After all, I'm the former PXC welterweight champion myself, but I can't wear that belt into the cage. I like what Royce Gracie said about belts, even though he was talking about a gi belt, I think it still applies. He said, ‘A belt only covers two inches of your ass; you have to cover the rest!’”
Lim is based at Korea Top Team in Seoul, the camp that launched the career of Chan Sung Jung and is home to a high percentage of the top MMA talent in the country. He has been training there since he first started MMA and believes that his coaches and teammates can take plenty of credit for the success he is enjoying.
“We have a great stable of fighters and an amazing coaching staff, so I'm lucky I don't have to go anywhere else for sparring. Right now, my main sparring partners are Doo Hwan Kim, a light heavyweight who will fight in Singapore in December, and Dongi Yang, a former UFC middleweight. They both move so fast and fluid it's hard to believe they are in higher weight classes than me, and they definitely keep me on my toes.”
Lim is not shy about discussing his dream of fighting for the UFC in Seoul, but at least Singapore is closer to home than the U.S. He hopes that a decent contingent of his compatriots will come and support him at UFC Fight Night 34.
“I certainly hope a lot of Koreans come out and cheer me on. In Milwaukee, I was fighting in my opponent's adopted hometown. So when I walked out it was boos, and when I knocked him out it was silence! It was certainly an experience, but it wouldn't hurt to hear a few cheers when I walk out!”
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