News and Notes from South Korea
Earlier this month ProElite (parent company of EliteXC) signed a
multi-million dollar investment deal with Korean mixed martial arts
organization SpiritMC. The newly forged alliance will not only
infuse the promotion with fresh capital, but also provide exchange
training programs and international exposure for prospective Korean
fighters through EliteXC.
SpiritMC was modeled after PRIDE FC, and while it served as a cheap
substitute during the lulls between major events, the South Korean
based promotion is on the cusp of coming into its own.
The confluence of steady investments and the global rise in
popularity of MMA should imbue the South Korean promotion with more
credibility and recognition, elevating its status on par with
promotions like Cage Rage or Icon Sport.
For those of you less acquainted with SpiritMC, here is a brief
synopsis of its structure and rules. The promotion holds three
types of events: a) Amateur League, b) the so-called Inter-league
(international amateur league), which showcases international
amateur fighters and mixes in the occasional professional fight
card, and c) the numbered SpiritMC events showcasing exclusively
professional matches between both local and international
Currently, SpiritMC showcases three weight classes: welterweight
(154 pounds and under), middleweight (176 pounds) and heavyweight
(178 and above).
Non-tournament fights feature what came to be known as PRIDE rules:
nostalgic goodies like stomps, strikes in the four-point position,
knees on the ground, and soccer kicks. The round structure is the
typical three five-minute round format that's used throughout much
of the MMA world, while Grand Prix matches feature the same rules,
but with two rounds instead of three. Title matches have the option
of an extra fourth round in the event judges score a draw.
Korea's largest MMA promotion held its twelfth numbered-series
event on Aug. 19 in Seoul's Jang-Choong Stadium, Korea's equivalent
of Korakuen Hall.
The main event was a highly anticipated rematch between interim
welterweight champion "Crazy" Kwang-Hee Lee and Ah-Sol Kwon (and,
yes, it is pronounced like that) for the unified welterweight
In their first clash, a title contender's match, Lee put Kwon to
sleep with a hellacious right hook during a flurry of exchanges
reminiscent of the Takanori
Gomi (Pictures)-Tatsuya Kawajiri (Pictures) showdown.
The rematch started off tentatively, but the young guns more than
lived up to the hype in the later rounds with exchange after
exchange. At the end of three rounds, the judges scored a credible
In the overtime period Lee landed a debilitating left hook to the
midsection of the fatigued Kwon, who immediately doubled over and
suffered some visceral ground-and-pound before the referee stepped
in to stop the fight at the 2:46 mark. This fight had all the
frissons of a classic bout and will go down as watershed moment for
The heavyweight tournament started off pitting eight fighters in
four matches. As a result of SpiritMC's lax weight distinctions the
tournament looked more like an open-weight affair, with fighters
ranging from 195- to 276-pounds in the mix.
This is perhaps befitting, as middleweight star and apotheosis of
SpiritMC Denis Kang is the promotion's heavyweight titleholder.
The final round will take place Oct. 14, with the Grand Prix winner
tentatively scheduled to challenge Kang for the heavyweight belt in
Dool-Hee Lee, a semifinalist in SpiritMC's amateur heavyweight
tournament and the heaviest competitor in this GP at 276 pounds,
rushed out of his corner with a spatter of punches at the start of
his fight with Jung-Gyu Choi.
Choi weathered the storm by basically absorbing the salvo on his
granite block for a head, took Lee down and moved into a high top
mount, much like Sergei
Kharitonov (Pictures)'s move against Semmy Schilt (Pictures). From there he went for a
keylock, Lee swept, but Choi made a slick transition into an armbar
off his back, eliciting the tapout at 3:21 of the first round.
Jae-Young Kim is another top heavyweight contender and favorite to
win the GP. The shorter and stouter Kim simply overpowered
Gil-Myung Chun, rocking him with an Igor Vovchanchyn (Pictures)-esque hook before unleashing a
maelstrom of punches against the ropes. The referee mercifully
stopped the fight at 1:13 of the first round.
Dong-Woo Shin trains under former PRIDE veteran Mu-Bae Choi, while
(Pictures) is a star pupil out of the
Yoshida Dojo. With Yoshida on hand, Murata, known for his quick
hands, flew out of his corner with a dizzying combination of short
right hooks and uppercuts to score a flash knockout just 18 seconds
into the first round.
Kelvin Fitial and
Chul-Hyun Jung participated in a desultory affair, with Jung, the
amateur heavyweight tournament winner, dodging Fitial most of the
fight. Fitial wore Jung down with lazy jabs. Trapping a lethargic
Jung, who looks like an obese Kazushi Sakuraba (Pictures), in the corner, the brawler from
Guam held on to Jung's neck and dirty boxed with right hooks and
uppercuts until the ref intervened at 3:57 of the second round.
"Crazy" Kwang-Hee Lee trains out of "Jung Shim Gwan," which is
establishing itself as the Korean House of Champions. Lee is a
popular figure in Korea, having received a media push from a
"TUF"-like reality show in Korea called "Super Korean."
Lee was initially scheduled to face then champion Ui-Chul Nam, but
Nam pulled out of the fight citing a dubious hand injury. SpiritMC
stripped the title from Nam, who was about as popular a champion as
Tim Sylvia (Pictures) was in his heyday, citing an
obscure rule that mandates a champion must defend his title at
least two times a year.
This caused an imbroglio as Nam's camp decried SpiritMC's actions
in the media contending the rule had never been enforced and that
previous champions, like Dennis Kang, among others, were allowed to
retain their titles despite a prolonged layoff.
SpiritMC remained unyielding in its refusal and conceived of the
dream match between Lee and Kwon, which was probably not the most
ethical move, but certainly the most exciting and marketable.
Another rising "Jung Shim Gwan" fighter is Dong-Hyun Kim, who is
set to rematch Hidehiko
Hasegawa (Pictures) for the DEEP welterweight title.
Their first match was a non-title affair with Kim peppering
Hasegawa with strikes before knocking him out with a German
Former SpiritMC middleweight champion, Jae Suk Lim, who has trained
with B.J. Penn (Pictures) in the past as part of the
reality TV series, is also from "Jung Shim Gwan."
Im has acute striking prowess, but he has been known to suffer from
epileptic fits off his back. He was knocked unconscious by both
Yuya Shirai (Pictures) and Steve Bruno (Pictures) from strikes on the ground. His
success in EliteXC will depend heavily on how much he improves his
Hong Man Choi
(Pictures) will face Siala "Mighty Mo"
Siliga in a rematch on the Fields K-1 Grand Prix in Seoul on Sept.
29. In their previous encounter, Mighty Mo knocked out Choi with
his patented looping right hook.
The aforementioned Jae-Suk Im will make his EliteXC debut against
Brandon Wolf this Sept. Im hopes to rebound off a disappointing
loss to Steve Bruno
(Pictures), who pounded Im out from
the top position to gain the middleweight crown. It is reported
that Bruno, who trains out of American Top Team with Kang, has
signed a deal with the UFC and is expected to make his debut in the
SpiritMC veteran Jong-Ahn Cha will make his Cage Rage debut in
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