One bout removed from his four-year MMA hiatus, grappling ace Kyung Ho Kang (14-7-1 MMA, 3-1-1 UFC) is poised to win his fourth straight fight in the talent-rich bantamweight division.
Don’t let his record deceive you, the lanky South Korean is an aggressive grappler with a fascinating, effective style. Lapses in focus and slip-ups during each of his UFC contests have made for several brilliant comeback performances.
His prowess is apparent, it’s only a matter of time before “Mr. Perfect” puts it all together and breaks out from the crowd. For now, Kang is a hidden gem at 135.
If you like clinch throws, guard passing, submissions and hellbows, this is your boy. Relive his thrilling UFC run through GIFs and brief analysis.
This is Fighter of Interest, where underrated, under the radar, or underappreciated fighters from an upcoming event are brought to light.
Fighter of Interest: Kyung Ho Kang
Kyung Ho Kang entered mixed martial arts as a blank slate, training the entire sport from scratch. Even so, he developed a specialty as a top position grappler. A South Korean national championship in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu confirmed his obvious talent. Training out of Busan Team M.A.D. with the likes of Dong Hyun Kim and Doo Ho Choi, Kang has sharpened a diverse and unique set of skills.
Standing 5’9, Kang has a 72-inch reach. At bantamweight, his proportions are reminiscent of someone like Jon Jones. In a fashion similar to Jones, he is deceptively powerful in the clinch, utilizes a long kicking game, and has some difficulty with boxing.
On the ground, Kyung Ho Kang is a prolific guard passer. Check out these stats by MMA By the Numbers on Twitter.
Kang's 36 grappling advances are already the third-most in the Bantamweight division, and he has only fought 5 times
He also ranks first in takedown accuracy among Bantamweights with at least 10 attempts#UFC227
— MMA By The Numbers (@NumbersMMA) July 31, 2018
Kang’s run at bantamweight began in the ROAD FC Bantamweight Championship Tournament.
ROAD FC Title Run
After a 2-1 start at bantamweight for the Korean promotion, Kang joined an eight-man championship tournament. Opposite him in the bracket was American wrestler Andrew Leone. Kang missed weight for their initial meeting and was deducted one point per round, resulting in a decision loss. With his weight under control, Kang was ready to claim gold.
–vs. Shoko Sato–
Japanese journeyman Shoko Sato is a guaranteed scrap for most regional competitors. In nearly fifty career fights, he has rarely been finished.
Right away Kyung Ho Kang displayed a “Dutchie” combination that would make the original “Mr. Perfect” Ernesto Hoost proud. He was able to seamlessly transition to double underhooks and take Sato for a ride.
It was rinse and repeat from there. Every time they tied up, Kang unleashed a new and inventive way to toss Sato to the ground. Much to the delight of fans, he showed off lightning fast transitions to dominant positions following these high-flying takedowns.
Sato struggled valiantly, but the more he squirmed, the easier it was for Kang to time him. After riding in mount with grapevines, he used the bucking hips of Sato to set up a smooth armbar and finish it.
–vs. Jae Hoon Moon–
Moon holds a modest .500 record against relatively stiff competition. While he was not a ROAD FC title contender, his standup was enough to cause concern.
But Kang stayed cool as always, and timed Moon’s strikes to change levels on doubles and clinch entries. Some highlights from the bout were a gorgeous throw from the seatbelt straight into mount, and a dangerous armbar attempt from guard to sweep.
Kang showed off how deep his craft can go. Moon moved forward aggressively swinging punches, and Kang proceeded to lean just out of the way, and level change in one fluid motion. He went on to dominate Moon on the mat, before fishing for a rear naked choke.
FINAL: TITLE BOUT
–vs. Andrew Leone–
A native New Yorker, Andrew Leone has had great success in ONE Championship, his most recent losses coming to their top two bantamweights, Bibiano Fernandes and Kevin Belingon.
While the level of competition had just jumped significantly, Kyung Ho Kang handled his business as if nothing changed.
A little less willing to give up position going for chokes and armbars, Kang chose to posture up and relentlessly hammer Leone. Kang’s length allows him to land straight punches standing tall, out of the reach of his opponent.
Leone had no answers, he was consistently out scrambled and beat on. In desperation, he gave up his back, and that was the end.
In the spring of 2013, Kang made his UFC debut on the Facebook Prelims (RIP) of a fantastic card at Japan’s Saitama Super Arena.
–vs. Alex Caceres–
Known as “Bruce Leroy”, Alex Caceres is a free-flowing action fighter with a respect for traditional martial arts. He’s tricky to handle, but has clear holes in his game. At the time, Caceres was on a run that would become a five-fight unbeaten streak, capped by a submission win over Sergio Pettis.
Round 1 was vintage Kang. Punching into the clinch, Kang found his bodylocks and repeatedly put Caceres on his back. Caceres kept things interesting by scrambling when they hit the ground, but Kang was able to come out on top every time.
Kang had a strong opening in the second round, but he began to slow down. He’s huge for bantamweight, there’s no doubt his weight cut takes a toll. Even working slowly, Kang’s technique was efficient and he was able to dominate and threaten Caceres in most positions. Alex had his moments of offense on top, but the vast majority of the round was controlled by Kang.
By the third round, exhaustion set in. Even so, Kang found his openings to attack. After eating a clearly illegal knee, he was able to blow through Caceres on a double leg starting from his knees. Kang gave his all to maintain top position, but it was clearly not his round.
The first round was surely Kang’s, the second round was closer but it’s tough to argue Caceres’ case. In a bizarre turn of events, Bruce Leroy was awarded a split decision. It was ridiculous.
What was more ridiculous, is that the win was changed to a no-contest after Caceres tested positive for marijuana, a notoriously effective performance-enhancing drug.
–vs. Chico Camus–
Camus fits the classic Roufusport model. Strong offensive striking, decent off his back, spotty takedown and striking defense. Even so, after a couple early prospect losses, Camus only lost to the best in Henry Cejudo and Kyoji Horiguchi. In his post-UFC career, Camus has thrived on the regional scene.
Rocking green shorts and a new haircut, Kang went to work. A strong outside kicking game forced Chico’s hand, and he rushed forward aggressively with straight punches. Of course, that’s Kang’s preferred takedown setup. Kang was more economic with his ground control, passing guard sparingly and holding position.
It appeared to be more of the same in the first half of the second round. Chico became much more active on the ground, and Kang was forced to pick up the pace. In the closing moments of the round, Camus poured it on and stole the round with his attempts to finish the fight.
Fatigued but not completely spent, Kang showed his grit and took charge of the fight. Even when Camus briefly hurt him with a knee, Kang trapped an arm and rolled through beautifully to side control. The round was in hand…
Until Kang was rocked with an upkick with 18 seconds left. Camus stole the round, and the fight. Kang was winless after two UFC appearances.
UFC Career on the Line
It was do or die for Kyung Ho Kang. One more loss and he was a goner. It was only fitting that he face even greater adversity in his most important fight yet.
–vs. Shunichi Shimizu–
His opponent was Shunichi Shimizu, a long-time veteran of the Japanese regional scene. Crafty and tough, Shimizu had not been finished in over five years.
It was all the more impressive when Kang walked him down like the terminator and delivered a humiliating beating to open the fight. After a hellstorm of ground and pound, Kang was confident enough to cinch a mounted triangle. Everything was going perfectly until Kang landed two 12-6 elbows from the triangle.
Joe Rogan tells us all the time, that rule is ridiculous. But rules are rules, give a warning, take a point, do what you must honorable referee.
But that wasn’t good enough. Steve Perceval, in all his wisdom, took two points for a couple of inconsequential elbows. Complete insanity.
With that deduction, Kang would only receive a draw if he won every round 10-9. It was go time.
But finishing Shimizu is easier said than done. He would often pull guard to avoid Kang gaining more dominant positions. His strategy on the feet was to move away. When they did get into striking range, Shimizu shot for takedowns.
This didn’t stop Kang from smashing Shimizu with endless servings of punches and elbows. The ground and pound assault alone was enough to earn a stoppage, but Steve Perceval was going to need a tapout, or for Shimizu to literally die.
Kang opted for the tap.
With one minute remaining, Kang earned the most important victory of his career.
FIGHT OF THE NIGHT
–vs. Michinori Tanaka–
Japanese wrestler and grappler Michinori Tanaka was 10-0 before his fight with Kyung Ho Kang. The Shooto veteran had notable victories over Russell Doane, Roland Delorme and Teruto Ishihara.
It was publicized that Kang spent time at Tiger Muay Thai prior to this bout, and he was eager to keep it standing. Tanaka had other plans.
After rocking him on the feet, Kang had his way with Tanaka on the ground. Each grappling exchange ended with Kyung Ho Kang taking his back, and applying a body triangle.
Tanaka was game, reversing to Kang’s guard a number of times. But as we’ve seen, Kyung Ho Kang is dangerous from his back, and he showed off a gutsy kimura sweep, straight into mount. As always, he soon took his back.
A bit more sluggish in the third, Kang sat down behind his jab and fended off Tanaka’s late attempts to win the fight. An anaconda choke and sick takedown reversal off the underhook were the highlights of the round. Tanaka had an argument for taking that one, at least.
Oddly enough, this win came by split decision for Kang. Someone really has it out for him. Tanaka later tested positive for banned substances and his “Fight of the Night” award was revoked.
LAST FIGHT: Def. Guido Cannetti via Submission (Triangle) at 4:53 of Round 1
Kang was gone for nearly four years, in part to South Korea’s mandatory military service. He returned to face Argentinian Guido Cannetti in Missouri.
Long absences seem to effect timing and comfort in the cage. This is a dangerous prospect when matched with a powerful, aggressive kickboxer in Cannetti. Kang wisely took his time on the outside, but he soon found himself bullrushed to his back.
Kang recovered beautifully, using butterfly guard and an underhook to return to his feet. Then it was his turn to go on the attack, backing Cannetti up with combinations and hitting a lovely over-under throw straight into mount.
Kang dominated on top, as he trapped Guido’s arm for a mounted triangle setup. In an impressive feat of strength, Cannetti was able to carry Kang to the cage to alleviate some pressure, possibly to pull a Matt Hughes (vs. Carlos Newton). But eventually, he sank, and was forced to tap with ten seconds left in the round.
Kang was back.
NEXT FIGHT: vs. Ricardo Ramos at UFC 227
At 30 years old, there’s no more time to build up Kyung Ho Kang slowly. He’ll face a red-hot prospect in the dangerous grappler Ricardo Ramos.
Statistically, here’s how the two stack up.
— MMA By The Numbers (@NumbersMMA) July 31, 2018
While both men have a high level of proficiency on the feet, it would be delightful to see them go to war on the ground for as long as it lasts. Thus far Ramos has defeated common opponent Tanaka, as well as a glorious comeback spinning elbow KO over Aiemann Zahabi.
Ramos is not untouchable, he was being thoroughly outpointed by Zahabi, and was tapped via rear naked choke in 2016. A win for Kang may finally vault him into the mix of ranked contenders at 135.
You can watch Kyung Ho Kang vs. Ricardo Ramos on the Fight Pass prelims of UFC 227 on Saturday, August 4th.
War Kyung Ho Kang.
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