Critics of UFC Vegas 33 may be right that the card lacks in star power, but it certainly isn’t lacking in tactical chess matches between craftsmen of the sport. Somewhat fortuitously, the fight between South Korea’s Kang Kyung Ho and Rani Yayha of Brazil is now the co-main event, and simultaneously one of the best fights on the card.
Both men have competed in the UFC for almost a decade, and submitted foe after foe who fell to their prowess on the mat. This Saturday, two masterful masters of the game will go at it with the hopes of breaking into ranked competition, another testament to the volume of depth at 135lbs.
To compare Rani Yayha to a lighter weight Demian Maia wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. For the 36 year-old Brazilian, all roads lead to the mat, where he holds a jiujitsu advantage likely over every other bantamweight. Yayha is a longtime BJJ black belt, and 11 of his 16 UFC/WEC wins come by submission.
Every exchange for Rani Yayha has the potential to end on the floor. He uses one and two punch combinations to set up the takedown, shoots from far away, and even throws the low kick to bait his opponent to catch the kick so he can pull guard. While he doesn’t hit exceptionally hard, his defensive head movement is solid enough to slip punches and time the counter-takedown. In 18 UFC fights, Yayha is yet to be finished, which is impressive considering his age and some of the heavy hitters he’s faced like Ricky Simon and Chad Mendes.
Yahya’s ground game is unparalleled among his peers. While not the most athletic specimen, he doesn’t need to be. A highly offensive approach to grappling makes him dangerous from every angle and transition. Rani Yayha will pursue the submission even if it puts him in danger, and if his opponent makes the correct adjustments, he’ll adapt until he gets it right. He’s tapped plenty of competent grapplers, and even Kang won’t have an advantage on ground.
“Mr. Perfect” Kang Kyung Ho
Kang’s career has been an awkward flow of starts and stops. Absent from MMA competition for nineteen months, this isn’t the longest he’s been out by a long shot. Like many other Korean fighters, Kang served in the military for two years, which became a three and a half year absence. Kyung Ho trains at one of South Korea’s finest MMA institutions, Busan’s Team MAD, alongside Ham Seo Hee, Choi Doo Ho and Yoon Ok Rae.
Kang does his best work as a grappler, as he’s finished nine of his seventeen career wins by submission. He uses his skills as a BJJ purple belt creatively, as seen in his electric win over Teruto Ishihara in 2019. After an edge-of-your-seat exchange on the feet, Kang drug Ishihara to the floor and took his back, but he was far too high and at risk of being dumped on his head.
Instead, Kang dropped his hooks back behind the butt of Ishihara, forcing Ishihara’s weight backwards and to a seated position. From there, Kang was able to reset the rear naked choke and get the tap after trapping one of Ishihara’s legs with his own.
On his feet, Kang Kyung Ho can certainly hold his own and actually shoots a pretty mean jab. His 73 inch reach is fairly long for bantamweight, and Kang has learned to make full use of that distance with blinding speed.
As both men find their strengths on the ground, we could end up seeing a striking match. Either way, expect Yayha to desperately attempt to pull the fight to the floor, whether by far-off shots or setting it up with combinations. His challenge will be getting on the inside of Kang or getting him against the cage, which he could do by lulling Kang into a brawl. He may not get the tap over the crafty Korean, but he could steal some rounds and earn a decision should he get Kang to the ground.
For Kang, he wants to use footwork and reach to keep the fight off the cage and keep Yayha far away from him. At range, he can use his jab to bust up Yayha and work for a late-fight finish. He has to be careful not to start brawling if he finds success, as Yayha can time a takedown in the midst of the chaos.
Despite his excellence as a grappler, he can’t try and prove himself against Yayha in a battle of jiujitsu vs. jiujitsu. It’s not out of the question for Kang to submit Yayha (we did see Anthony Hernandez upset Rodolfo Vieira with a guillotine), but it would favor him greatly to play the fight out where he has the greatest chance to edge ahead.
If Kang can keep controlling the action on the feet, the fight is his to do what he will. Yayha will use a deck of tricks to try and convince him to grapple, and if he does, he could take a close decision.
How to Watch
Kang Kyung Ho vs.Rani Yayha takes place as the co-main event on the main card of UFC Vegas 33, which airs on ESPN+ and ESPN in the US beginning at 9pm EST, with prelims beginning at 6pm EST on ESPN and ESPN+.
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