One of the main components of any MMA fight these days is the game plan or strategy. Long gone are the days in which fighters would just be able to train without much thought of what they would need to do inside the Octagon to get the win.

Head coaches are often given the task of devising a structure to their fighters’ training camps to ensure that by the time the fight comes around it won’t feel like they are implementing a predefined game plan, but it will feel like second nature.

In this feature, we will look to identify the underdog in an upcoming bout and examine what is required of that underdog in order to overcome the odds and predictions and get the all-important “W” in the win column. The point, then, is to step into the shoes of a head coach to break down the fight and provide a game plan for the underdog.

This week’s subject is Hyun Gyu Lim, who squares off with Tarec Saffiedine at UFC Fight Night 34 in Singapore on Jan. 4.

This fight card promises to be an early litmus test for the UFC to gauge the interest in the newly developed “International Fight Night” business model as announced in the last few months and expanded upon earlier this week in a special presentation prior to UFC 168. The card itself has garnered heavy criticism due to a sheer lack of name recognition, with even the two fighters in the main event considered fringe contenders in the welterweight division.

By the time these two step into the Octagon, UFC President Dana White and company could find that criticism intensified and needing a memorable main event in order to counter the inevitable harsh reviews that would follow if the fights lower down the card don’t deliver beyond the expectations.

Alternatively, White could once again be vindicated in saying that people should never judge a fight card until after the fights have taken place. MMA is perhaps the most unpredictable of any sport in the world, and perceptions formed prior to a fight taking place rarely come to fruition when the Octagon door shuts.

Despite the apparent lack of recognizable fighters on the card, we do get to see the UFC debut of Tatsuya Kawajiri in the co-main event. The Japanese star will make his first appearance and begin his quest to work his way back towards a title shot after having beaten the current No. 1 contender Josh Thomson in Strikeforce before moving on to lose to Gilbert Melendez in 2011 for the Strikeforce title. Meanwhile, Max Holloway will be feeling the pressure as he looks to bounce back from his loss against Conor McGregor and looking to avoid losing three in a row.

The Breakdown

Saffiedine enters the Octagon for the first time after having not fought for just under a year following his victory over Nate Marquardt to capture the Strikeforce belt and take the honor of being the last-ever welterweight champion for the now-defunct organization.

Lim is a relatively unknown fighter, having fought lower down the fight card on his two previous Octagon appearances. His last outing earned him “Fight of the Night” honors against Pascal Krauss in August of 2013.

Although there are not exactly a lot of Korean fighters currently active in the UFC and in the upper echelons of the sport overall, it is perhaps unusual to say that Saffiedine enters the Octagon quite familiar with not just his surroundings, but in facing a Korean in particular. He lost to Dong-Sik Yoon at Dream 12 in Japan back in 2009 when competing in the middleweight division. So, whilst the disruptions that Saffiedine will face in travelling to/from Singapore may be a factor for many, it is negated somewhat by the Finn’s previous experience in traveling to that region.

The Strategy

It is rare that any fighter can rely on one constant attribute or advantage regardless of the opposition, but that’s not the case for Lim. It is safe to say that when competing at welterweight he will have a size advantage over just about anyone on the UFC roster.

The key for the Korean is to implement that size advantage and ensure it is in his opponent’s mind from the very beginning. We have seen stunning displays from Jon Jones on how to utilize reach/distance control, and Lim will need to emulate the light heavyweight champion in order to be successful in this fight.

Saffiedine is getting into the habit of fighting for the full 15 to 25 minutes. He has not finished a fight inside the distance since May 2009. Lim, on the other hand, has a resume filled with finishes of all forms, whether it be the vicious knees we have seen become a trademark associated with his time inside the Octagon or the submission victories he has earned in the past.

The odds will no doubt be stacked in favor of the Strikeforce champion, and quite rightly so, based upon previous performances. But in order to upset the bookmakers and continue his streak, the Korean will need to produce a display of effective distance control, punishing knees in the clinch and a willingness to go for submissions.

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer
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Greg Byron started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.