The UFC will kick off the New Year with a bang as it unleashes not only its first fight card of the year, but also its new digital network, UFC Fight Pass. The event, UFC Fight Night 34, marks the promotion’s first trip to Singapore as it visits the Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre on Jan. 4.

In the night’s main event, the final Strikeforce welterweight champion, Tarec Saffiedine, makes his long-awaited Octagon debut against South Korea’s Hyun Gyu Lim in a welterweight contest. Saffiedine has been out of action for an entire year, following his five-round destruction of veteran Nate Marquardt last January. Lim, meanwhile, will look for his third straight knockout inside the promotion.

Also on the card, Japanese superstar Tatsuya Kawajiri will make his highly anticipated debut. He takes on undefeated American Sean Soriano in a featherweight contest.

The 10-fight event kicks off on Saturday, Jan. 4, at 6 a.m. ET with six preliminary card bouts, followed by the four-fight main card at 9 a.m ET. The entire card streams live on UFC Fight Pass.

For this event, The MMA Corner moved the round table out of the room, swept the floors and strapped on the gloves for a one-on-one sparring session between writers Rob Tatum and Bryan Henderson, who share their opinions for the entire card.

BW: Kyung Ho Kang (11-7) vs. Shunichi Shimizu (28-8-10)

Henderson: I understand that the UFC’s digital network is an attempt to expand on a global level, but the placement of Kyung Ho Kang’s bantamweight clash with Shunichi Shimizu on the main card of this event is somewhat of an odd move when a pair of fighters like Katsunori Kikuno and Quinn Mulhern reside on the preliminary card, but Kang’s role as a former Road FC champion certainly must play into the UFC’s lineup decision, given that this event takes place in Singapore.

Kang came to MMA by way of his interest in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. That grappling background is evident in his resume, which features eight submission wins and only two victories via TKO. “Mr. Perfect” is far from perfect, however. The South Korean fighter may have won the Super Korean tournament as an amateur and claimed top honors in the Korean BJJ Association, but he’s struggled to string together multiple wins as a professional mixed martial artist. In fact, his longest streak of wins was three, and that came right before the UFC signed him. He typically tends to win one or two fights, then lose a fight or two. Kang’s UFC debut against Alex Caceres was a split verdict that went to Caceres (and was later changed to a no-contest), but Kang arguably won that fight. However, the Busan Team M.A.D. product lost via unanimous decision in his sophomore UFC outing against Chico Camus.

If Kang’s submission-heavy resume looks impressive, then Shimizu’s must look outstanding. The 28-year-old has won 19 of his fights via submission and ranked among the top bantamweights in the Pancrase organization before signing with the UFC. Shimizu has been fighting professionally since 2005, but most of his losses came within the first five years of his career. The Sengoku veteran has gone 12-2-3 over his last 17 fights, with his only losses coming against UFC veteran Motonobu Tezuka and Zst mainstay Kohei Kuraoka. Despite his submission prowess, Shimizu also displays a tendency of being complacent with going the distance—he has heard the final bell on 19 occasions, including in 10 fights that have ended in a draw.

The UFC certainly is giving Kang every chance to emerge as its Korean star. Caceres and Camus were solid, but not spectacular, opponents for Kang, yet he failed to clinch a victory in both outings. Shimizu falls into that same realm of opponents for Kang, though the Japanese fighter is the most experienced adversary yet in the 26-year-old Kang’s run in the UFC. Shimizu has been submitted on three occasions, but the last of those was in 2008. The Japanese fighter still figures to be the better grappler, but he’ll likely spend most of the fight hunting for submissions off his back. Kang has been submitted before, and it was courtesy of a fighter who isn’t even particularly known for being a submission specialist. Shimizu should eventually find an armbar or a triangle choke—two holds he has used frequently to end fights—to end Kang’s night, and possibly the Korean’s UFC tenure.

Tatum: There’s not a whole lot to add to Bryan’s assessment of this bout. For the sake of everyone watching this fight, let’s hope it doesn’t stay on the feet long. On the mat, this figures to be an entertaining battle.

We saw the best Kang had to offer in his bout with Caceres, and he still could not come out with a win. His inconsistent nature throughout his career is a major concern and he’s facing a far more experienced opponent in Shimizu.

A longtime staple of the Japanese fight scene, Shimizu lacks the striking skills to truly be a threat in the bantamweight division. He can surprise opponents who expect him to grapple by unleashing a vicious head kick, but he’s unlikely to use that technique against his fellow grappler, Kang.

Look for both fighters to seek to take this fight to the ground quickly, and expect some chaotic scrambles and transitions before Shimizu eventually catches the younger and less-experienced Kang in an armbar late in the opening stanza.

WW: Luiz Dutra (11-2-1) vs. Kiichi Kunimoto (15-5-2)

Tatum: Although the UFC’s international versions of The Ultimate Fighter may not have produced a ton of household names thus far, it doesn’t mean that they haven’t featured talented fighters. Brazil’s Luiz Dutra certainly fits that mold. In fact, Dutra was Team Nogueira’s No. 1 pick on TUF Brazil 2, but an injury forced him out of the tournament following the elimination round.

Across the cage from the Brazilian will be Japan’s Kiichi Kunimoto. Kunimoto will make his promotional debut on the heels of a four-fight winning streak under the Heat MMA banner. The 32-year-old is also a veteran of Pancrase and has finished eight of his 15 wins by submission.

For me, this fight comes down to level of competition. Although Dutra has primarily competed in his native Brazil, he has faced a number of recognizable names. He has two wins over current UFC fighter Fabricio Camoes, a win over UFC veteran Luis Ramos and his only two losses have come via injury. Kunimoto, on the other hand, has feasted on lesser competition in his native Japan. The most recognizable name on his resume is his most recent opponent, UFC veteran Edward Faaloloto and his less-than-stellar 2-5 record.

On paper, Dutra, with his aggressive striking attack, has the potential to make an impact on the welterweight division if he can stay healthy. He’ll overpower Kunimoto and take home a TKO win in round three.

Henderson: I could get into semantics here and argue that although Faaloloto may stand as the most recognizable name on Kunimoto’s resume, the most significant names are actually Shingo Suzuki, a 9-7 fighter that “Strasser” submitted in 2009, and the 17-8-7 Takenori Sato, who defeated Kunimoto by way of unanimous decision in 2012. So, although those names aren’t as recognizable to UFC fans, they do represent at least a respectable level of opposition.

That doesn’t mean I’m putting my chips down on a win for the Japanese veteran. Dutra’s success is hard to argue with, even if only one of his official fights has taken place after 2009. He did fight on TUF Brazil 2, and he won two fights there, including one by submission against Pedro Irie.

Kunimoto is a tough fighter for anyone to finish, and Dutra isn’t exactly a finisher anyhow. This one will go the distance, with the Brazilian utilizing a combination of striking and submission attempts to secure the unanimous verdict.

FW: Tatsuya Kawajiri (32-7-2) vs. Sean Soriano (8-0)

Henderson: Tarec Saffiedine and Hyun Gyu Lim may be headlining this event, but this fight will be the night’s highlight for many a hardcore MMA fan who has been eagerly anticipating the day that the “Crusher,” Tatsuya Kawajiri, would finally set foot inside the eight-sided cage. Kawajiri’s debut comes against undefeated prospect Sean Soriano, who makes his Octagon debut on the heels of three wins under the CFA banner.

Kawajiri made his name as a highly successful lightweight across the Shooto, Pride and Dream organizations, but he recently made the move to 145 pounds. Since the drop in weight, he has won four fights. Those victories came against such notable names as Joachim Hansen, Kazuyuki Miyata, Donald Sanchez and Michihiro Omigawa. As a lightweight, he captured Shooto gold and challenged for the Dream belt (against Shinya Aoki) and the Strikeforce title (against Gilbert Melendez). Kawajiri is a bruiser who can get it done on the feet (12 wins by some form of knockout), but can also score takedowns and tap out opponents (nine submission wins). He’s vastly experienced and has faced some of the best names at lightweight, which gives him an edge as he enters into the UFC’s featherweight division.

The 24-year-old Soriano comes to the UFC as the CFA featherweight champion. He finished his first six opponents with three wins apiece via knockout and submission. His two most recent outings have gone the five-round distance, ending in unanimous verdicts for Soriano. The Blackzilians product features an arsenal complete with strong leg kicks, and he prefers to sit back and counter opponents. He stepped in to replace Hacran Dias as Kawajiri’s opponent, but that doesn’t mean this fight will be any easier for Kawajiri.

The biggest hurdle for Soriano to overcome might be the location of this fight. The Blackzilian is accustomed to fighting on U.S. shores, but he’ll have to travel halfway around the world to face a man who was widely regarded as one of the best lightweights on the planet and who has already made a solid case for the same consideration at featherweight. Soriano may have received some advice from Blackzilian teammate Eddie Alvarez, who defeated Kawajiri in 2008 under the Dream banner, but it won’t be enough for someone who is taking the leap from beating regional talent to butting heads with an elite fighter. This should be an entertaining war, but it will serve as a statement for Kawajiri that he’s out for a UFC title. Kawajiri takes a hard-fought war on the judges’ scorecards.

Tatum: The only downside to this fight is the fact that Kawajiri will make his promotional debut on a streamed event, rather than a televised one. But that said, the 35-year-old’s first fight in the Octagon is long overdue.

As Bryan explained, Soriano steps in on late notice to replace Dias. Not only is travel going to be a concern for the American, but his level of competition should also be a huge red flag. Certainly, training with a top-level camp like the Blackzilians will help the 24-year-old prepare for this match-up, but he’s going to be facing a fighter that is more experienced and more talented.

Kawajiri has faced a who’s who of the lightweight division in his career and has beaten numerous top names, including current UFC fighters Josh Thomson and Yves Edwards. And, like Bryan pointed out, he’s gone undefeated since dropping down to featherweight. “Crusher” has a devastating ground-and-pound attack and a lethal submission game from the top position. In other words, if the Japanese veteran gets on top, it’s not long before his opponent is looking for a way out of the fight.

Soriano’s best bet in this fight is to put Kawajiri on his back and hold him there. If there’s a chink in the armor of Kawajiri, it’s his guard. He’s more likely to try to tie up Soriano than look for submissions from that position. Any other scenario will heavily favor Kawajiri. Look for the veteran to hand Soriano his first defeat via arm-triangle just minutes into the fight.

WW: Tarec Saffiedine (14-3) vs. Hyun Gyu Lim (12-3-1)

Tatum: It’s been almost a year since Strikeforce last held an event and many fans may have forgotten about one of the bright spots of that final card: Belgium’s Tarec Saffiedine. The Team Quest product put on a kickboxing clinic at that event, battering the legs of veteran Nate Marquardt and earning the Strikeforce welterweight title. However, Saffiedine’s Octagon debut has been delayed multiple times and he’s quickly fallen off the radar in the crowded 170-pound division.

Saffiedine’s opponent in the night’s main event, Hyun Gyu Lim, can be described as a wrecking ball. Although the Korean was not the first choice to face Saffiedine (he replaced an injured Jake Ellenberger), Lim’s first two UFC appearances prove that he’s a very worthy opponent. The 28-year-old has scored back-to-back knockouts of Pascal Krauss and Marcelo Guimaraes to run his total to nine in 12 career wins. He also holds a win over UFC veteran Lucio Linhares and has not lost since 2009.

While it has been Saffiedine’s striking game that has been on display in his bouts with Marquardt, Roger Bowling, Tyler Stinson and Scott Smith, the 27-year-old has a grinding wrestling attack and a vastly underrated submission game. In fact, only one of his 14 career wins has come by strikes. Even with Saffiedine’s crisp technique on the feet and the fact that he’s never been finished, standing and trading with the hard-hitting Lim would be a poor choice.

For Lim to play spoiler and make a case for himself as a legitimate threat at 170 pounds, he’ll need to bait Saffiedine into a brawl. He can’t stay at range or he’ll end up getting picked apart the way that Marquardt did. If he can get inside and use his knees the way he did against Krauss, he could be the first to stop the Belgian fighter.

In the end, Saffiedine is the more complete fighter. Unless Lim is successful at turning this fight into a brawl, it’s Saffiedine’s fight to lose. Look for the Belgian to get the fight to the ground and force Lim to tap to an arm-triangle in the third round.

Henderson: Saffiedine’s game is so complete that it includes a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a black belt in Shihaishinkai, a style of karate that incorporates ground fighting. He has a 12-1-1 kickboxing record and added wrestling to the mix as a member of Team Quest. Lim, meanwhile, has a couple of submission wins, but is primarily a striker.

Saffiedine’s time away from action could be a small cause for concern. He had momentum going prior to his layoff, but how much of that will remain now? He’s also not fighting a slouch in Lim. This is a guy who holds wins over skilled grapplers like Krauss, Linhares and Ferrid Kheder. The South Korean fighter does have a few losses on his resume, but he’s been consistent in landing in the win column over the last three-plus years.

The brawler aspect that Rob highlighted is one important factor in this fight. Saffiedine has engaged in combat with notorious brawlers like Smith and Bowling, but he has also dealt with more refined technicians like Marquardt. Saffiedine has had a decision-heavy career, so I cannot go as far as to agree with a submission win in the Belgian’s favor. I’ll say he takes a judges’ nod instead.

Preliminary Card
BW: Russell Doane (12-3) vs. Leandro Issa (11-3)

Henderson: In his most recent outing, Russell Doane captured the Tachi Palace Fights interim bantamweight title with a knockout of UFC veteran Jared Papazian. It was enough to punch his ticket to the UFC, where he now meets Leandro Issa, a black belt fighting out of the Singapore-based Evolve MMA camp. Issa is a Mundials champion and has captured seven of his victories via submission. Doane leans more heavily on his striking and has been submitted twice in his career. It might be easy enough to just stop there and say that Issa wins by submission, but the level of competition Issa has faced on a consistent basis recently also warrants mention. It’s that detail that leads me to the conclusion that he takes this fight.

Tatum: As Bryan mentioned, Doane’s knockout of Papazian was a big deal for the bantamweight, and it marked the sixth time the Hawaiian has won by knockout. Now he’ll face a very different type of fighter in Issa. Issa has struggled in the past against strikers, but the grappling ace is one of the most promising fighters to come out of the Evolve camp. In a classic striker vs. grappler match-up, I’ll agree with Bryan and take the Brazilian to submit Doane in round one with an armbar.

BW: Dustin Kimura (10-1) vs. Jon delos Reyes (7-2)

Tatum: This is an intriguing match-up of bantamweight prospects, as 24-year-old Hawaiian Dustin Kimura faces off with 26-year-old Guam fighter Jon delos Reyes. Kimura has gone 1-1 in his UFC appearances, submitting Chico Camus and getting submitted by Mitch Gagnon. Reyes will make his promotional debut riding a four-fight winning streak. Kimura has showcased a slick submission attack and his level of competition is more impressive than that of Reyes. Look for Kimura to secure a rear-naked choke in the second stanza.

Henderson: Reyes certainly hasn’t faced the level of competition that Kimura has seen. The Countershot MMA product has made stops in a number of Pacific region promotions, but he hasn’t even clashed with the region’s biggest stars. Furthermore, he’s entering the UFC after more than a year of inactivity. If Russell Doane could submit Reyes, Kimura should have little problem doing the same.

LW: Tae Hyun Bang (16-7) vs. Mairbek Taisumov (20-4)

Henderson: It’s the UFC’s hunger to cater to the different regions of the world that brings us this match-up. With many deserving fighters getting passed over in very puzzling fashion (see: Rob Lisita), it’s most puzzling that the UFC would add a fighter to its roster that has only fought once in three-plus years and is just 2-3 over his last five fights. Yet, that’s exactly what the promotion did when it inked Sengoku and Deep veteran Tae Hyun Bang. Perhaps it just wanted to give M-1 Challenge veteran Mairbek Taisumov an easy introduction to the Octagon. Taisumov is an accomplished wrestler, boxer and grappler and has finished 10 opponents via strikes and nine by way of submission. The Russian will have his way with Bang no matter where this fight goes, but given Bang’s tendency to score knockouts, look for Taisumov to take this fight to the mat and find the submission win.

Tatum: I can’t help but echo Bryan’s criticism of the inclusion of Bang on this card. The Korean Top Team fighter’s only two wins since 2008 have come against fighters without winning records and he’s struggled against every name opponent he’s faced (most notably Jorge Masvidal and Takanori Gomi). That doesn’t automatically mean that the Chechen Taisumov will steamroll Bang, but at least he’s been more active. As long as Taisumov doesn’t try to exchange on the feet with Bang, he should be able to outclass the Korean on the mat. I’ll agree with Bryan that Taisumov will have his hand raised, but it will be by decision.

BW: David Galera (5-0) vs. Royston Wee (2-0)

Tatum: A big part of the UFC’s global expansion plans is showcasing local talent and no bout exemplifies that more than David Galera vs. Royston Wee. Galera is a Filipino fighter that trains with Team Lakay. Four of his five career wins have come inside the first round. Wee, meanwhile, is the first Singapore fighter to sign with the promotion and will have the luxury of fighting in his own backyard. Based on both fighters’ limited bodies of work, expect Galera to overwhelm Wee and score a first-round knockout.

Henderson: I commend the UFC’s intentions to show off local talent, but UFC President Dana White and owner Lorenzo Fertitta also stressed that the fights would remain at UFC standards. These guys have potential, don’t get me wrong there, but can we honestly say a fighter with just two pro fights is ready for the UFC? The 22-year-old Wee’s two quick first-round submission wins have come against a pair of fighters who now have a combined record of 0-3. The 35-year-old Galera has a four-inch height advantage over Wee, trains out of the superior camp and at least has the experience of fighting for, and capturing, the URCC interim bantamweight title. Galera will drag Wee to the mat and force the tap.

LW: Katsunori Kikuno (21-5-2) vs. Quinn Mulhern (18-3)

Henderson: I’m going to return to my earlier comment about this fight. With Kikuno’s inclusion to make this a relevant match-up in the eyes of fans in Singapore and Mulhern’s established name among UFC and Strikeforce fans, it boggles my mind that the fight lands on the prelims. Mulhern has lost his only UFC outing (against Rick Story), but all three of his career losses came against UFC vets and he has notched 11 submission wins, making him a dangerous opponent for anyone should the fight hit the canvas. Kikuno has a background in judo, but his true base is Kyokushin karate. His striking techniques have accounted for 12 of his stoppage victories. Kikuno may be a former Deep champion, but he tends to struggle against the best competition he has faced. He’s only been stopped once by submission, however, and that was against Eddie Alvarez. Mulhern is lanky and could provide Kikuno with some difficulties, but the Japanese fighter will do enough in the stand-up exchanges to earn a decision win.

Tatum: I’m with Bryan about this fight being buried on the prelims, just not the outcome. This is one of the best stylistic clashes on this card and it’s unfortunate that so many people will miss it live. That said, I’m curious to see where this fight takes place. Kikuno’s karate background makes his stand-up attack an enigma for his opponents, but he prefers to counter. With Mulhern being a grappler, it will be curious to see if Kikuno is willing to be the aggressor on the feet. Kikuno’s biggest weakness in the past has been fighters with strong top control like Satoru Kitaoka, and Mulhern fits that bill. Couple that with the massive size advantage Mulhern will hold (six inches in height), and I’ll take the American to grind out Kikuno on the mat to walk away with the decision.

FW: Will Chope (19-5) vs. Max Holloway (7-3)

Tatum: There will be more talented youngsters in action when 22-year-old Max Holloway meets 23-year-old Will Chope in a featherweight contest. Since making his UFC debut two years ago, Holloway has gone just 3-3, but the three losses have come against Dustin Poirier, Dennis Bermudez and Conor McGregor. Chope, meanwhile, enters the Octagon with a 14-fight winning streak under his belt, albeit against regional competition. This fight will be decided based on where it takes place. Holloway has a crisp striking attack, whereas Chope has a slick ground game. I’ll take Holloway and his UFC experience to pick apart Chope on the feet and score a TKO early in round three.

Henderson: I just haven’t been impressed with Holloway throughout his UFC career. Three of his fights outside the UFC and four inside the Octagon have gone the distance, and out of those contests, three have ended in split verdicts. Chope had a rough start to his pro career, but he has turned things around with the aforementioned winning streak and an 18-1 mark over his last 19 fights. Chope loves to take an opponent’s back and lock in the rear-naked choke. Although he may struggle to find the finish against Holloway, he’ll be the more aggressive fighter when it comes to offensive output, and that will earn Chope a close decision win.