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 John Hathaway, who squares off with Dong Hyun Kim at the TUF China Finale in Cotai, China, on March 1.

This fight headlines the first of two fight cards taking place entirely on the much-discussed UFC Fight Pass subscription service within a 14-day span. With the start time scheduled for the early hours in the United States, it will be interesting to see what kind of live audience the fight attracts, given the criticisms of the fight card.

Both of these fighters enter the main event with thoughts of moving up the ladder with the aim of putting themselves in the title picture. However, Hathaway’s initial focus, given his lengthy time out of the Octagon, must be to just get in there and compete. Kim, meanwhile, will no doubt look to re-establish himself as one of the best at 170 pounds.

Both men enter this fight with impressive records in their back pocket, and they have beaten top talent within the division. Early on in his UFC career, Hathaway showed promise, with wins over Rick Story and Diego Sanchez included in a run that saw him go 4-0 inside the Octagon until he fought fellow rising star Mike Pyle. As we now know, Pyle is a legitimate top-15 welterweight whose losses have only come against the likes of Rory MacDonald and Matt Brown.

Meanwhile, Kim’s record boasts wins over the likes of Brown, Erick Silva, Nate Diaz and T.J. Grant. His only losses, of which there can be no shame, have come against Demian Maia and Carlos Condit.

They both enter this fight on the back of three-fight winning streaks. Hathaway’s last victory came in September 2012, two months prior to the first of Kim’s three successive wins. As such, Kim’s winning streak is of relevance, whilst Hathaway’s streak is perhaps less so in today’s welterweight division.

The Breakdown

This fight promises to be quite a close encounter. The past performances and method of victory suggest these two have very similar strengths and weaknesses.

Kim has a grinding style of wearing down opponents. If there has been one question mark against Hathaway, it is his ability to finish inside the distance. During his UFC tenure, Hathaway has only managed to finish one of his fights—in January 2009 against Tom Egan, who has since gone 3-3 outside of the UFC—inside the distance.

Kim had a similar tendency to leave it to the judges in his early run in the UFC, but in his last outing against rising star Erick Silva, Kim allayed any fears of him not being a finisher by knocking the Brazilian out in the second round. Kim earned the “Knockout of the Night” bonus in the process of removing Silva from consciousness.

The fact remains that with Hathaway having been out of action for so long, his progression is an unknown quantity which may help or hinder him against Kim in this fight. He could—and should—have drastically improved since his last fight against John Maguire, but his progression may have suffered from the lack of competitive action.

The Strategy

Hathaway’s best chance of winning this fight rests with how he can control the distance and pace of the contest. We have seen Kim impose his will on his opponents in previous fights, dictating the outcome thanks to his sheer size and strength.

That is why Hathaway must utilize leg kicks to keep Kim off the front foot, so as to allow Hathaway to settle in and land effective shots that will make Kim think twice. If Hathaway can utilize quick footwork against Kim, he may be able to negate his opponents’ size and open up opportunities to land without getting drawn into a clinch game, which is something Kim absolutely loves and is a spot where the Korean can be devastating.

Overall, this fight promises to be closely contested and perhaps closer than the odds makers may have you believe. It is difficult to foresee what kind of Hathaway we will see on Saturday, given we don’t really have any point of reference that is of relevance in 2014. One thing that is for sure, though, is that given the similar styles these two possess, anything can happen.

About The Author

Greg Byron
Staff Writer

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.