The UFC’s global expansion. It could read like the introduction of the classic Star Trek series, as the promotion explores strange, new worlds and boldly goes where it has never gone before. Those famous lines certainly apply to The Ultimate Fighter: China Finale. The UFC has been to China once before, in 2012, but it delivered its standard product on that occasion, with just two Chinese stars in the mix. This time, the list of local fighters has grown, and the event marks the UFC’s first attempt at a live event broadcasted entirely on its new UFC Fight Pass online service.

The event has its share of unknowns, from TUF China welterweight finalists Zhang Lipeng and Wang Sai, to undefeated Chinese prospect Jumabieke Tuerxun and TUF China welterweight semifinalists Albert Cheng and Anying Wang. There’s also the promise of new talent from other Asian territories, including Filipino fighter Mark Eddiva, Asian-based Brazilian Alberto Mina and debuting Korean veteran Yui Chul Nam.

Some faces, however, are much more familiar. The event is headlined by two welterweights with impressive UFC resumes. Can Korean “Stun Gun” Dong Hyun Kim move one step closer to contending for the UFC’s 170-pound strap, or will his British adversary, John Hathaway, finally pick up the big career win that sparks discussion of his own potential for a run at the title?

Many of the other familiar faces come seeking redemption. Bantamweights Vaughan Lee and Nam Phan could be fighting for their jobs. The same could be true of former contenders Ivan Menjivar and Hatsu Hioki.

Meanwhile, heavyweight Shawn Jordan is out to prove that he’s a dangerous force among the big men in the UFC. His opponent, Matt Mitrione would enjoy nothing more than to put an end to such thoughts.

The preliminary portion of the event kicks off at 6:15 a.m. ET and features four bouts. The five-fight main card gets underway at 8 a.m. ET.

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 all nine bouts from the card.

BW: Vaughan Lee (13-9-1) vs. Nam Phan (18-12)

Tatum: There’s a good chance that these two men are fighting for their job in the first fight of the main card. Both have struggled with consistency in their UFC stints and both have repeatedly fallen short against the competition at this level.

The Ultimate Fighter alum Nam Phan became a fan-favorite for his wars with Leonard Garcia while competing at featherweight. Although he possesses a solid boxing base with good technique, Phan is the type of fighter that is always willing to throw caution to the wind and brawl. Unfortunately for the Californian, that’s left him with a paltry 2-5 record inside the promotion. Following a decision loss to Takeya Mizugaki in his bantamweight debut in December, Phan has dropped three of his last four fights.

Lee, meanwhile, is the type of fighter that lives and dies by the grappling sword. Since joining the UFC in late 2011, the British fighter has alternated wins and losses, leaving him with a 2-3 record within the Octagon. Lee has proven that his ground game is dangerous—he submitted longtime veteran Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto—but he also was forced to tap against T.J. Dillashaw and Raphael Assuncao.

The outcome of this fight is largely dependent on where this fight takes place. Phan will want to keep things upright and use his striking, whereas Lee would prefer to take this fight to the mat. The problem for Lee is that he does not possess the strong wrestling pedigree it takes to get the fight there. Couple that with that fact that Phan has never been submitted in 30 career fights and all signs point to Phan earning a unanimous decision verdict from the judges.

Henderson: Phan is one of those fighters that makes me wonder what the UFC is thinking. Sure, his fights with Garcia made him popular, but this is a fighter who has won a total of just six fights and has lost 10 since making his first Strikeforce appearance in 2006. How many fighters have gone 6-10 over their last 16 outings and still get to call the Octagon their home? Not many, that’s for certain.

Lee’s record isn’t all that much more impressive, but the trend in his losses creates room for some optimism. He was on the wrong side of a split verdict with Chris Cariaso, who is now a borderline top-10 flyweight, and he suffered his other losses to the aforementioned Dillashaw and Assuncao, who are both in the running for a shot at bantamweight gold in the near future. Meanwhile, he’s notched victories over the aforementioned Yamamoto and another tough adversary in Motonobu Tezuka.

Despite Lee’s resume, however, it’s difficult to imagine the Brit with his hand raised at the conclusion of this fight. Phan has suffered a ridiculous amount of losses, but he’s also turned into a point fighter. He’s gone the distance in his last seven fights, though he only has two wins to show for it. His loss to Garcia in that time could just as easily have swayed in Phan’s favor, too, and he’s lasted three full rounds against the likes of not only Mizugaki, but also former WEC champ Mike Brown, UFC mainstay Dennis Siver and UFC prospect Jim Hettes.

Phan’s tendency to survive to the final bell, coupled with his point-fighting style and technical striking skills, suits him well for this match-up with Lee. Phan will stick and move for three rounds en route to a decision win.

FW: Hatsu Hioki (26-7-2) vs. Ivan Menjivar (25-11)

Henderson: Once upon a time, Hatsu Hioki and Ivan Menjivar were thought to be contenders within their respective divisions (Menjivar has spent his UFC tenure at bantamweight thus far, and this will be his first UFC appearance as a featherweight). Now, they might be fighting for their jobs.

Hioki entered the UFC with a 26-4-2 mark and a ton of hype as a top-five featherweight. He didn’t deliver much in the way of an impressive performance in his Octagon debut against George Roop, which Hioki won by split decision, but the Japanese fighter rebounded with an excellent showing against Bart Palaszewski. The return to form was short-lived, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt has since gone on a three-fight skid that includes decision losses to Ricardo Lamas, Clay Guida and Darren Elkins.

Menjivar moved to bantamweight for his WEC debut in the promotion’s final show. He has managed a 4-4 record since making the move and is just 1-3 over his last four fights, which probably explains his decision to move up to the featherweight ranks. The BJJ brown belt has competed as a lightweight and welterweight in the past, as well, so the move is yet another stop on his tour of the weight classes. It’s easy to forget that Menjivar is not purely a grappler. The Tristar product has won nine fights via strikes and 10 by way of submission.

These guys really need to find a way to impress and snap out of their respective funks. Menjivar’s recent losses have come against Mike Easton, Urijah Faber and Wilson Reis, but that was in the 135-pound division. Now, he’s up to 145 and he’s also making his first trip across the Pacific for a fight since his K-1 Hero’s days in 2006. Hioki is going to enjoy a significant size advantage over Menjivar, including a five-inch edge in height, but the bigger advantage comes in the form of his return to Asia. It may not be Japan, but Hioki will be fighting a lot closer to home. He produced his most impressive UFC performance when fighting in Japan, and this is probably his best opportunity to recapture some of that magic. Hioki has seen the scorecards in every one of his UFC outings and Menjivar tends to suffer his losses on the scorecards, so look for a Hioki decision win.

Tatum: It’s hard to argue with anything Bryan said about this fight. But, to reinforce his point, let’s dig a little deeper into a few things.

My cohort alluded to Hioki’s five-inch advantage in height over Menjivar, but he neglected to discuss the staggering nine-inch reach advantage that the Japanese fighter will hold in this bout. Don’t get me wrong, Hioki is hardly a striker, but he has used his jab effectively in his UFC tenure and that’s a massive weapon against the much smaller Menjivar.

That’s not where the disadvantages end for Menjivar. The fact that Hioki is a belt above the El Salvador native in BJJ is further compounded by Hioki’s length. While Hioki has been too content to play his guard game against wrestlers like Elkins, Lamas and Guida, he may have much success against the smaller Menjivar if the fight hits the mat.

The wild card in this fight is the fact that both fighters have trained at Tristar in Canada. While Menjivar calls the gym home, it’s possible that both fighters have picked up on the other’s weaknesses and tendencies while training there.

With more than 70 combined fights between them, they’ve only been stopped a total of three times (all on Menjivar’s resume). That fact leads me to agree with Bryan and pick Hioki to take this fight with a clean sweep on the scorecards.

HW: Matt Mitrione (6-3) vs. Shawn Jordan (15-5)

Tatum: What happens when a former fullback meets a former defensive lineman inside the Octagon? Well, if history holds true, the fullback comes out on top.

At least that was the case when the former NFL lineman Matt Mitrione took on his fellow TUF alum Brendan Schaub in September. Mitrione’s lack of submission grappling prowess was on full display as Schaub took him down and submitted him easily. Luckily for Mitrione, Shawn Jordan doesn’t possess the same sort of skills on the ground as Schaub. Mitrione has proven that he hits like a truck, but his late start on his MMA career has started to catch up with him, as he’s dropped three of his last four.

Jordan, on the other hand, has been a pleasant surprise after coming over from Strikeforce. The Louisiana native has gone 3-2 in his five UFC appearances, with all three wins coming by stoppage. Jordan’s momentum came to a crashing halt in his last outing against Gabriel Gonzaga, but the Jackson’s MMA product has proven that despite his short stature—he’s only 6-foot tall—he can compete with the “big” boys.

The UFC brought Mitrione along slowly at first, but since the promotion has stepped up his level of competition, he’s struggled mightily. He’ll have a huge height and reach advantage in this fight, and he’ll need to keep the fight at range if he wants to get back in the win column. Given Jordan’s willingness to barrel in with reckless abandon to close the distance, Mitrione is going to have his work cut out for him. Look for Jordan to turn this into an ugly fight along the fence before putting Mitrione on his back and forcing him to submit to an Americana in round two.

Henderson: Mitrione tends to be the man who separates the pretenders from the contenders. He destroyed fighters like Marcus Jones and Kimbo Slice, but he also fared well against tough, experienced journeymen like Joey Beltran and Tim Hague. He really only ran into a brick wall when the UFC served up borderline contenders like Cheick Kongo, Roy Nelson and Brendan Schaub.

In other words, it’s reckoning time for Shawn Jordan, who’s in a similar boat after wins over Oli Thompson, Mike Russow and Pat Barry and losses to Cheick Kongo and Gabriel Gonzaga. If Jordan loses to Mitrione, he falls in line with Philip De Fries, who lost to Mitrione, Stipe Miocic and Todd Duffee and scored wins over Oli Thompson and Rob Broughton. It might not be as clear-cut as my colleague suggests, either. Remember, Jordan has suffered losses to the likes of Devin Cole, Mark Holata and Kenny Garner outside of the UFC. Those guys aren’t exactly bottom dwellers, but Holata went just 3-2 in the Bellator cage, Garner is currently on a two-fight skid under the M-1 Global banner and Cole managed just a 3-5 mark while competing in the IFL. I’d go as far as to say that I couldn’t see Mitrione losing to that trio.

Garner, Holata and Gonzaga all attacked Jordan’s suspect chin and came out with wins of 51 seconds, 73 seconds and 93 seconds, respectively. Mitrione does have the power to supply a similar outcome. Jordan also packs a wallop, so it’s likely a manner of who can land one of those sledgehammer blows first. My bet is on Mitrione.

TUF China WW Final: Zhang Lipeng (6-7-1) vs. Wang Sai (6-4-1)

Henderson: It’s difficult to look at the records of the two TUF China finalists remaining on this card and not meditate on the watering down of the UFC product. The UFC’s global approach might just require it to isolate certain segments of the roster and limit them to competition in their home region, against other talent from the same region. There’s certainly no other way Zhang Lipeng or Wang Sai could survive for very long under the UFC banner. For now, however, they’ll try their best to channel Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar in converting the Chinese masses into UFC fans.

Lipeng was a No. 1 pick on the welterweight portion of the TUF China reality series. The 23-year-old advanced through the TUF tournament with two submission wins, though the first came via strikes. The native of Inner Mongolia entered the competition on a two-fight losing streak and sits under the .500 mark through his 14-fight career. The RUFF veteran has a background in sanda and holds the rank of blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. A former lightweight contender under the RUFF banner, he moved up to welterweight for his shot on TUF. He tends to live and die on the mat, where he has picked up three submission wins and suffered five submission losses.

Sai lands on the positive side of the .500 mark, but not by much. The 28-year-old was the other No. 1 welterweight pick on the show and made it to the finals with a TKO victory in his first TUF fight and a submission win in the semifinals. “The Boss” has never lost back-to-back fights, and he’s faced the far superior competition of the two—his two most recent losses came against Sergey Yakovlev and Brett Oteri, a pair of prospects with strong records. Sai has finished his opponents in all six of his wins, including four by some form of knockout and two by submission.

Lipeng’s losing record is an instant red flag, especially when the level of his competition is factored in. Furthermore, if he couldn’t find success more than half the time at lightweight, how can he be expected to fare better against bigger, more successful opponents at welterweight? Sai isn’t going to take the UFC by storm, but he should enjoy a size and skill advantage over Lipeng. Sai will claim the distinction of being the first winner of TUF China when he submits Lipeng before the midway point of this fight.

Tatum: While the UFC’s global expansion plans are certainly important for the growth of their business and the sport of mixed martial arts, it’s easy to see why my colleague is cynical towards this fight. Did the world really need a Chinese version of TUF at this point in time? That’s certainly up for debate. Yet, like Bryan, I’ll hold out some glimmer of hope that Lipeng and Sai will put on a memorable barnburner and ignite the Chinese market like fireworks on New Year’s.

Lipeng’s biggest issue to this point in his career has been his lack of patience. More than half of his losses have come via submission and most have been in the opening frame. While his youth could partially be to blame, that approach will not work in the UFC. Bryan’s analogy of living and dying by the sword will leave Lipeng in a pool of his own entrails in the talent-rich welterweight division.

While Sai has faced stronger competition in his career, he hasn’t fared very well against it. As Bryan mentioned, he fell against both Yakovlev and Oteri and he’s only managed to string together two wins in a row once in his career. The biggest advantage for Sai in this fight will be his striking. He’s much more fluid than Lipeng and that could be game changer in this match-up.

I’ll echo Bryan’s prediction of the winner, but I believe Sai will pick Lipeng apart on the feet before finishing him off with strikes on the ground early in round three.

Dong Hyun Kim (18-2-1) vs. John Hathaway (17-1)

Tatum: If you’re the betting type, the night’s main event has decision written all over it. Why, you ask? In 20 combined UFC outings, Dong Hyun Kim and John Hathaway have managed a total of three finishes, and their debuts with the promotion account for two of those stoppages. Even though Kim scored an impressive knockout against Erick Silva in his last outing, calling either of these welterweights a finisher would be misleading.

The 26-year-old Hathaway will step into the Octagon for the first time in 17 months. The London Shootfighters product has amassed a 7-1 record within the promotion and holds wins over Diego Sanchez and Rick Story. The former rugby player possesses one of the best wrestling attacks of any European fighter in the promotion. Although Hathaway’s striking has improved over the course of his career, he lacks the power necessary to finish fights on the feet or the submission game to put fighters away on the mat.

The South Korean Kim has the more impressive resume of the two, holding notable wins over Matt Brown, Nate Diaz, T.J. Grant and the aforementioned Silva. However, “Stun Gun” has struggled mightily to find finishes within the promotion. Before the Silva knockout, the 32-year-old hadn’t scored a finish since 2008. Kim’s judo allows him to dictate where fights take place, and he has smothering top control. Unfortunately, that means Kim tends to gain a dominant position and stay there, without inflicting a lot of damage.

If you’re a fan of finishes, this isn’t the fight for you. Hathaway has never been finished and although Kim has suffered finishes to Carlos Condit and Demian Maia, Hathaway isn’t on their level. This is going to be a grinding, 25-minute affair that is unlikely to keep anyone of the edge of their seat. Given Kim’s stronger level of opposition, expect the Korean to edge out the Brit on the scorecards.

Henderson: Hathaway has a tendency to fly under the radar, despite an extremely impressive record. Maybe it’s the level of competition he has faced—his win over Diego Sanchez is the only UFC victory he’s had in which casual fans could pick his opponent out of a photo lineup. Perhaps it’s that habit to go the distance that Rob discussed. Regardless, the 26-year-old still sports just one loss on his record and takes his spot as one half of the evening’s headliner this weekend.

Kim has crept up the UFC’s ladder against a better list of opponents. Whereas Hathaway cannot boast more than a single UFC contender—the aforementioned Sanchez—on his list of victories, Kim has topped a few contenders and has been in the cage with several more. That amount of experience will come in handy against Hathaway.

Kim is the stronger fighter and should be able to bully Hathaway against the cage. The Korean can also utilize his judo to take this fight to the mat, where he can use his dominant top control to win rounds.

This fight is almost guaranteed to go the distance, which isn’t a great way for the UFC to launch its Fight Pass only series. Fans want a main event that excites, but what they are likely to receive instead is a grinding affair where the key is positional control and strategy, not one-punch knockout power or a deadly submission arsenal. Hathaway will put up a good fight, but it won’t be enough to top the “Stun Gun.” Kim will take home a unanimous verdict.

Preliminary Card
FW: Mark Eddiva (5-0) vs. Jumabieke Tuerxun (14-0)

Henderson: There could have been a different avenue in how the UFC approached The Ultimate Fighter: China. It could have installed Jumabieke Tuerxun as a cast member and watched him walk through the competition. Maybe the UFC just wanted to keep things fair for the rest of the cast by giving Tuerxun a contract right off the bat. The 27-year-old student of China’s Xian Physical Education University sports a spotless record through 14 fights, but he’s seen the scorecards in half of those bouts. His opponent, Mark Eddiva, also sports an undefeated mark, but he only has five fights under his belt and has finished all of his opponents. The difference, however, is in where these men train. Tuerxun is a stud on the Chinese circuit, but the level of training and competition there has not caught up to many other parts of the world. Eddiva is a member of Team Lakay, which has a strong reputation in the Pacific region and provides the Filipino fighter with a far superior group of training partners and coaches. Eddiva will get the better of the stand-up exchanges before rocking Tuerxun and finishing him via submission.

Tatum: Another factor that Bryan didn’t touch on is that Tuerxun’s success has largely come in the bantamweight division. He’ll be moving up in weight to take on Eddiva. Although Eddiva is only two inches taller than his Chinese foe, that size advantage could be a factor in this fight. I have to side with Bryan’s assessment of this fight, as Tuerxun’s level of competition is not up to par with that of Eddiva. However, I’ll disagree on the way the fight is ended, as I believe Eddiva scores a violent, first-round knockout to spoil the Chinese fighter’s unblemished record.

WW: Albert Cheng (2-2) vs. Anying Wang (1-0)

Tatum: These two welterweights fell short in their quests to conquer TUF China and now lock horns to secure another fight with the promotion. Hailing from Toronto, Canada, Albert Cheng is the more experienced of the two, but he had suffered two straight defeats prior to the reality show. Meanwhile, Anying Wang, who hails from Inner Mongolia, has a lone win that came under the RUFF banner. Although Cheng is a natural lightweight, he has faced tougher opposition. Look for him to lock up a rear-naked choke in round two.

Henderson: The coaches of TUF China had a good eye for talent. The No. 1 welterweight picks from each team are fighting in the finals, and this encounter features the losers from the two semifinal contests, both of whom were the No. 2 picks for their team. One fact Rob failed to mention: Wang never even won a fight on TUF China. He advanced to the semifinals when his elimination round opponent failed to make weight. Then, in the semis, he was submitted by Wang Sai. Cheng, meanwhile, lost his elimination round bout, but then returned to win a fight to determine a semifinalist replacement for the injured Dong Xin. He lost again in the semis, but that one win, plus a four-fight pro career speaks volumes more than a single win and a free pass to the semis of TUF China. With that in mind, I’ll also predict a win, via submission, for Cheng.

WW: Zak Cummings (16-3) vs. Alberto Mina (10-0)

Henderson: Veteran Zak Cummings has finished his last three fights by way of submission, but he may find it much more difficult to implement his grappling attack against a decorated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and judo black belt like Alberto Mina. The 31-year-old Brazilian, who is based out of Epic MMA in Asia, has rattled off 10 straight wins, but Cummings will spell a significant step up in competition. Cummings has suffered his only career losses in 19 outings against the likes of Elvis Mutapcic, Tim Kennedy and Ryan Jimmo. If Mina can make it past Cummings, he’ll show that he has the potential to go far inside the Octagon. The level of experience that Cummings brings to the cage is going to be hard to overcome, but I smell an upset brewing here. Mina via submission.

Tatum: Bryan’s comment about Mina’s level of competition cannot be overlooked. Before his last three outings, he’d never faced a fighter with a winning record. While he’s managed to finish all of his 10 career fights, he’s facing a very durable fighter in Cummings. Only Kennedy was able to finish Cummings, and even with Mina’s judo background, he’s unlikely to be able to hold Cummings down on the mat in the manner Kennedy did. Look for a back-and-forth battle that Cummings takes on the scorecards by doing just enough on the feet to win.

LW: Yui Chul Nam (17-4-1) vs. Kazuki Tokudome (12-4-1)

Tatum: This fight is without question the most intriguing match-up on the preliminary card. Kazuki Tokudome will make his third Octagon appearance, having split his first two contests. The Japanese fighter is well-rounded, but has shown weaknesses in his takedown defense and his chin. That could pose a problem against the debuting Korean, Yui Chul Nam. “The Korean Bulldozer” has had success under the Legend and Road FC banners, topping notables Rob Hill and Takasuke Kume (twice). He also holds a win over current UFC fighter Hacran Dias. Nam has the type of skill set to give Tokudome problems and will take this one on the scorecards after three exciting rounds.

Henderson: Given the decision-y nature of the evening’s headliner and the also-ran nature of much of the rest of the main card, I’d actually make the argument that the prelims hold most of the intrigue of his event, from the UFC debuts of Chinese prospect Jumabieke Tuerxun, BJJ champ Alberto Mina and Team Lakay product Mark Eddiva to the inclusion of veteran Zak Cummings and this pair. Nam is a striker with eight wins by some form of knockout, whereas Tokudome is a more balanced fighter with five TKO victories and three submission wins. Nam’s striking style, plus a background that includes black belts in judo and taekwondo and a purple belt in jiu-jitsu, makes him the perfect opponent to hand Tokudome another UFC loss. It could go to the scorecards, but there’s also a chance that Nam finishes the fight with a knockout.