With Georges St-Pierre out of the picture, the UFC’s welterweight division has basically become the Wild West. The 170-pound weight class has been considered the most talent rich in MMA for quite some time now, but with GSP sitting head and shoulders above his competition for the majority of his six-year title reign, the rest of the division was never able to showcase their skills at the highest level. Every Johny Hendricks highlight-reel knockout was met with a question as to whether he would be able to stay on his feet long enough to hit GSP. The strategic game plan Carlos Condit used to defeat Nick Diaz was immediately brushed aside in favor GSP’s Tristar gym and their ability to put “Rush” in the best position to win in every fight.

Until a fighter actually earned his way to the top of the heap and went toe-to-toe with GSP, it was hard to take that fighter seriously as a top-tier welterweight. St-Pierre’s aura had started to fade a bit after his last few fights, but it wasn’t until he truly stepped away from the sport that we realized that the amount of talent looking for gold at 170 is almost overwhelming. So, although Hendricks is the front-runner to grab the spot on St-Pierre’s recently vacated throne, there’s a whole mess of contenders chomping at the bit for a shot at welterweight.

Outside of Hendricks and Robbie Lawler, who will be fighting for the vacant belt on March 15, there are two other major fights featuring ranked welterweights on the UFC 171 main card, including top-ranked guys in Condit and Jake Shields. Rory MacDonald, who has been on the cusp of a title shot for a while now, just picked up a momentum-building win over Demian Maia. Nick Diaz is always a threat to decide to throw his hat back into the cage and go after a UFC belt. Matt Brown can pick up his seventh—seventh—straight win if he takes out Erick Silva in Brown’s hometown of Cincinnati in May. There’s so much talent at welterweight right now, that missing a single fight card likely means you’re missing a fight between two top-level fighters from the division.

That’s a problem for Dong Hyun Kim, who has been quietly trying to squash his reputation as a boring fighter over the course of his last few bouts. “Stun Gun” made a hell of a statement last weekend when he destroyed John Hathaway with a spinning elbow that’s sure to land him on the short list for “Knockout of the Year” when 2014 comes to a close. It was the type of performance off which a career can be built, but since it aired at roughly 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning for fight fans in the United States, the majority of the pay-per-view-buying public missed it.

In his prior fight, Kim shocked the highly hyped Erick Silva with a stiff punch that knocked the young Brazilian clean out at UFC Fight Night 29. Unfortunately, that fight was on a Wednesday night on Fox Sports 1, which isn’t exactly Fight Pass in China, but it’s not a pay-per-view bout either. Kim is getting main event and co-main event slots, but he’s getting them on cards that don’t exactly draw in a ton of eyeballs.

It would be easy to place the blame on the UFC for putting Kim in tough spots to get noticed, but the majority of that blame really has to be placed on “Stun Gun,” at least for now. His last few performances have been great, but Kim’s been competing in the Octagon for over five years now and hasn’t done anything to really stick out, despite racking up a 10-2-1 record. His grinding wins against solid competition, including Matt Brown and Nate Diaz, early in his career didn’t get him noticed, and when he was finally given an opportunity against a top-five welterweight in Condit, “Stun Gun” didn’t last three minutes. After a muscle spasm forced Kim to tap after Maia landed an early takedown attempt in their UFC 148 bout, it looked like Kim’s shot at getting anywhere near UFC gold was all but gone.

Now, a little under two years and just four fights later, Kim’s star is shining twice as bright as it ever has before in the UFC. The entire welterweight top 15 thinks they’re a win away from a shot at the title, and with so many contenders, it’s easy to just start comparing resumes. “Stun Gun’s” current stretch stacks up well against pretty much anyone else in the division. Outside of Brown, no one has won more fights in a row at 170 pounds than Kim, and no one has finished their past few opponents as dramatically as “Stun Gun” took out Hathaway and Silva. In the post-GSP world, the guys who can make huge statements are going to be the ones rewarded with major fights. In the past, Kim would have been stuck on the outside looking in for as long as possible, but these last two victories may be enough to at least allow Kim to get his foot in the door.

Prior to his last bout, Kim said he realized that his old style was winning him fights, but it wasn’t getting him as many opportunities against top-caliber competition. He dedicated his next few fights towards being exciting in order to fix that, and it’s taken him from mid-level welterweight gatekeeper to a spot in the top 10 and brought him to the cusp of a title eliminator in the last few months. It’s the type of transformation that UFC President Dana White would love to see all of his fighters undergo, and after seeing the results thus far, it would be easy to argue that Kim should have attempted to flip that aggression switch sooner.

It’s still a bit early to say that Kim’s new ultra-aggressive style is more effective than his usual grinding tactics, but it’s clear that the change in style has at least caused the MMA world to start paying attention. The next few months are loaded with welterweight match-ups, and as fighters sitting above him in the rankings slowly start to knock each other off, don’t be surprised to see “Stun Gun” gradually start to climb the welterweight ladder. Although there’s no chance that Kim is going to get the next shot at the welterweight belt with guys like Condit and MacDonald still in the equation, odds are that Kim is going to end up in a big fight with some major title implications very soon.

Whether Kim ends up in a UFC title fight or not, his rise back into the top 10 and his willingness to leave his comfort zone in order to put on a show have given us a reason to take notice. Now, it’s up to him to get us to keep watching.

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.