Canadian featherweight Kyle (The Monster) Nelson is looking forward to welcoming (The Korean Superboy) Doo-ho Choi back to the cage at Saturday's UFC Fight Night card in Las Vegas.
Some might think that falls into the 'Be careful what you wish for" category given Choi has won performance bonuses in his last five UFC outings, including fight of the night recognition for the last three. And his December 2016 brawl in Toronto with American Cub Swanson, which the South Korean lost by decision, was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame’s ‘Fight Wing’ as a part of the class of 2022.
UFC president Dana White called the UFC 206 bout, which featured a combined 188 significant strikes, "one of the greatest fights of all time."
Choi (14-4-0) has not fought since December 2019 — a second-round TKO loss at the hands of Canadian Charles (Air) Jourdain — due to injuries and his mandatory military service in Korea. And despite the accolades, Choi has lost his last three outings with the two previous defeats at the hands of elite opposition in Jeremy (Lil Heathen) Stephens and Swanson who have 92 fights — and 57 wins — between them.
Still Nelson (13-4-0) believes he matches up well against Choi. And a win over such a high-profile opponent would be welcome giving the Canadian has lost his last two fights and four of his five UFC bouts.
"I think a lot of people are going to be tuning in looking forward for his return. And I think they're going to see a big upset," said Nelson.
It could be an all-action bout. Choi lives by the sword and dies by the sword.
"I'm expecting the same tenacity that he's had in all of his previous fights," Nelson said. "He's going to be moving forward, he's going to be throwing a lot of hard punches. And that's what I'm going to be ready for. I'm going to be ready to return fire.
"And I believe I'm going to be the bigger, stronger, more powerful guy in there. He's just going to walk into some punches and it's going to be a short night for him."
Initially the Choi fight was scheduled to take place in Korea but was eventually shifted to Vegas
The main event at the UFC's Apex production facility features American Derrick (The Black Beast) Lewis, ranked seventh among heavyweight contenders, and No. 12 Serghei (The Polar Bear) Spivac of Moldova.
The 31-year-old Nelson calls Huntsville, Ont., home but spends Monday to Thursday in his House of Champions training base in Stoney Creek some 275 kilometres away.
Choi turned heads by winning his first three UFC fights, stopping Mexico's Juan Manuel Puig, American Sam Sicilia and Brazil's Thiago Tavares in the first round. Choi needed four minutes 33 seconds to dispatch all three, with Puig lasting just 18 seconds during which time Choi landed 10 of 15 attempted significant strikes.
Nelson does not believe ring rust will be an issue with Choi, given the Korean's compete level.
"Who knows? If the fight does go later in the rounds, we may see that kind of catch up with him but I don't imagine we're going to be in there for the three rounds."
Nelson lost to Jai (The Black Country Banger) Herbert last time out in July in London. While Nelson started well, hurting Herbert with low kicks and elbows in the clinch, all three judges awarded the English fighter the last two rounds for a unanimous 29-28 decision.
Nelson, who was giving up six inches in reach, suffered from a failed takedown attempt in the third round that saw him end up on the bottom.
Nelson scored more significant strikes, 41 to 36 according to UFC Stats, but Herbert had more control time — five minutes 57 second compared to 3:07 for the Canadian.
"I got too comfortable in the Herbert fight … Just a bad game plan on my part," lamented Nelson.
Still he left a mark. Herbert limped out of the ring, feeling the effects of Nelson's leg kicks.
"He was a lot faster than I thought," Herbert said. "His left kick was faster. His gas tank was better than I thought as well. Fair play to Kyle. Hopefully he comes back from this and gets a good fight as well."
The fight saw Nelson move up to lightweight (155 pounds) from featherweight (145 pounds), followed a 22-month absence that saw Nelson work for a friend's painting business to help pay the bills. His UFC debut, a loss to Brazil's Diego Ferrera at UFC 231 in December 2018 in Toronto, was also contested at 155 with Nelson taking it on three days' notice.
Nelson's other UFC fights were at featherweight, which is a challenging weight cut for the five-foot-11 fighter who normally walks around at 180-plus pounds.
"I had planned to move up to (155) permanently and then the UFC contacted me with this fight," he said. "And I just got so excited about the opponent and this fight that I was willing to make the cut back down to 145 again."
Nelson says the advance notice on the Choi fight and nutritional help from his fiancée Claudia, who will be in his corner Saturday, have eased the weight cut this time.
Nelson's lone win in the UFC was an impressive first-round knockout of Mexican Marco Polo Reyes in September 2019 in Mexico City. The Canadian had previously lost by submission to American Matt (Robo) Sayles and by TKO to Ferreira.
Nelson, co-owner of Muskoka Martial Arts Academy in Gravenhurst, Ont. is 1-4-0 in the UFC, with the other loss to Billy Quarantillo in September 2020.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press