Could Hong Man Choi be the next MMA “freakshow” to hit the big time?

Hong Man Choi & Brock Lesnar
Hong Man Choi & Brock Lesnar

Not so long ago many thought that Brock Lesnar was just another MMA sideshow who was brought in to boost pay per view buys and ticket sales.  Now, he has become rather respectable due to his victory over MMA legend Randy Couture.  Those who compared the former NCAA champion to Kimbo Slice have been forced to eat at least a little taste of crow.

Back in the summer of 2007, Lesnar was set to make his debut against another freakish athlete , Choi Hong-man.  Of course, the California State Athletic Commission did not let him fight due to a tumor in his pituitary gland, and Lesnar was forced to debut against replacement fighter Kim Min-soo.  At 7 ft 2 in and weighing over 330 lb, it is safe to say that Hong-man would have provided a much stiffer test.

Before ever stepping into a ring Choi Hong-man was a champion ssireum wrestler.  Ssireum is a traditional Korean sport that takes place in a ring of sand.  In competition, both wrestlers face each other on their knees and grab their opponent’s belt.  They then rise and begin wrestling.  A wrestler wins by forcing any part of his opponent’s body above the waist touch the ground. Here is a video of Choi Hong-man competing in ssireum.

In 2005 he began fighting in K-1 rules matches.  To the surprise of many, Hong-man appeared to have a great deal of potential, and actually made it to the K-1 World GP final before losing to veteran Remy Bonjasky in only his seventh fight.  Hong-man currently holds a 12-5 record in K-1 with losses coming against K-1 stars like Bonjasky, Le Banner, and Hari.

Already a star in K-1 rules fighting, the match up with Lesnar was set to be only Hong-man’s second fight.  In his MMA debut he easily dispatched former TV personality Bobby Ologun in only 16 seconds.  After being forced out by the CSAC, Hong-man did not take another dip in the MMA pond until last New Year’s Eve when he faced heavyweight kingpin Fedor Emelianenko.  Two takedowns and some erratic ground and pound visibly damaged the former Pride champion’s face, but he was still able to finish the fight by arm bar less than two minutes into the fight.

After the fight Choi Hong-man was called for service in the Korean army.  It was initially intended to be a 26 month tour of duty, but he was removed from duty after less than a month due to a sightedness of his left eye.  The problem was caused by a brain tumor, that has since been removed.  Since returning to active competition Hong-man has lost back to back K-1 rules fights against Badr Hari and Ray Sefo.

Now he takes another shot at MMA with a match up against Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic.  If Hong-man can win this fight he may make some noise on the Japanese heavyweight scene.  Filipovic may be on the downside of his career, but he is still a rather tough third fight for anyone.  Much like Lesnar, Choi may been seen as a freakshow, but a few wins can easily change everyone’s perception.  FEG’s MMA promotion, DREAM, needs heavyweight stars that will help create meaningful match ups, and with a win here, Choi Hong-man might be a piece of the puzzle.

-Richard Mann

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