‘Korean Superboy’ Enters the Octagon

Pictured above: Dooho Choi (center) stands with his coach Lee Chang-seob, left, and training partner Jinmin Kim, right.

by STEVE HAN | @steve_han

What can you do in 18 seconds? Tie your shoelaces? Sing “Happy Birthday”? Send off a text message? Perhaps, the more important question is what can South Korean UFC fighter Dooho Choi do in 18 seconds? The answer: Deliver a brutal right jab to his opponent Jose Puig’s chin that knocks the latter off his feet and then finish the fighter off with an unyielding barrage of punches.

Just 23, though having the boyish face of a 13-year-old, Choi made his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut last November in Austin, Texas, quite literally with a bang—or more accurately, with an 18-second TKO. It was the fight mixed martial arts fans couldn’t stop talking about for weeks.

“Dooho Choi, welcome to the UFC!” exclaimed Robin Black, the rock-star-turned-MMA-commentator, on his Fight Network show after the bout. “Welcome to Earth!”

During those brief seconds, Choi threw 14 punches and successfully connected 10. The featherweight fight ended so quickly, without Choi taking a single hit from Puig, that the Korean Superboy, as he’s dubbed in the MMA world, admitted to being a little stunned himself.

“I never imagined that I’d win my first UFC fight that quickly,” Choi said in Korean, during a phone interview with KoreAm in late December. “I feel like I got really lucky. When it was over, I wasn’t sure if it was real or if I was just dreaming. Everything just came too easy.”

But make no mistake. As quick as it was, Choi enjoyed every second.

“I try really hard to be mentally prepared, and more than anything, I go into fights and try to enjoy the moment,” he said. “As soon as I make up my mind and decide that I’m going to have fun in the fight, all my fears completely disappear.”

That kind of mental fortitude has served Choi well over the years, especially during his early fighting days when he was tasting more losses than victories. In 2008, Choi, then an amateur kickboxer, was on quite a losing streak, suffering three straight losses via knockout. After losing the third fight, Choi went to Lee Chang-seob, his trainer then and still today, sobbed and said, “I have no talent.”

It was a moment of weakness. But Choi rebounded; he knew he couldn’t give up on his childhood dream to become a professional fighter.

“I was a small kid growing up, and always got picked on around the neighborhood by the big guys,” recalled Choi, who today stands 5-foot-9, 145 pounds, and looks more like a Korean boy-band singer than an MMA fighter. “But every time I was picked on, I didn’t want to back out because I wanted to show that small kids can fight, too. I still have that attitude to this day.”

Born in the suburban town of Gumi, South Korea, Choi grew up watching fights in the now-defunct PRIDE, Japan’s version of UFC, idolizing mixed martial artists Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Takanori Gomi. He never played sports during his youth, but when he learned that a jiu-jitsu academy had opened up in Gumi in 2008, he immediately joined and began training with the goal of becoming a mixed martial artist one day. Choi, who admitted to being a heavy smoker at the time, quit the day he joined the academy.

In his late teens, Choi created a training regimen that included a 90-minute morning workout, followed by afternoon sparring for two-and-a-half hours, and nightly conditioning and weight training. Even with such a rigorous training schedule, Lee simultaneously attended Gumi Kyungun University, where he recently earned a degree in security management.

“I’d go to the academy and train there until it closed at night,” Choi recalled.

Despite his trail of discouraging defeats in 2008, Choi upped his game and, by the following year, became a professional fighter in Japan-based mixed martial arts competition DEEP. (By that time, South Korea’s UFC equivalent, Spirit MC, had disbanded.) Since turning professional, Choi has won all but one of his 13 fights, including the landmark victory in his UFC debut last November. Nine of his 12 wins have ended in a knockout.

“How can you not want to work with a fighter named the Korean Superboy?” said Jeffrey Lee, the operations manager of Suckerpunch Entertainment’s Southeast Asia division, which represents Choi and brought him from DEEP to the UFC.

“Dooho was the hottest MMA fighter in Korea that was not [yet] signed by the UFC. With the right management, we believed that his talent can make him the next UFC Champion.”

The fighter was actually supposed to make his first UFC appearance last May against Sam Sicilia, but had to pull out after tearing a ligament in his ankle during training.

“It was really heartbreaking,” Choi recalled. “But rehabbing an injury is another form of fighting. I figured coming out of that setback would make me even stronger. And it did.”

Choi’s craftsmanship and frighteningly efficient skills in the Octagon have made him one of the most talked-about South Korean fighters in the UFC since Chan-sung Jung, also known as the Korean Zombie, who was removed from the official rankings after he began his two-year compulsory military service in Korea.

Choi is a longtime friend of Jung, who was last seen in the Octagon in his lightweight title fight against Jose Aldo in August 2013. The Korean Zombie lost that fight after dislocating his shoulder and has since suffered other injuries that kept him from making his comeback last year.

Choi says he hopes to fight Aldo in the future, not only to avenge his friend’s loss, but also to realize his childhood dream of becoming a UFC world champion.

“I know it’s premature for me to say that my goal is to beat Aldo, but I’m confident,” said Choi. “I’m not sure when I’ll get my chance, but until I get it, I’ll continue to get prepared for that moment.”


Featured image courtesy of Dooho Choi

This article was published in the February/March 2015 issue of KoreAm. Subscribe today! To purchase a single issue copy of the February/March issue, click the “Buy Now” button below. (U.S. customers only. Expect delivery in 5-7 business days)


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