by Brandon Corley for MMAWeekly.com (Translation by Hannah Cha)
Korean fighters have a reputation as hard-nosed scrappers that just don’t quit. I had a unique opportunity to chat with two of Korea’s best MMA exports. One is 5’1″, 110 lbs., wears a dress, and made a name for herself by defeating a DEEP champion in her first match. Her name is Seo-hee Ham. The other is 6’1″, 183 lbs., and is barely known outside of Korea and Japan. His name is Dong-hyun Kim. They both do their training in Seoul, South Korea at a basement gym named Jung Shim Kwan. It’s about the size of an American living room, but is well-known for making champions in Korea.
Being the southern gentleman that I am, I will start with the little ball of left straights, Seo-hee Ham. In February of this year, at only nineteen years old, she stepped into the ring with the much more experienced DEEP champion Hisae Watanabe for her very first MMA match. Seo-hee said, “I wasn’t nervous. I don’t usually get nervous. It was my first fight in seven months so I was hungry for a fight.” It goes without saying a lot of fight fans were shocked when she won the unanimous decision by out-punching the Japanese striker. Not Seo-hee. She didn’t think she would lose because she “didn’t want to lose.” Simple. “I was a little shocked after the fight when I realized what I did.” Understated.
I met Seo-hee when she was a junior in high school. She was a kickboxer even before I met her. She never once trained ground technique until she took the fight with Watanabe. Her “family” at Jung Shim Kwan helped her out a lot with takedowns, jiu-jitsu, and sparring. No other girls in that gym, she had to roll with the boys. Korea is not developing women fighters. She feels “that is what makes it hard to be a female fighter here.”
With such a win, I was curious if she had to deal with the newfound fame that goes with the territory. Seo-hee says, “I have been fighting in Korea for a few years, so I get recognized here all the time. The Japanese girls like me more than the Japanese men do.”
Unfortunately, she dropped her next match to ground specialist MIKU Matsumoto, the fast-rising star that will be challenging Watanabe for her title in the future. Was she disappointed? “I lost but it was a good match. I was satisfied with that fight,” she said.
I asked her who she would like to fight next. She has only just begun her career in MMA and doesn’t really know. She continued, “However, I don’t care. I will just be myself and enjoy.”
Next up is the appropriately nicknamed “Die Hard” Dong-hyun Kim. This unorthodox southpaw is long and strong for his weight. He has an excellent Chute Boxe style takedown defense and a left hook that can end anyone’s night. His jiu-jitsu is slick and earned him the nickname “The Korean Noguiera” while he was fighting for Spirit MC. At only 25, he is sure to make a splash in the worldwide pool of MMA fighters.
To put his talent into perspective, let’s look at what he’s done in the ring and on the mat. He is 5-0 in DEEP, 2-0 in Spirit MC, 2-0 in KPW, and 4-0 in Gimme 5. He won the Jungook No-gi Jiu-jitsu Tournament and Mu-bae Choi’s Grappling Tournament at 187 lbs. That’s right. He has never dropped a match.
I started by asking him what his opponents in DEEP were like compared to those he fought in Korea. He said, “Basically, all of the DEEP fighters have strong basics. Even if they haven’t had any fights, they are good at jiu-jitsu. I saw this when I was training in Japan. I think the Korean fighters are getting better these days. Before, they were weak on the ground, but they have developed very quickly. Korean fighters are very tough and have a never-say-die attitude. The more support the fighters get, the better they are in the ring. There will be a Korean world champion.” I scratch my head as I wonder which Korean he is referring to.
Being an American that has never been to an event in Japan, I had to know which country he preferred to fight in. Dong-hyun likes to play the visitor’s role because he can fight without any pressure. He did have something to say about the quickly expanding scene in his home country though. “These days at Spirit MC events, the fans really get behind the fighters. When the fighters lose, the fans are sad. When they win, the fans are happy. I think that I would enjoy fighting for the fans again in Korea.”
Talk about bad luck. Dong-hyun finally got to sign with Pride, the day of the organization’s last event. He is not discouraged though. He feels it is his proudest moment because he wanted to be a Pride fighter since he was young. So what’s next? “I don’t care who I fight next. I trained with top level Japanese fighters and it gave me a lot of confidence. I think I can fight with anyone.” Would he be up to making the long flight to America? “I will fight in any country. I think everyone wants success, but we all have to pay our dues. I’ve been an MMA fighter for 5 years. This is an important time for me. If I could have my way, I would fight once a month.”
At the time of this interview, Dong-hyun was in the process of signing for a non-title fight with DEEP 167 lb. champion Hidehiko Hasegawa. He told me later that the deal is done and all he needs to do is fly to Japan and lay down some ink.
Finally, Dong-hyun wants MMA fans to know, “The reason why I get into the ring is to show you a good fight. I will show you how much I have improved in every match.”