Dana White: UFC 206’s Doo Ho Choi could become ‘a huge superstar’

TORONTO — “The Korean Conor McGregor.”

That’s how you’ll hear certain people describe Doo Ho Choi, a rapidly ascending featherweight prospect who fights Cub Swanson Saturday at UFC 206 in the Air Canada Centre.

Choi is 15-1 in mixed martial arts with 12 knockouts on his resume with his lone loss being a split decision six years ago. The South Korean has gone 3-0 since joining the UFC and finished his three opponents in a combined 4:33.

Simply put: he’s outstanding. And there’s no bigger fan of Choi than UFC president Dana White.

“I’m so high on this guy it’s unbelievable,” White told Sportsnet. “Three fights in the UFC. Very much like Conor McGregor and the way he throws that left hand, this kid throws his right hand. Three fights in the UFC, all three vicious knockouts. When he hits people they drop like they got hit by a sniper. It’s crazy.

“If he treats Cub Swanson the way he’s treated everybody else this kid’s on the way to becoming a huge superstar.”

White has never seen Choi fight in person before and didn’t officially meet his new favourite fighter until Thursday afternoon.

“I’ve been a fan from afar,” White said. “He’s a great kid. First of all, he’s one of the most unassuming guys you’ll ever meet. He is what makes mixed martial arts scary.”

White isn’t kidding. Choi is 25, but the baby-faced assassin could legitimately pass for a timid 13-year-old.

“He’s one of those guys that if he got in your way on the street you go, ‘Hey, move it kid before I slap your head off.’ You mess with Choi you’ll wake up three years later from your coma wondering what happened,” White said. “I love this kid. I love everything about him. We’ve got the makings of a superstar, not just in Korea, but everywhere.”

Choi’s competition in the UFC has gotten progressively more difficult with each fight. Following an 18-second knockout of Juan Puig in his promotional debut he put TUF veteran Sam Sicilia to sleep to earn a Performance of the Night bonus. In his most recent outing, he pierced Thiago Tavares’s guard, found his chin and shut out the lights for another bonus. He’s hoping to do the same thing to Swanson with the boss sitting cageside.

“I love the fact that Dana White is my fan,” Choi said through a translator. “I look forward to fighting in front of him and I’m going to try to impress him… I have developed many other weapons, but so far I’ve only been able to show my right hand straight but I can’t wait to show the rest of my weapons as well.”

When McGregor was 3-0 in the UFC he was undeniably a rising star but wasn’t a full-on superstar. A breakthrough performance in his fourth UFC fight against a proven veteran like Dustin Poirier took McGregor’s star status to a new level. Choi, who grew up admiring fellow Korean UFC stars Chan Sung Jung and Dong Hyun Kim, has a chance to do something similar against Swanson.

Choi doesn’t have the gift of gab like McGregor — no one in the sport does. He doesn’t even speak English, so endearing himself to a North American audience won’t be an easy task from a marketing perspective. Choi eats, sleeps and breathes fighting and he loves every aspect of MMA from the grueling training sessions to competing under the bright lights, but doesn’t necessarily have the personality that typically results in star power.

Fighting is a universal language, though, and if he keeps adding to his highlight reel that’s all fans will come to care about.

“All I need is the cage and the opponent and I’m happy,” Choi said.

Even his opponent, Swanson, admires Choi’s unassuming personality and appearance.

“I think it’s great that he looks really young,” Swanson said. “Not until recently have we changed things by the way we promote fighters. There was a time that they were looking for the less aggressive personality and I think it’s good for the sport to have the broad spectrum because if every fighter looked the exact same and [talked trash all the time] it’s boring.

“You can’t judge a book by its cover. It’s awesome.”

Swanson, whose only losses in the last five years have been to Frankie Edgar and UFC 206 headliner Max Holloway, knows that stylistically speaking his fight with Choi has the potential to be a classic.

“I honestly feel like whoever shows up better that night it’s going to be a tailor-made fight for them,” said Swanson, who wants to prove he’s more than merely a gatekeeper at 145 pounds. “I think he’s the guy [stylistically] that’s going to make me have my best fight ever and that excites me and that makes me happy. That’s what I’ve been chasing my whole career, my best fight ever.”

Choi added that if he can get by Swanson he plans on asking White for a shot at Jose Aldo. Based on how White feels about Choi that’ll be a request that might just get some serious consideration.

Article Written by Mike Johnston of Sportsnet