‘Korean Superboy’ Choi Doo-ho has wild Irishman Conor McGregor in his sights
Asia’s great hope all set for UFC 206 but has his eyes on the future – and the featherweight champion in particular
The hype catches up with “Korean Superboy” Choi Doo-ho before he’s even made it to the table.
There have only been two other people inside this little coffee shop for the past 15 minutes as we wait for Choi to arrive but, when he does, one of them immediately intercepts the South Korean and asks if he can have a photo taken.
Attention goes with the territory when you’re Asia’s great hope in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
The 25-year-old Choi is riding a 3-0 winning streak in the UFC and the fact he fights at featherweight means that every conversation about him – or with him – must at some stage bring up the one-man promo reel that is Conor McGregor.
And nothing is surer to get tongues wagging than throwing a mention of the wild Irishman into the mix.
“It’s what everyone is talking about and what everyone wants to know about,” says Choi. “I want to be the UFC’s first Asian world champion and if that means I have to fight Conor McGregor, then that’s what I will have to do.
“I will be ready if that happens, as I always am. He’s a great fighter. Like me, he is a real student of mixed martial arts.
“But I am confident I can beat anyone. Look at the tapes and you’ll know that’s true,” he says.
Unbeaten in mixed martial arts bouts for more than six years (and now 14-1 overall), Choi has simply battered his way into the UFC consciousness, behind a right hand that most times seems more like hammer hitting anvil than glove on flesh.
Thiago Tavares was the latest fighter to feel its wrath, the veteran sent down and out only 2.41 minutes into their clash as part of The Ultimate Fighter finale in Las Vegas in July.
Word before had been slowly spreading about this South Korean, fighting out of Busan Team MAD in the southern port city and carrying a quiet air of complete faith in his own abilities.
It has spread like wildfire since Tavares hit the canvas.
“I think my success is more about my philosophy than just simply technique,” says Choi. “There are many great fighters around the world but you have to study this sport as hard as a doctor studies his career.
“That makes the difference. You can see than in Conor McGregor, too, just as you can in me. We are different personalities, but we have the same philosophy.
“I hit hard and people can’t handle it. Simple. My coach says I am simple to train – if I hit them with my right hand, I’ll knock them out.”
A few hours after we meet, the UFC formerly announces that Choi will next face 32-year-old Cub Swanson as part of UFC 206 in Toronto on December 10.
The fighter is keeping his part of the bargain during our time together and not yet revealing the news that’s soon to break, other than to say “huge things are happening in my career”.
“My record is rare,” he says. “Twelve straight wins in MMA is very hard to do. I always knew that one day I would get to the UFC.
“That’s where the best fighters are and I am the best at what I do. I still have the top five to get in to but I look at those fighters ahead and, you know, they are just human beings and human beings can be beaten. Except me.”
Beat Swanson and Choi will no doubt move his ranking into the top 10 in a division lorded over by McGregor, and he’ll move one step closer to a title shot the Korean says simply is his “destiny”.
“Since I started in MMA everything has been going to plan – exactly,” says Choi. “Each fight plan has worked.”
Choi was born to parents who never really knew what MMA was all about until they started to notice their young boy, there on the couch, attention fixed on to broadcasts of the Pride fights coming in from Japan.
“They were not really sure what it was all about,” says Choi. “But I saw them and I immediately wanted to be like them.
“My parents were a bit worried when I was an amateur but once I turned pro they started to come and see me. As you know, I don’t get hit a lot so now they don’t worry.”
As the sport continues to spread its reach throughout Asia, Choi says he is aware of the role he is developing as one of its leading lights – and says he is keen to give young fighters someone to look up to.
“There’s never been an Asian champion in the UFC – until me,” he says. “I think I need to prove that Asia fighters can be UFC champions.
“In America, becoming a champion is huge but the impact is not like it would be for an Asian champion.
“It would be huge but it is what I have been working for. There are not that many Asian fighters but having a champion would be an inspiration.
“I know this is what I have to achieve.”