Canadian featherweight Kyle (The Monster) Nelson fought (The Korean Superboy) Doo-ho Choi to a controversial majority draw early Sunday on a UFC Fight Night card.
Choi, the fight favourite despite a 1,141-day layoff due to injuries and his mandatory Korean military service, would have won had he not been docked a point in the third round for a head butt.
UFC president Dana White said he “absolutely” thought the point deduction was wrong.
“I thought it was insane and it cost him the fight,” White said later. “I paid (Choi) his win (bonus) money. He won that fight .. Sometimes the refereeing or judging isn’t perfect.
“I felt like that kid got robbed on that ridiculous call,” he added.
Choi had a 50-20 edge in total significant strikes, including 23-3 in the decisive third round. Nelson landed five of 10 takedown attempts during the fight and had five minutes 34 seconds of total control time, compared to 3:58 for Choi.
The judges scored the bout 29-27, 28-28 and 28-28, resulting in the majority draw. All three awarded the third to Choi — with the point deduction meaning both fighters got nine points for the round. That tied the scorecard for the two judges who gave Nelson the second round.
Initially the Fight Night card was scheduled to take place in South Korea to showcase four finals from the “Road to UFC” tournament that took place last year in Asia.
While the card was eventually shifted to the UFC’s Apex production facility in Las Vegas, it still started late to accommodate Asian markets with Nelson and Choi walking out in the wee hours of the morning.
Moldova’s Serghei (The Polar Bear) Spivac, ranked 12th among heavyweight contenders, made short work of No. 7 Derrick (The Black Beast) Lewis in the main event. Spivac dragged the burly American down to the canvas six times before eventually finishing him off with an arm-triangle choke after three minutes five seconds of the first round.
Spivac earned a US$50,000 performance bonus.
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Derrick Lewis. I love the guy. And he got manhandled tonight,” said White. “Spivac looked really good. He made a big statement tonight.”
Choi scored with calf kicks in the first round, punishing Nelson’s lead leg. It was a strategy Nelson had used effectively himself last time out, in a decision loss to England’s Jai (The Black Country Banger) Herbert last time out in July in London.
Nelson took Choi down a minute into the fight but failed to take advantage and the Korean was able to reverse positions midway through the round,
Nelson backed Choi up with a right to the head early in the second round, but was cut high on the forehead later in a second round that saw Choi keep chopping away at Nelson’s leg.
“Two close rounds, we need this third one,” Nelson was told in his corner between rounds. “We have to go for it, OK. Everything you’ve got. Biggest fight of your life. We need to touch him. When you touch him, he crumbles.”
Nelson looked to take the fight to the ground in the third, landing four of eight takedown attempts. But Choi escaped damage, got back up or reversed position and landed more strikes including a string of more than 20 heavy punches and elbows to the body as Nelson tried for a takedown at the fence.
The fight turned with 93 seconds remaining and Choi on top of Nelson. Referee Chris Tognoni stopped the contest and asked to see a replay, which showed Choi’s head making contact with Nelson’s face, before docking a point from the Korean.
Choi has been a fan favourite for his all-action style of fighting since entering the UFC in 2014.
He had won performance bonuses in his last five UFC outings, including fight of the night recognition for the last three. And his December 2016 brawl in Toronto with American Cub Swanson, which the Korean lost by decision, was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame’s ‘Fight Wing’ as a part of the class of 2022.
White called the UFC 206 bout, which featured a combined 188 significant strikes, “one of the greatest fights of all time.”
Choi (14-4-1) had not fought since December 2019 — a second-round TKO loss at the hands of Canadian Charles (Air) Jourdain. And despite the accolades, the 31-year-old Korean had lost his last three outings with the two previous defeats at the hands of elite opposition in Jeremy (Lil Heathen) Stephens and Swanson who have 92 fights — and 57 wins — between them.
Nelson (13-4-1) is now 1-4-1 in the UFC.
The 31-year-old Nelson calls Huntsville, Ont., home but spends Monday to Thursday in his House of Champions training base in Stoney Creek some 275 kilometres away.
Choi turned heads by winning his first three UFC fights, stopping Mexico’s Juan Manuel Puig, American Sam Sicilia and Brazil’s Thiago Tavares in the first round. Choi needed four minutes 33 seconds to dispatch all three, with Puig lasting just 18 seconds during which time Choi landed 10 of 15 attempted significant strikes.
Sunday’s fight saw Nelson return to featherweight (145 pounds) after taking Herbert at lightweight (155 pounds). His UFC debut, a loss to Brazil’s Diego Ferrera at UFC 231 in December 2018 in Toronto, was also contested at 155 with Nelson taking it on three days’ notice.
Nelson’s other UFC fights were at featherweight, which is a challenging weight cut for the five-foot-11 fighter who normally walks around at 180-plus pounds.
Nelson says the advance notice on the Choi fight and nutritional help from his fiancée Claudia, who was in his corner Saturday, eased the weight cut this time.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2023.