ROAD to UFC: Fighters to Watch in 2023 1

The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s ‘Road to UFC’ is a massive platform for Asian mixed martial arts talent to make their way into the world’s leading promotion.

In season one, Japan’s Rinya Nakamura, India’s Anshul Jubli, and Koreans Jeong Yeong Lee and Hyun Sung Park all earned contracts and proved themselves real prospects. Episodes 3 and 4 of Season 2 aired from the UFC Performance Institute in Shanghai, China, earlier this week.

While the fighters still need to get through the semi-finals and finals, a few standouts have already presented themselves as names to keep an eye on moving forward, and two, in particular, stand out.

Shuya Kamikubo

ROAD to UFC: Fighters to Watch in 2023 2
SHANGHAI, CHINA – MAY 28: (L-R) Shuya Kamikubo of Japan punches Baergeng Jieleyisi of China in a bantamweight fight during the Road to UFC event at the UFC Performance Institute on May 28, 2023 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Zhang Lintao/Zuffa LLC)

Shuya Kamikubo is a former University Judoka from Yokohama, Japan, who once dreamed of Olympic gold before transitioning to MMA. Citing Shinya Aoki, another former Judoka who turned MMA champion as his original motivation, Kamikubo has already earned himself a wealth of mixed martial arts experience.

He started his career in the amateur circuit, winning the DEEP Future King tournament in 2014. Three fights into his pro career, Kamikubo was fighting for Pancrase, going 3-0 in the promotion. Two years after his final Pancrase experience, he was signed to ONE Championship, where he scored an impressive 5-0 against Sunoto Peringkat, Muhammad Aiman, Dae Hwan Kim, Bruno Pucci, Mitchell Chamale, and Troy Worthen.

Although Kamikubo has improvements to make in his striking skills, his takedowns, ground and pound and submission skills make him a terrifying prospect for any opponent as he makes his way to the UFC.

As Laura Sanko puts it, his ability to stick onto his opponent like ‘Velcro’ is daunting. Counting his win over Baergeng Jieleyisi in the opening round of ROAD to UFC, Kamikubo is currently 13-1-1 in his pro career with 6 finishes. He fights Xiao Long in the semi-finals.

Rong Zhu

ROAD to UFC: Fighters to Watch in 2023 3
SHANGHAI, CHINA – MAY 28: Rongzhu of China reacts after his TKO victory over SeongChan Hong of South Korea in a lightweight fight during the Road to UFC event at the UFC Performance Institute on May 28, 2023 in Shanghai, China. (Photo by Zhang Lintao/Zuffa LLC)

China’s Rong Zhu has actually fought in the UFC three times already. He was first signed at 21 years old, and although he did earn himself a TKO win over Brandon Jenkins at UFC Fight Night 192 it would seem the move to the big league was just a little too much a little too soon, going 1-2 in the promotion. Taking a fight against Felipe Maia at UAE Warriors 34 in October 2022, Rong Zhu got himself back on track with a second-round TKO, impressive enough to once again get the attention of the UFC.

In his first fight at ROAD to UFC, Rong Zhu took on Hong Seong Chan showcasing his incredible low kicks and sharp boxing to knock out his rival in 2 minutes and 17 seconds. At just 23 years of age, the Chinese fighter is 23-5 in his pro career with 15 knockouts and 5 submissions, with loads of potential if he can work his way up with the right matchups as he learns and grows.

Rong Zhu next matches up with Sanwook Kim in the semi-finals. Kim defeated Kazuma Maruyama by Brabo choke in the quarterfinals and currently holds a pro record of 9-2.

The semifinals and finals are expected to take place later this year. Stay tuned to The Body Lock for more news and feature pieces regarding Road to UFC: Season 2.

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