tatsuya-kawajiri-sean-soriano-ufc-fight-night-34Welcome to 2014, MMAjunkie readers. Ready for another Saturday morning of sanctioned violence?

OK, so nobody but the hardest of the hardcores will be jumping out of their seats for UFC Fight Night 34. And even that statement might even be stretching it; though several of the event’s fighters carry weight from their previous promotional homes, only five of them actually have fought professionally in the UFC octagon.

After a busy 2013 and New Year’s Eve revelry, some of us are still rubbing our eyes and drinking a little more water than usual. When the UFC’s first event of the year rolls around on Saturday at the tender hour of 6:30 a.m. ET (3:30 a.m. PT for poor souls on the West Coast), sleep could be an awfully tempting alternative.

But these days, if you want to keep up with the UFC’s global expansion, you’re going to have to do a little extra work when it comes to watching live events and getting to know the faces inside the octagon.

Saturday’s event is another exploratory reach for the promotion as it attempts to establish a foothold in the Asian market, supplanting long-gone MMA promotions and now-established ones such as ONE FC. Nine of UFC Fight Night 34's fighters hail from the continent, including one from the event’s host city, Singapore, where the action goes down at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre.

There’s some promising talent debuting on Saturday. Whether it proves to be bankable remains to be seen.

The event also marks the debut of the UFC’s digital network, UFC Fight Pass. So far, reviews of the premium service are mixed, though UFC officials say they’re encouraged. Now, let’s cross our fingers that the stream holds when fans hit the site en masse.

1. Will it work?

If you were an early-adopter of UFC Fight Pass, you were reminded that UFC Fight Night 34 is the digital network’s first live offering. You were also alerted to its limitations, which, at this point, means you can access content on a PC, but not with a mobile device or tablet. (A recent attempt to watch fights on a well-powered, Android-based Samsung Note was met with more than a dozen crashes, for instance. Rumor has it that the service works on an iPad if you’ve signed up via your desktop.)

Whether the product was rushed to market to provide a domestic home for Saturday’s event – or, as some speculate, to one-up the pro-wrestling WWE’s online platform – is unknown. The overall consensus, however, is that there are plenty of kinks to work out before the network delivers on its promise to become the Netflix of MMA. And while one would hope the UFC has prepared to meet the online demand for Saturday’s show, it’s impossible whether to wonder whether lags lie ahead for the MMA faithful, given a rocky start to the whole thing.

2. Piggybacking off ONE FC’s groundwork

The UFC is not the first promotion to set its tent down in Singapore, of course. ONE FC, which recently celebrated its two-year anniversary, is based in the populous city-state and has held five events to reportedly growing crowds at Singapore Indoor Stadium, which is about a 10-minute drive from Saturday’s host site.

Can the UFC springboard off such advance work using a similar mix of Asian and American talent? The U.S.-based promotion is without compare in transporting its brand around the world, and not only that, but licensing its events to minimize costs doing business overseas. Does that translate to success in the short-term? Most likely. Less certain is the level of long-term demand, and if it’s as big as the UFC says it is.

The UFC’s Asian expansion is very young at the moment, and Saturday’s event is another small step.

3. The champ is here

Tarec Saffiedine (14-3 MMA, 0-0 UFC) leaped way up the welterweight ladder when he hobbled Nate Marquardt in Strikeforce’s swan song, and then pretty much disappeared when injuries hobbled him. After two proposed UFC bouts fell by the wayside, the Belgian fighter finally makes his octagon debut against the unheralded Hyun Gyu Lim (12-3-1 MMA, 2-0 UFC).

It’s been 12 months since Saffiedine fought, so whether he returns in the form he left is a question that will be answered in the early moments of the headliner. The welterweight division is a lot more crowded at the top than it was just recently, but an exciting striker always is a valued commodity.

4. No, seriously, you’re headlining

You can’t blame Lim for thinking the UFC was joking when it asked him to headline UFC Fight Night 34. With only two fights under his belt, he wasn’t delusional enough to think he was deserving of headlining a card.

But now that necessity has put him in that position, it could be his time to shine. What he lacks in star-power, he seems to make up in excitement, at least historically. Nine of his 12 wins are by KO or TKO, including his two octagon appearances. That portends an exciting main event.

Sure, the headliner would have a more relevant had Jake Ellenberger not gotten injured. But in lieu of that, a slugfest won’t be too terrible.

5. Here comes “The Crusher”

For many hardcore MMA fans, news of Tatsuya Kawajiri‘s addition to the UFC featherweight division came with a “Finally!”

Kawajiri (32-7-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC), nicknamed “The Crusher,” was a standout in Shooto, where he won the 154-pound title, and a standout in the now-defunct PRIDE, where his only losses came to former champ Takanori Gomi and former Strikeforce titleholder Gilbert Melendez. In fact, Kawajiri’s relatively sparse losses have come against champions or future champions.

The Japanese fighter dropped off the radar in 2013 after the end of DREAM, and at 35, it remains to be seen how much upside he has in the crowded featherweight division. But it feels fitting that he’s finally getting a shot in the octagon after so long outside it, and against fellow UFC newcomer Sean Soriano (8-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC), we’ll see how much he has left in the tank.

6. New blood

Fifteen out of the 20 fighters on Saturday’s card have never set foot inside the octagon. Hopefully, that means we’ll see some fresh new UFC talent making the most out of a bigger spotlight. Or, we could see what happens when the UFC needs to fill a card.

In all likelihood, we’ll see some of both.

7. Young prospect could become old news

It wasn’t so long ago that Max Holloway (7-3 MMA, 3-3 UFC) looked like one of the brighter prospects in the featherweight division. And the thing is, he still might be. Although bouts against Dennis Bermudez and Conor McGregor might have been too much, too soon for the 22-year-old fighter, he has a chance to get back to the form that won him three straight division.

Newcomer Will Chope (19-5 MMA, 0-0 UFC) is tall and lanky and should provide a good challenge. Now, Holloway just needs to keep his cool and keep his job.

8. Kick out the jams

Katsunori Kikuno (21-5-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) once was recruited by Chael Sonnen to imitate the unpredictable kicks of Anderson Silva, and in the ring, he’s brought a little bit of old school to his fights. After serving much of his career in DEEP, where he once was lightweight champ, the karate-infused vet tests his style against 155-pounder Quinn Mulhern (18-3 MMA, 0-1 UFC), whose well-rounded attack is a good foil.

9. The BW3 cook’s chance to shine

Admit it, you want to see what a Buffalo Wild Wings cook can do inside the octagon.

Jon Delos Reyes (7-2 MMA, 0-0 UFC) doesn’t keep secret his job as a pro fighter, and he got the call to fight in the UFC while he was on the clock for the sports bar. The Guam native and pupil of renowned trainer Johh Crouch gets his big shot in the octagon against bantamweight Dustin Kimura (10-1 MMA, 1-1 UFC), who got choked out by Mitch Gagnon in his previous bout and is looking for redemption.

Regardless of how he performs, Reyes is headed to flyweight after the bout.

10. Bantamweight contenders face off

Bantamweights Russell Doane (12-3 MMA, 0-0 UFC) and Leandro Issa (11-3 MMA, 0-0 UFC) came close to owning undisputed gold prior to signing UFC contracts, but their meeting will determine which of them is closer to championship caliber.

Doane defeated UFC vet Jared Papazian to win the Tachi Palace Fights interim title, while Issa was in the running for a title bout in ONE FC. Doane might look at little better on paper, but it’s bound to be a good scrap.

The full UFC Fight Night 34 card includes:

MAIN CARD (UFC Fight Pass, 9 a.m. ET)

  • Tarec Saffiedine vs. Hyun Gyu Lim
  • Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Sean Soriano
  • Luiz Dutra vs. Kiichi Kunimoto
  • Kyung Ho Kang vs. Shunichi Shimizu

PRELIMINARY CARD (UFC Fight Pass, 6:30 a.m. ET)

  • Will Chope vs. Max Holloway
  • Katsunori Kikuno vs. Quinn Mulhern
  • David Galera vs. Royston Wee
  • Tae Hyun Bang vs. Mairbek Taisumov
  • Dustin Kimura vs. Jon Delos Reyes
  • Russell Doane vs. Leandro Issa

For more on UFC Fight Night 34, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.

(Pictured: Tatsuya Kawajiri and Sean Soriano)

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