When you consider the millions living in South Korea, perhaps two people isn’t a significant sample to make a scientific deduction, but if Dongi Yang and his Korean Top Team squadmate Chan Sung Jung are representative of the first wave of Korean fighters, then the future looks bright for MMA fans who not only want to see solid technique, but also want to be entertained.
Take Jung, “The Korean Zombie,” for example. The berserker style he showed off in his instant WEC classic with Leonard Garcia in 2010 was surpassed only in this year’s rematch, when he pulled off the first “Twister” submission in UFC history. And he did it all with an ever present smile and an accessibility that has crossed all language barriers.
Middleweight Yang has done the same thing, albeit to a lesser extent, in his two fights in the UFC, first a razor-thin decision defeat to Chris Camozzi at UFC 121, and then with a punishing second round TKO of Rob Kimmons in March. And when it comes to personality, just ask “The Ox” what changes he made to reverse his fortunes between the two fights, and his first response (through manager / translator Brian Rhee) is “I changed my hairstyle a little bit,” before adding, “Also, I was more motivated to win, since I didn't want to get cut from the UFC.”
It’s that kind of candor that makes good, entertaining fighters into stars, and while Yang knows the language barrier can be an issue in terms of getting his personality and humor across to the American public, he’s not going to stop trying.
“My English is really limited, so it's tough,” he said. “I'm working on my English, so it's getting better...slowly. Having an interpreter helps.”
And putting on exciting fights on national television here in the States does wonders as well, and he’ll get his biggest opportunity to date this Saturday in New Orleans when he faces TUF 11 winner Court McGee in a main card bout on Spike TV.
“It would definitely give my career a boost to get a win against McGee,” said Yang, 10-1. “His name has allowed our fight to get on the main card for the "Battle on the Bayou" and that's a big step for me as well. It's a big deal over in Korea right now, as well.”
In recent years, South Korean fighters have started showing up on the big shows, with Jung, Yang, and welterweight Dong Hyun Kim being the notable names. And while that’s a good thing for the fighters and for the fight scene back in Korea, it can also put amazing pressure on the shoulders of the handful of fighters charged with introducing their brand of MMA to the world and opening the doors for those who come after them. Yang isn’t bothered by such a responsibility though; he embraces it.
“I don't really feel pressure from anything,” he said. “I have a lot of younger fighters who contact me through social networking sites online and I try to give them advice when I can, and it's an honor for me to represent Korean MMA.”
And in part through Yang and Jung’s success, the scene in his home country is getting bigger by the day.
“After my win against Rob Kimmons, Chan Sung Jung, the Korean Zombie, pulled off the "Twister" against Leonard Garcia in the same month, so it was a good month for Korean Top Team,” said Yang. “MMA has had an audience for a while now in Korea, mostly because of the Japanese promotions, but now Koreans are really into the UFC and the MMA scene is growing in leaps and bounds.”
Not that it’s easy for fighters like Yang to get things done here in the US, as travel and training expenses are an issue, not to mention good ol’ jetlag.
“The time difference is the biggest problem,” admits the 26-year old from Seoul. “Korea is 14 hours ahead of US Eastern time, so getting over the jetlag isn't easy. Also, financially, it's tough because it costs us a lot more than American fighters. We like to come to the US at least 10 days early and I usually bring a sparring partner. So, paying for hotels, airfare, and food, it all adds up. Thankfully, our manager has friends and family in a lot of cities around the US, so sometimes we stay with them.”
This time around, Yang and his team settled in at the Nashville Mixed Martial Arts Academy in Tennessee to finish up preparations for the similarly hard-charging McGee.
“He's a tough, physical fighter, so we're preparing for a difficult fight,” said Yang of his opponent. “His stamina is one of the main things that would be a concern to any opponent. I did see some of the episodes of TUF when he was on, but I didn't specifically follow his career.”
Well, if things go well on Saturday night, plenty of fans and fighters will be following the career of Dongi Yang, and that’s what he’s counting on.
“I'd like the US fans to see what the Korean Zombie has already shown them, that Korean Top Team fighters are tough and put on exciting fights,” said Yang. “Generally speaking, on our team we don't fight for decisions, we're always looking to finish and that's just what I'm hoping to do against McGee.”
Dongi Yang - "The Ox" Fights to Finish
By Thomas Gerbasi September 15, 2011