"If I became UFC champion, I think UFC will become very popular in South
Korea. We need a big star in mixed martial arts. I hope to
be that star." - Chan Sung Jung
Chan Sung Jung’s focus has always been a singular one. When he fights, it’s to win, using anything he has at his disposal to do so. With each win, it’s to get closer to the ultimate victory, one that will secure a world championship belt. This Saturday in the main event of UFC 163 in Rio de Janeiro, everything “The Korean Zombie” fought for over the years comes down to 25 minutes or less with UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
And as far as he’s concerned, this isn’t just a fight; it’s destiny.
“He’s been wanting this fight for years now,” said manager Brian Rhee. “When he first came into the WEC, he told me, ‘I’m going to beat Jose Aldo.’”
Rhee admits that while admiring his fighter’s pluck, he wasn’t so sure that was the wisest course of action, especially after Jung went life and death with Leonard Garcia and got knocked out by George Roop in his two WEC fights. But as time went on, Rhee became a believer. Belief is something Jung always had inside of him, even when the only child from Po-Hang, South Korea was the target of his classmates.
“When I was young, I must have looked like a lost country boy, so some of the kids bullied me around,” he said. “But I had a strong sense of pride, so I fought back.”
He often lost those scraps, just like he lost to Garcia in a 2010 bout commentator Joe Rogan called the “Fight of the Decade.” It was that good, and even after the verdict was announced, no one considered Jung the loser. In fact, it made him a star in the States.
“When I was fighting Garcia, I couldn’t hear anything because of the roar of the crowd,” he recalled. “I just heard the roaring sound. That’s when I thought, it’s very cool that I’m here. And even though I lost, I think the Korean Zombie was born. I exist because of that fight.”
In a lot of ways he’s right, because in that 15 minutes, he showed heart, determination, and all the other intangibles you hope your favorite prizefighter has deep inside. But as Clint Eastwood’s character in the film Million Dollar Baby said to his fighter, “tough ain’t enough.”
Jung found that out when he was knocked out by Roop, falling to 0-2 in the WEC and leaving a less than bright future for him as he prepared to enter the UFC in 2011. But then a funny thing happened, as the face-first wide swinging brawler began showing other aspects of his game, displaying technique and, dare I say it, finesse.
“Even though it was part of MMA, in the past I thought it wasn’t manly to use grappling,” he said, echoing the standup brawler’s mentality that if it’s a fight, it has to take place on the feet. “I had the wrong idea and I came to realize that I should use all aspects of fighting.”
With this new philosophy, the Zombie would rise.
His first Octagon bout was a rematch with Garcia in March of 2011, and he was aware that a third straight loss could end his UFC career before it really even began.
“The second fight with Garcia, I was at a dead end, at the edge of a cliff,” said Jung. “I thought that everything would come to an end if I lost this time.”
But he didn’t, turning the tables on the Texan by taking him down and submitting him with the first Twister in UFC history. A seven second knockout of Mark Hominick followed at UFC 140 in December of 2011, but his crowning achievement to date was the 2012 win over Dustin Poirier that wasn’t just one of the best fights of the year, but the one that showed Jung to be much more than a brawler against one of the top featherweights in the world.
Which brings him to Saturday night and the opportunity to make history as the first fighter from Asia to win a UFC title. Originally scheduled to face Ricardo Lamas at UFC 162 last month, Jung was instead tabbed to replace the injured Anthony Pettis against Aldo, a move that surprised the 26-year-old.
“At first, I was really in disbelief about it, and so until Dana White actually announced that I was going to be in the fight, I actually didn't really even believe it but it was true,” said Jung, admitting that he though Lamas would get the nod for the fight.
“To be honest with you, I thought that Lamas would have been the first choice as well. But I'm happy to have been chosen. I think maybe what made the difference was the stylistic differences and I think that this fight is guaranteed to be an exciting fight. And that's probably one of the big reasons why they chose me to go over Lamas.”
This is almost a can’t miss when it comes to excitement, but what many fans and pundits assume is that it will be exciting because Aldo will deliver one of his trademark fantastic finishes. Jung is not showing up to Rio after a 30-plus hour plane trip from his adopted home of Seoul to be part of the Brazilian’s highlight reel though.
“I don’t know if any of Aldo’s former opponents had similar feelings, but I would give my life to be the champion,” he said. “This is my dream and I’m ready to put everything on the line. Many people think that Aldo is superior to me, but I don’t think so.”
That’s not Jung talking big for the press or to build himself up. He means every word. And while he respects Aldo, he’s not going to run from him. For over three years he’s chased this moment, so why turn back now when it’s right on his doorstep. Remember, this isn’t just a fight for Chan Sung Jung. This is for his life, this is for history, and this is for his country. Oh no, this is no ordinary fight.
“If I became UFC champion, I think UFC will become very popular in South Korea,” he said. “We need a big star in mixed martial arts. I hope to be that star.”
He already is.