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"The Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung trains at Fight Ready MMA in Scottsdale, Arizona, on March 11, 2022. (Photo by Zac Pacleb/Zuffa LLC)
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The Korean Zombie Is Primed To Make History

Nine Years After His First Title Shot, Chan Sung Jung Is Ready To Challenge For Gold Once Again At UFC 273

Although watching a Chan Sung Jung fight is nearly always a stunning experience, to watch his first title shot against José Aldo more than nine years ago is particularly astonishing. Then a 26-year-old known for his propensity to get into all-action wars, “The Korean Zombie” stood across from Aldo, who was in the middle of his legendary 10-year undefeated streak, looking to end the fight with every single shot. 

The fight wasn’t going his way even before a dislocated shoulder in the fourth round halted any momentum he had generated to that point, but when UFC.com visited Jung in Arizona as he prepared for his second title shot at UFC 273 and asked about his memories of that night, what stands out was the weight of the moment and opponent.

Order UFC 273: Volkanovski vs Korean Zombie | How To Watch In Your Country

“At that time, Jose Aldo was a scary fighter,” Jung told UFC.com. “That is the biggest feeling I had at that time. Maybe I was thinking nobody could beat Jose Aldo. So, when he was in front of me, I was feeling scared. That same situation wouldn’t happen this time.”

Training out of Fight Ready MMA in Scottsdale, Arizona, Jung’s evolution from all-action madman to more of a technical brawler has fueled his path back to a chance at gold and supplanting current champ Alexander Volkanovski. 

Run It Back With The Korean Zombie | UFC 273
Run It Back With The Korean Zombie | UFC 273
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This was particularly stark in his effort against Dan Ige. In what felt like a must-win fight for Jung in terms of maintaining his position at the top of the rankings, he turned in a gritty performance that included much more grappling than most are accustomed to seeing from him. The unanimous decision win was his first since 2008, as well as the first time he’d gone to the judges in consecutive fights since that same year. However, it was the kind of highly technical performance Eddie Cha, Jung’s full-time head coach since 2019, wanted from his fighter-turned-friend.

“Some people are kind of blaming me for making the new Zombie boring, but I look at longevity,” Cha said. “Our coaching staff talked about it. With the style that he had back then, there’s no way that he’d still be fighting now. They’re literally wars. We’re looking for Performance of the Night, not Fight of the Night for Zombie. We kind of mixed in some more of a distance game. Being more patient. Slowing the fight down, so to speak, with wrestling and so forth.”

That said, it hasn’t been a smooth or conventional path back to a title shot. Limited to six fights since then, including no fights from mid-2013 to early-2017 while he served his mandatory military service, momentum was hard to come by. Losses to Yair Rodriguez and Brian Ortega kept him from becoming the clear No. 1 contender, but the longtime fan favorite finally saw the chips fall his way when Max Holloway fell out of a trilogy fight with Volkanovski.

At 5 a.m. in South Korea, Jung woke to several phone calls from Cha in Arizona. While he was asleep, a title shot had been offered, and they needed to provide an answer. Naturally, he accepted, and it was time to get to work. Despite the replacement nature of the fight, Jung and his team have been able to prepare for the fight since January, and he doesn’t feel like he is just stepping in for Holloway. He believes he has earned this opportunity in full. 

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“There are some more unreasonable title fights if comparing with mine,” he said. “Compared with those title fights, I am feeling fine. If we count who should be the title challenger in the Top 5, I think I am just right after Holloway.” 

“There are some more unreasonable title fights if comparing with mine,” he said. “Compared with those title fights, I am feeling fine. If we count who should be the title challenger in the Top 5, I think I am just right after Holloway.” 

With a shot in tow, next came gameplanning. The team at Fight Ready MMA is particularly keen on watching film with their fighters and simulating their opponents as closely as possible as many times as possible throughout camp with what they call “play sparring.” Against Volkanovski, that’s especially important. 

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Heading into UFC 273, “The Great” is riding a 20-fight winning streak, including wins over Ortega, Aldo and Holloway (twice). His last loss, coincidentally, came about three months before Zombie’s loss to Aldo in 2013, and that fight was contested at welterweight. 

Needless to say, Cha understands he has his hands full preparing Jung for this fight, but all the accolades in the world could not shake his confidence in Jung.

Main Event Preview | UFC 273: Volkanovski vs Korean Zombie
Main Event Preview | UFC 273: Volkanovski vs Korean Zombie
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“(Volkanovski) kind of reminds me of Frankie Edgar at 155 back in the day,” Cha said. “At 145, his height, he’s not supposed to do what he’s been able to do, but on the flip side to it, Zombie matches up well against anybody shorter than him. I know their reach is fairly similar, but just height-wise, Zombie does really, really well against shorter opponents. We’re looking to get him out of there kind of quick. I hope we have a short night out there, and that’s it.”

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In fact, looking at Zombie’s record, all but one of his six professional losses have come to fighters as tall or taller than him, Aldo being the exception. As Cha noted, Volkanovski is unique in that his reach (71 inches) is far greater than his 5-foot-6 stature, and the Aussie has shown a deep repertoire of technical sharpness in every area of the fight.

Most betting services have Jung slated as a 5-to-1 betting underdog, which is probably more of a compliment to the champion than a diss to the challenger, but that’s not something Jung is too miffed about. He said he is “happy” to accept the position. All that matters to him is winning the belt, which would make him the first Asian man to hold the UFC belt, something that Cha feels notably excited about.

Fight Ready MMA Specializes In The Details | UFC News Gym Visit
Fight Ready MMA Specializes In The Details | UFC News Gym Visit
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“This would be making history,” he said. “This would be something special. Zombie is like a family member of mine. His family has stayed at my house for months, and we’ve got to know each other really well. This one is special. I’d give my arm to get that title for him. I’d do whatever it took.”

It’s been a long, arduous path to this position for Jung. In fact, when he steps into the Octagon in Jacksonville, he will set a new record, previously held by Dan Henderson, for most days between title shots at 3,171. 

Each step of the way, he has brought fireworks. April 9 represents his ninth consecutive main event. In his 12 fights under the Zuffa banner, he has tallied nine performance bonuses and has ingratiated himself with fight fans across the world as must-watch TV each time he steps into the cage. 

All that’s left is gold, and Jung believes he is a much smarter fighter than the one that swung recklessly until he couldn’t against Aldo in 2013. At UFC 273, he gets his chance to prove it once and for all.

“I think the previous experiences will help me a lot this time,” Jung said. “I think this is the experience. This is from the experience (against José Aldo). This time, I feel nothing different with any other bout."

UFC 273: Volkanovski vs The Korean Zombie took place on Saturday, April 9, 2022live from a sold out VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. See the Final ResultsOfficial Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!