Most fighters can't return from over three years on the sidelines and land in a main event for their first bout back.
Chan Sung Jung, aka “The Korean Zombie,” is not most fighters. And that’s precisely why he is headlining Saturday’s card at Houston’s Toyota Center with Dennis Bermudez. In short, on fight night, Jung fights as if he will never fight again, and that’s a simple appeal not lost on the people who have been waiting to see him back in the Octagon.
“It feels good,” Jung said through translator/manager Brian Rhee. “I'm glad that the fans haven't forgotten about me, especially after all of the drama that has happened in the UFC in my time away.”
“Drama” may be an understatement when it comes to the featherweight division. In Jung’s most recent bout, he was stopped in four rounds while challenging Jose Aldo for the UFC 145-pound crown. That was on August 3, 2013.
Since then, while Jung went off to serve his two years of mandatory military service in South Korea, it’s been bedlam at featherweight, with Conor McGregor emerging to become the sport’s biggest star, winning the title from Aldo, then vacating it after winning the lightweight strap. Today, Aldo is back at the top of the division, but interim champion Max Holloway is chasing him, and the division is as wide open as it’s ever been. In other words, what a time to be a featherweight.
“I did follow what was going on,” Jung said. “Obviously, there was a bit of chaos for a while, but it looks like things have settled down a bit. Featherweight is one of the toughest divisions in the UFC. I'm happy to be back.”
And everyone is happy to see Jung back. Still just 29 years old, he is coming back as a young man and, for a change, a healthy and rested one. That wasn’t always the case, because with the high-impact and fast-paced style the Seoul product delivered, injuries and wear and tear were part of the deal. His military service gave him a break from that, but Jung still trained regularly.
“Because of all of the injuries and surgeries I had due to MMA, I was placed in a government office job and was able to commute from home,” he said. “So, when I was done with work, I had time to go to the gym and train. I didn't go at it as intensely as if I was preparing for a fight, but I was able to stay in decent shape, really sharpen and develop my skills and to rehab some old nagging injuries.”
Jung completed his service last October, then “took some time to rest and travel a bit” before resuming his usual fight training schedule. All that’s left is the fight, and he’s in a tough one against the No. 9-ranked Bermudez.
“Obviously, he's a tough guy,” Jung said. “He's not an easy matchup for anyone. He's explosive, powerful and his wrestling is very good, so that's definitely one thing that I have to watch out for. However, I feel that I'm a better all-around MMA fighter. He might be able to beat in me in straight up wrestling, but I've got the edge in MMA.”
And if he can win in his first fight back against a Top-10 foe, Jung will have an interesting rest of 2017 to look forward to, even though he’s focusing on the present and not the future.
“In the UFC, it's stupid and disrespectful to look past anyone, no less a Top 10 guy in our division,” Jung said. “These days, there are no ‘gimme’ matches in the UFC. That said, I do feel like a win over Bermudez would put me back in the mix. If I come out with a win, I'd like to get a fight against someone ranked a little higher, then hopefully get another shot at the title.”
Who said Zombies never return? Not Chan Sung Jung, who promises the same action that produced four post-fight bonuses in four UFC bouts.
“You can expect me to fight like the Korean Zombie,” he said. “I always try my best, win or lose. I will always bring it for myself and for the fans. Expect an exciting win.”