At last night's Aldo vs. Faber Pay-Per-View, featherweight Chan Sung Jung went from unknown to cult hero. His fight against Leonard Garcia aired on Spike and quickly evolved into an all-out, crowd-pleasing war a la Bonnar/Griffin at the first TUF finale. The bout was named Fight of the Night, with commentators suggesting "of the Year" or "of the Decade" might be better descriptors. So who is this relentless warrior with the killer nickname? Find out in this interview from last month.
It is hard to hide in a crowd when you call yourself The Korean Zombie. His nickname commands attention, but owning an outrageous moniker is not Chan Sung Jung’s most memorable quality. The brash 23-year-old offers a relentless fighting style – where defense is an afterthought in the ring, his hands are habitually held low, and his chin is daringly exposed – that borders on mesmerizing.
He walks through opponent’s punches like a superhero in a cartoon flick. He is often a human piñata for the opening minutes of fights, absorbing powerful high kicks and punches to the face, but seeming relatively unfazed by the blows.
The Will to Win
And here is the really crazy part: despite his allergy to defensive tactics, the iron-jawed Jung is 10-1 as a pro. His uncanny knack for come-from-behind victories and extraordinary pain tolerance has enabled him to rip through South Korea’s best lightweight fighters, and some of Japan’s as well. Jung has the distinction of having beat Japanese standout Michihiro Omigawa. His only blemish is to another big name in Japan, Masanori Kanehara, though some questioned the fairness of that decision.
Though a trained eye could probably identify lots of flaws in Jung’s techniques, he nevertheless possesses an extreme will to win, as illustrated in the third fight of his career against fellow countrymen Hyung Geol Lee. Lee stormed out of the gate early, putting Jung on his back and then trapping Jung in a tight triangle choke. Anyone who has ever been caught in a secured triangle choke knows it’s almost always a game-ender unless the end of the round saves you.
Amazingly, Jung stayed in that tight triangle choke, refusing to tap, even as Lee switched to an armbar and bent his arm rather crooked (making you fear a Tim Sylvia type of arm injury might be imminent). Still, a defiant Jung would not tap. After more than a minute in the torture chamber, Jung somehow pulled a Houdini and escaped. Lee looked demoralized and spent, and Jung immediately pounced with punches, winning by TKO within seconds of the miracle.
Jung is the latest of a crop of top Asian bantamweights and featherweights to test himself in America. By and large, his predecessors have come to the U.S. with high rankings and acclaim and left minus the success they coveted. But Jung, a natural showman who speaks his mind, insists he will be the exception starting with his WEC and U.S. debut next month against Cub Swanson.
Jung recently spoke with the WEC about his expectations and life experiences, often exhibiting his playful side while discussing everything from the genesis of his nickname, to allegations of cockiness, to the reasons why he is destined for stardom.
Note: Jung’s responses were translated into English by his agent, Jun Choi (shown at right).
WEC: Why do people call you "The Korean Zombie"? Who gave you that nickname and did you ever find it insulting at first?
Jung: It’s because I walk through punches, don’t get knocked down, and keep moving forward. KOREAN TOP TEAM gave the nickname to me. I was so happy and satisfied when I first heard that nickname.
WEC: You seem to absorb punishment early and then come from behind to win (for example, the win over Hyung Geol Lee). Is that how most of your fights play out?
Jung: At that time, my Jiu-Jitsu level was pretty poor, so I made that pattern. That was one of the reasons why people call me 'THE KOREAN ZOMBIE'.
WEC: Where does that confidence come from -- that confidence that no matter the odds, no matter how bad you are losing, that you can come back to win?
Jung: I DO NOT like to lose the fight. The secret of my confidence is from my heart.
WEC: A lot of fighters would be knocked out by some of those punches you’ve been hit with. Why do you think you have such a strong chin?
Jung: It is from my mentality. When I fight I can only think of winning, so I didn't feel anything during the fight. For example, after the fight, I always thought that I didn’t get hit by punches at all, but I learn the reality later when I watch my fight again.
WEC: How well-known are you in Korea?
Jung: It sounds a little stuck-up, but I am the number one featherweight fighter in Korea.
WEC: How well-known would you like to be in Korea?
Jung: I am very greedy. I will be most famous MMA Icon in Korea.
WEC: You have a background in Hapkido. Tell us about that and what it contributes to MMA?
Jung: Hapkido is a Korean traditional martial art like Tae-Kwon-Do. It was the first martial art that I started but it didn't help me as a MMA fighter.
WEC: You generally hold your hands very low when fighting. Is there a reason for this?
Jung: That is my fighting style. I have confidence that I won't get knocked down by absorbing punches or icks. The style is not to provoke my opponent. The style is for my brave heart.
WEC: What are your thoughts on coming to America to fight for the first time?
Jung: Yes, I've never fought in the United States. Before the Japanese dominated MMA scene, but now the power has shifted to the USA. America is my only option to be world’s best featherweight fighter. So it means a lot. America is the land of opportunity to me.
WEC: What is your worst fear when entering a fight?
Jung: To be defeated by my opponent. That is the only one that I worry about.
WEC: What things inspire you?
Jung: KOREAN TOP TEAM and my family inspire me in life. These things are so important for me because I fight for them.
WEC: How would you describe yourself as a fighter?
Jung: I describe myself as a bad-ass brawler; however, in training I am a pure technician. I always think only about beating my opponent in the ring. That's it.
WEC: Describe yourself as a person, outside of the ring, away from fighting?
Jung: I am two different people. Outside of the ring, I am a very quiet person. Smiling is the most important thing outside of the ring. I usually train for my next fight but sometimes I do drink and party like others.
WEC: How long have you been fighting and why did you decide this was the right career for you?
Jung: I have been fighting for seven years now (including my kickboxing career). I decided on this as my career because it was fun.
WEC: If you were not fighting, what profession would you be involved with?
Jung: If I am not involved with this career, I might choose to be a great cook.
WEC: In your “special rules” kickboxing fight against Muay Thai phenom Pajonsuk -- where you knocked him out with a spinning backfist -- what was it like to believe that you won, only to be disqualified because the tactic was not allowed?
Jung: I was very disappointed of the decision. I thought that I won the fight. That was the only option that I was looking for; however, the rule is the rule. I follow the Roman rule when I'm in Rome.
WEC: Did anyone tell you before the fight that a spinning backfist was illegal?
Jung: No, I didn't know. And at that time I had no translator who could help.
WEC: Who are your favorite MMA fighters and why?
Jung: My favorite MMA fighter is Bu-Kyung Jung (who fought Shinya Aoki at Dream and was an Olympic Judo silver medalist). Bu-Kyung Jung trains with me every day and he is the one who teaches me my weaknesses so I can improve.
WEC: Tell me about your life growing up in Korea.
Jung: My life story was very common before I started kickboxing in high school. I grew up middle class. I was an only child. My parents got a common job. I could be a nobody but MMA changed my life.
WEC: Did you ever face any adversity or tragedy growing up?
Jung: When I had my first loss against Masanori Kanehara, I felt serious tragedy for the first time in my life. I couldn't believe that I lost the fight but it became a stepping stone soon. I awake like dead and trained wrestling harder than ever.
WEC: What do you know about your opponent at WEC 48, Cub Swanson?
Jung: I've seen all his fights. He is also a kind of Zombie. However, I don't think that I will lose this fight. There is no chance for him to beat me. I am very relaxed to fight against Cub Swanson.
WEC: Some people may look at you inside the ring, your attitude and your celebrations, and think you are a bit cocky. Are they right?
Jung: I am not cocky or arrogant. That is from my confidence. I act like that because I am stronger than them. And I know that ONLY THE STRONG SURVIVE. I will prove this on April 24th.
Photos courtsey Jun Choi