Why we love the Korean Zombie
As a sport, MMA certainly lends itself to superlatives.
But if you watched The Korean Zombie run into Yair Rodriguez’s elbow only to get KO’d with a second left of a five-round war (which he was winning, no less) you could be forgiven for saying it was the greatest finish to a fight you’ve ever seen.
Before this fight, The Korean Zombie, or Chang Sung Jung as it says on his birth certificate, was 4-1 in the UFC. His only loss came against Jose Aldo, probably the greatest featherweight of all time.
He also holds a nasty choke submission win against No. 3 ranked lightweight Dustin Poirier. It is not his resume, though, that impresses us most but his relentless style.
The drama of his loss to Rodriguez is almost unparalleled. If it had been depicted in a Hollywood movie, fans would have found it too far-fetched.
The blows traded back and forth at times between the two warriors was reminiscent of peak-Rocky Balboa, and for such a battle to be punctuated by a hail-Mary of an elbow that no one saw coming, least of all Jung, catapults it straight into the annals of all-time UFC folklore.
Having been knocked out cold. Jung later said he was “embarrassed”.
This is a guy who’d just landed 126 significant strikes. A guy who was up on the judges’ scorecards but continued to march forward in true ‘Zombie’ fashion. Was it naive? Yes. But his unwillingness to be conservative is what makes him one of the best-loved fighters in the sport.
Love, support and respect
Scarcely has a man lost a fight and come out of it with such a tidal wave of love, support and respect from all in attendance.
The way he fights is both admirable and exciting; the outcome was exhilarating and anything but embarrassing. People are already earmarking this bout as a shoo-in for fight of the year.
As well as his shame at the outcome, his statement also revealed that he had to miss his flight back to Korea as he wasn’t medically fit. Judging by his performance, you could be forgiven for thinking the plane would not be large enough to accommodate the man’s giant cojones, or as they say in Korea, bul-al.
Before joining the UFC, he had earned a reputation as an exciting finisher who’d blitzed to nine straight wins after turning pro in 2007. And from the moment he made his debut in the big show, fans were treated to something special. It was nine years ago in Seattle. Up stepped this 22-year-old Korean who was coming off of two straight losses in WEC.
But by the end of the fight those in attendance had witnessed a performance they would not soon forget. The newcomer had just seen off opponent Leonard Garcia via a second round twister – the first and last time this submission would ever be seen in UFC.
The win was all the sweeter since he’d actually lost a controversial split decision to Garcia in WEC a year previously.
He destroyed Mark Hominick with a seven-second knockout. His follow-up? The win over Poirier.
These emphatic victories established him as a fan favorite, and one who had fans from Singapore to Scunthorpe sporting Korean Zombie t-shirts.
But at the peak of his powers, his UFC reign was cut short. Being an MMA superstar, or even a Zombie, does not exempt a Korean national from mandatory national service.
He was 26 when he lost his featherweight title shot against Aldo, and off he went to join the army, disappearing from the scene for four years. There’s a sense of tragedy to his absence at such a significant age for a fighter.
Given his immense talent, it’s safe to assume he would have been right in the mix for that featherweight strap. As if to remind fans what they’d been missing, he marked his return in true Korean Zombie style by knocking out Dennis Bermudez in the first round. The Zombie was back.
The perfect matchup
And so to the Yair Rodriguez fight. It was initially supposed to be against much-loved stalwart Frankie Edgar. But when he got injured, up stepped the exciting young phenom from Mexico with a 9-1 record. Like Jung, El Pantera is a taekwondo black belt, and right from the first bell, it was clear that this was the perfect matchup in terms of spectacle.
Having spent time training at Jackson Wink, Rodriguez was throwing their signature oblique kicks from the outset. He also showed his exceptional range in striking. Jung was undeterred and continued to move forward.
In each round the pair stood and traded, with the Korean outstriking Rodriguez in three of the five rounds. The drama of the fight and the way both competitors acknowledged each other throughout the contest made the ending all the more epic.
It’s a finish that will be replayed for years to come. A no-look back elbow saw Jung knocked-out, flush, just as the fight was reaching its five-round conclusion. But again, it was his unrelenting aggression that continues to make the Korean featherweight such a fan favorite. Much loved. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
The magnitude of the battle was summed up beautifully by a picture of the pair laid side-by-side and shaking hands in hospital.
This was MMA at its finest, at its most brutal, and also most beautiful. This was a classic. He may not have walked away with the win, but he will always be a champion in the eyes of the fans. Never change Korean Zombie. Never change.