MMA: Korean Zombie wants to make a statement

Jung Chan-Sung was poised to become the UFC's first Asian born-and-bred star, until a shoulder injury in 2013 set off a chain of events that saw him fight just once in five years.
Jung Chan-Sung was poised to become the UFC's first Asian born-and-bred star, until a shoulder injury in 2013 set off a chain of events that saw him fight just once in five years.PHOTO: AFP

DENVER - Not too long ago, Jung Chan-Sung seemed destined for big things in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

With the mixed martial arts (MMA) juggernaut gaining mainstream popularity globally in 2013, the South Korean fighter emerged as a title contender in the featherweight (up to 66kg) division, and was perfectly placed to become the UFC's first Asian born-and-bred star.

A popped shoulder changed all of that.

In his title bout against Jose Aldo at the UFC 163 in Aug 2013, he separated his right shoulder as he was throwing a punch, and the Brazilian took advantage of the injury to seal a fourth-round technical knockout win.

The injury set off a chain of events that has seen Jung fight just once in the last five years, and now the Korean Zombie - as he is nicknamed for his style of moving forward relentlessly despite taking hard shots - is champing at the bit to make up for lost time.

"After my injuries, some people may think I've slowed down," the 31-year-old told The Straits Times, as he prepares to face Mexican Yair Rodriguez in the main event at the UFC Fight Night 139 in Denver, Colorado on Saturday (Sunday, Singapore time).

"I want to go in there and show everyone that I'm still here, that I'm still a contender. And I'm still The Zombie."

After his shoulder injury - which also kept him out of a scheduled bout in Oct 2014 - Jung enlisted for mandatory military service, serving two years in the South Korean army.

He finally returned to the Octagon, after more than three years away, and promptly knocked out Dennis Bermudez in the first round at UFC Fight Night 104 in Feb 2017.

But his comeback was short-lived as he ruptured ligaments in his right knee, putting him on the shelf for another year.

Despite all his time away from the Octagon, he is still a fan favourite in the United States - where his aggressive fighting style is admired - and, needless to say, a huge star in his home country too. Korean hip-hop star Jay Park is likely to be in attendance at the Pepsi Centre in Denver on Saturday to cheer his good friend on.

Coincidentally, Jung's opponent is also coming back off a long layoff.

Rodriguez, 26, last fought in May 2017 and lost via technical knockout to American Frankie Edgar, before he was sidelined by a contract dispute with the UFC, and then a chest injury.

Ironically, he faces Jung only after stepping in to replace Edgar - who pulled out two weeks ago after tearing his bicep.

His eagerness to take up the bout on short notice - he claimed he was eating a cheeseburger and drinking a beer when he got the call from the UFC - is down to the fact, like Jung, he wants to remind everyone he used to be seen as a rising star.

"I'm ready for this fight, I know he's ready for his fight, and I know it's going to be a war," said the flamboyant fighter nicknamed El Pantera.

"We've both been inactive, but we're both dangerous."

The UFC Fight Night 139 event will also see a grudge match between welterweight (up to 77kg) fighters Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone and his former training partner Mike Perry.

The pair have issues stemming from Denver-raised Cerrone leaving his long-time gym, Jackson Wink, after co-founder Mike Winkeljohn decided to corner Perry - who joined the gym only earlier this year - after he successfully lobbied to fight the 35-year-old.

Cerrone, who is tied with Georges St-Pierre and Michael Bisping for most wins in the UFC at 20, insists his issue is with the coach, and not 27-year-old Perry.

"My fight's with Perry, it has nothing to do with Wink. That's outside drama, it'll not even come into play on Saturday," claimed the veteran.