The Korean Zombie: Does He Stand a Chance?

Jack Slack@@JackSlackMMALead MMA AnalystJuly 30, 2013

Chan-Sung Jung, The Korean Zombie, might well be the most exciting fighter to ever grace the octagon. Between the flamboyant jumping knees, twisters and rice bail turnovers, Jung is also strikingly well-rounded and, of course, appeals to an enormously under-represented demographic as an Asian fighter who has reached the upper echelons of the UFC.

In MMA circles, there is the occasional delusional fan who argues that Asia hasn't had any good fighters, and similarly extreme claims come from the JMMA elitists about a whole group of fighters that the UFC won't sign but who would mop up. The truth, as it often does, stands somewhere in the middle and is nowhere near as exciting. There have been many great fighters out of Asia, but for various reasons, they have not been picked up by the UFC after the fall of PRIDE or just haven't cut it.

The two most prominent examples are Kid Yamamoto and Takanori Gomi, two absolutely elite fighters whose records show ample wins over quality competition but who were already on pretty unimpressive streaks when Asian promotions stopped outbidding the UFC for them. Now they are winding down their careers, losing to whoever needs a big name on their record.

The Korean Zombie, however, represents a world-class talent out of Asia who has been signed early enough in his career that he can develop and peak inside the octagon, rather than spend the twilight of his career there.

Jung has also achieved far more than gaining interest from an Asian demographic because, unlike Yushin Okami and Yoshihiro Akiyama, he has provided exciting, card defining performances inside the octagon. In each of his UFC appearances, he has picked up one of the much sought after "of the night" bonuses: a submission of the night over Leonard Garcia, a knockout of the night over Mark Hominick and fight of the night against Dustin Poirier. 

The Korean Zombie's style is an incredible mash-up of high-level technician and flat-nosed brawler. While he got his nickname, the Korean Zombie, for his constant forward motion while getting hit in the head, since his knockout loss to George Roop, Jung has tightened up some of the nuts and bolts in his game while still adhering to his philosophy of constant aggression.

Chan-Sung Jung's head movement is, for the most part, far more effective than other fighters currently competing in MMA. His constant forward motion is accompanied by dipping jabs and weaving hooks as he presses his opponents towards the fence. Infighting well is incredibly rare in MMA, and the Zombie can do it well. The worst place to fight Leonard Garcia was thought to be in a brawl, but Jung stood in the pocket with Garcia and negated almost everything the American threw at him through their two fights.

The unfortunate side effect of owning good head movement is it encourages a fighter to commit to exchanges far more often. Consequently, their opponent misses plenty of punches, but even connecting at a low percentage, the strikes rapidly add up. Leonard Garcia would hit Jung clean with the fourth or fifth punches of his salvos as Jung got sloppy late in exchanges.

But then Jung's pace is what makes him. He pressures opponents and works them over in exchanges, as the Diaz brothers do, but rather than simply offering one-note offense, Jung will use the expectation of a brawl to land more exciting and high reward techniques.

The jumping knee, which Jung attempts in almost every fight after a few engagements, is a beautiful example. When one says "flying knee," most fans think of sprinting towards an opponent and leaping at them—in the manner of the aforementioned Yamamoto. Jumping knee here means a more strategic use and is something you will see other fighters starting to do in MMA, but more commonly in Muay Thai.

The jumping knee is not a chasing technique but an intercepting technique—once the opponent is clearly committing to tucking his chin down and diving into exchanges. Intercepting techniques are by far the most damaging of all strikes, whether it be a straight right, a cross counter, a dipping jab or Machida's great intercepting springing knee (more on that tomorrow).

It doesn't matter whether you subscribe to Bruce Lee's writings or any classical text on boxing, intercepting strikes are by far the most prized strikes. Striking an opponent as he comes in causes a collision, which has far more to do with punching power than how hard a man can swing on his own.

This method of landing a jumping knee strike, using it in anticipation of the opponent jumping into an exchange, is so magnificent because it takes a powerful, high-reward strike and takes some of the risk out of it by not using it as a Hail Mary. The Korean Zombie connected it beautifully against Leonard Garcia and Dustin Poirier among others, and it certainly shook both his opponents and brought the crowd to its feet.

Another instance of such an intercepting knee attempt was seen just this week as Robbie Lawler attempted to mix up his game against his over matched opponent at UFC on Fox 8. Lawler attempted it about three times, but his opponent's upright stance prevented Lawler from connecting it all that cleanly.

Jung can fight on the counter (as he showed when Mark Hominick tried to sucker punch him off of the glove touch) and on offense, but he is certainly a peculiar boxer. He will let his non-punching hand dangle at his waist, so that when his head movement fails to take him out of harm's way, he will eat the force of a strike across his chin with no buffer.

Furthermore Jung throws long, looping hooks which seem to connect with the thumb side of his fist and take what seems like an age to reach their target—yet they clearly have power despite being almost straight armed swings, and they are laser accurate even when he is mid bob or looking at the floor.

Yes there is certainly no one like The Korean Zombie, and that is what makes this bout interesting. The amount that Jung gets hit in his bouts makes me most pessimistic of his chances against Jose Aldo, and I certainly wouldn't want to place any money on him, but there are certainly some factors which fans may not have considered in getting caught up in the now substantial legend of Aldo.

Firstly, Chan-Sung Jung is pretty much unmatched for pace on the feet in his division. It is easy to forget how hard of breathing Aldo became after just two rounds of Mark Hominick slipping inside of his punches and hitting him in the chest and ribs. Obviously, Aldo took Hominick down with ease and regularity and connected good kicks to pick up the win, but he was breathing heavy for much of the bout.

Of course, Jung is a head hunter, which is a terrible shame due to the accuracy and frequency with which he hits in the pocket. With effective body work, Jung could have his opponents wilting underneath his assault by the second round almost without exception. But pace is a killer, and as Jung can and will pour it on as long as he is conscious. Aldo's cardio, which has looked especially questionable since he started packing on muscle, might well be put to the test.

The second factor that many are pointing to as the decider of the bout is the frequency with which Jung gets hit hard even when dominating a bout. What many haven't noted is that Jung tends to get hit in prolonged exchanges more than by single punches or kicks, and his evasions seem to have improved markedly since his bouts with Leonard Garcia. 

As Jose Aldo rarely throws combinations in excess of two or three punches followed by a low kick, the Zombie's chances in close with the champion might well be underrated.

If there is something that the Zombie has to watch out for, it is the uppercut. Without a doubt, it's Aldo's best power punch but one which he often doesn't get occasion to use all that well (opponents who want to try to check kicks tend to stand more upright, uppercuts are punches for hunched fighters). Jung ducks punches by bending at the waist and will often look down as he does so.

If Aldo's area of weakness were to be in Jung's favored close-range exchanges, the great equalizer could certainly be Aldo's uppercut. Where Aldo normally has to trick opponents into lunging into it (see the Manny Gamburyan fight), the kind of bout that The Korean Zombie loves involves giving Aldo windows for the uppercut throughout.

I have a great sense of excitement for this bout, and I doubt I will have time to write a "Killing the King: Jose Aldo" feature before the event, but I, of course, have no idea how the bout will play out. We could see Jung laid out with a big punch or knee as he tries to brawl with a harder hitter. Or we could see Aldo wilt under the assault. We could even see a mid-air collision of flying knees. We can never write anything off, but, come Monday morning, we'll look at how it went down.

Come back tomorrow for a Machida feature.

Pick up Jack's eBooks Advanced Striking and Elementary Striking at his blog, Fights Gone By.

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