The Korean Zombie and the UFC's Most Underrated Fighters
As an MMA fighter, you know you're onto something when hardcore fans know you solely by your nickname.
That's the state of play for the Korean Zombie, known to family members and government documents as Chan Sung Jung. But he's ensconced as the UFC's favorite member of the undead, thanks to a skilled but hyper-aggressive, multi-tiered fighting style that has earned him a whopping eight post-fight bonuses in his last eight contests.
So it's a shame both for him and the sport that casual fans hardly know him at all—except perhaps as the man on the business end of one of the greatest knockouts in history.
Take nothing away from Yair Rodriguez, who authored that instant classic, but the Zombie deserves better than that. Believe me when I tell you it's not a stretch to believe he's the best featherweight out there today outside of champion Alexander Volkanovski.
Zombie has a chance to level up his profile Saturday night when he faces Brian Ortega in the main event of UFC Fight Night 180, going down from Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Until then, he may well be the most underrated fighter on the UFC roster today.
But he's not the only one. Plenty of talented fighters are operating in the shadows. Here are the five most underrated UFC competitors as it stands right now.
They're listed in no particular order, with video highlight packages included.
"The Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung
Well, the slideshow has his name in the headline, so I figure there's not a lot of motivation to save the Zombie for last.
I covered a lot of it in the intro slide, but I would be remiss not to call out his nickname for the accurate descriptor that it is. The Zombie is the Zombie because you just can't put him away. He just keeps coming forward. You saw it against Rodriguez, right up until the moment his body simply ceased to function. You saw it in 2012 when he overcame huge punishment to submit the great Dustin Poirier in the fourth round of a true classic. The list goes on.
Jung has lost a lot of momentum thanks to injuries and mandatory military service in his native South Korea, but back-to-back first-round stoppages of Renato Moicano and Frankie Edgar have put him in a position to enter the title picture in earnest against Ortega. We'll see if his toughness, well-rounded game and quiet charisma can carry him into the limelight.
Leon Edwards is a casualty of personality. Not his own, but those of the other contenders at the top of the burning circus tent that is the UFC welterweight division.
When you're vying for air time with Jorge Masvidal and Colby Covington—not to mention champ Kamaru Usman—odds are the mic isn't going to swing your way often. It's just math.
That's a shame for Edwards, who is pretty darn good on the mic in his own right. His 10-2 UFC record isn't too shabby either. The Jamaican-Brit gets attention for boxing and knockout power, and rightly so, but his grappling game is nothing to trifle with. Don't forget that Edwards neutralized grappling wizard Gunnar Nelson in a split-decision victory last year.
If Edwards can manage to grab a piece of the pie at 170 pounds, he'll richly deserve it. And the fan base will be better for it. It's hard to get this guy to fight a boring fight.
There's a fine line between being underrated and simply being a prospect. Young Armenian Edmen Shahbazyan has a foot in both camps, but the 22-year-old's impressive start to his UFC career should have him higher up in the collective MMA consciousness than he is.
Granted: that August loss to Derek Brunson took some wind out of the Shahbazyan sails. Don't forget, though, that the guy is only 22 years old and already has a 5-1 record in the UFC. Before Brunson, he knocked out Brad Tavares and submitted Jack Marshman, both in the first round. Those are not pushovers.
Still, the Brunson defeat put a screeching halt to the Shahbazyan hype train. But all that means is that you have a fresh chance to climb aboard before it inevitably starts rolling again.
Pop quiz: Who holds the UFC record for most wins by submission? Demian Maia? Joe Lauzon? Nope. It’s Charles Oliveira, with 14.
It’s nigh impossible to believe Charles Oliveira is only 30 years old. He had his first UFC bout at the tender age of 20. That was during Barack Obama's first term in office, which might as well have existed before the invention of fire.
Inconsistency and a string of weight-cutting mishaps eroded his reputation. But he’s fixed both problems since moving back to lightweight in 2017. Since then, he's 8-1 with seven performance bonuses. His submission game is the straw that stirs the drink, but his striking has come a long way. The shift to a higher weight class made those issues disappear.
Granted, the streak hasn't come against the highest levels of competition. But all he can do is beat the guy in front of him, and he's done that. A March submission of Kevin Lee was arguably his biggest test since returning to 155 pounds, and he did that with ease.
Earlier this fall Oliveira withdrew from a bout with Beneil Dariush. Here's hoping he gets himself back on the docket sooner rather than later and keeps moving up the lightweight pecking order.
At a glance, it might seem strange to have an active champion on a list of underrated fighters.
But look closer. Think about these fighters: Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Jessica Andrade and Tecia Torres. All are bigger names than Zhang. But Zhang laid waste to all three en route to her current perch as the women's strawweight belt holder.
The one that stands out, in particular, is her bludgeoning of former champion Jedrzejczyk, which left the Pole looking a bit extra-terrestrial. This was after Jedrzejczyk poked fun at China's COVID situation earlier this year—way before the disease began sweeping the planet, including in Joanna's native Poland—earning a stern but stoic rebuke from Zhang.
As with Zombie, there's a language barrier here. It is what it is. When you're speaking to the audience through a translator, things don't always, you know, translate.
Nevertheless, Zhang is incredibly skilled and a merciless competitor. Once the fighting's done, she comes across as smart, articulate and even kind. After cruising to a victory over Torres last year, with a shy smile Zhang invited her vanquished foe to visit her in China.
Any thoughtful effort to market her could likely bear fruit, given time. Barring that, she'll probably keep hiding in plain sight among the greatest female fighters on planet Earth. She might be the best one not named Amanda Nunes.