(This story appeared in today’s edition of USA TODAY.)
The posters advertising UFC 163 make it tough to tell if you’re about to watch a professional MMA fight or a monster movie.
“World Featherweight Championship,” it says at the very top. “Aldo vs. Korean Zombie.”
Nowhere on the posters trumpeting his clash with UFC 145-pound champion Jose Aldo (22-1 MMA, 4-0 UFC) in Brazil on Saturday (pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET) does it mention Chan Sung Jung‘s actual name. Which, surprisingly enough, is exactly how the featherweight challenger likes it.
“I prefer it that way,” Jung (13-3 MMA, 3-0 UFC), who’s known to fight fans as “The Korean Zombie,” largely because of his ability and willingness to keep marching forward through all manner of violence, told USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). “I think it’s the best (nickname) in MMA.”
It certainly is distinctive, and it looks cool on a T-shirt. But Jung has found that a nickname like that also comes with some baggage. In the lead-up to his featherweight title shot in Rio de Janeiro, the UFC has marketed the South Korean fighter as a man capable of withstanding “inhuman” punishment.
And sure, Jung said, he’s at least a little proud of his ability to take a punch. But he didn’t leave his home in Seoul and fly halfway around the world just to get beaten up.
“It’s very important to me to put on exciting fights,” Jung said. “I like that fighting style and I want to entertain the fans as much as possible. But winning is obviously the most important thing.”
That’s a lesson Jung learned in painful fashion several years ago. He became a cult favorite among MMA fans after his North American debut against Leonard Garcia in the now-defunct WEC organization. For three rounds, Jung and Garcia battered one another in a thrilling brawl that landed both men in the hospital. Jung lost that fight via split decision, but it was hailed by many as the fight of the year.
Clearly fans loved the “zombie” style, Jung figured, which is why he tried to give them even more of it his next appearance in the cage, when he faced George Roop at WEC 51. That’s when Jung walked straight into a head-kick knockout that taught him the difference between exciting and reckless, he said.
“A lot of how I fight is instinctual,” he said. “Especially in that first Garcia fight, I fought on my instincts, what people describe as the zombie style. After the George Roop fight, I did a lot of thinking about my fighting style. For this fight as well, I’ve thought a lot about how it’s going to unfold. I don’t want to give too much away, but I think I’ve changed.”
Jung knows he’ll be facing a hostile environment when he fights a Brazilian champion on his home turf, where fans are known for chanting “You’re going to die!” in Portuguese. Still, he has his own supporters who love him for more than his ability to get hit and remain conscious.
“The people in Korea are very aware of this fight,” Jung said. “It seems like this is probably the biggest event, as far as Korean MMA goes. Most people in Korea know about the UFC on some level. They know what this fight means. It’s just a matter of winning the fight now.”
For more on UFC 163, stay tuned to the UFC Rumors section of the site.