Brace for some shocking news, fight fans: Chan Sung Jung loves zombie flicks.
OK, so that’s not an earth-shattering revelation about “The Korean Zombie,” the moniker by which the longtime UFC featherweight staple is best known. But it’s true.
“I’ve watched almost every zombie movie, TV show that’s out there,” Jung told The Post Wednesday over the phone, through an interpreter. “I saw ‘The Walking Dead’ up till about season four. I love zombie movies.”
Jung (16-6, 14 finishes) recommends his personal favorite, “Train to Busan” from his native South Korea, to anyone who shares the Zombie’s love of the undead. On Saturday night, the real-life and totally-alive Korean Zombie is the one to watch as he headlines a UFC Fight Night card from UFC Apex in Las Vegas against fellow 145-pound contender Dan Ige (main card begins 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2).
And just like his fictional namesake, don’t be surprised if there’s plenty of blood to go around. Jung’s fights almost always deliver big action. He left an indelible mark in his first US bout 11 years ago, losing a closely-contested brawl of a split decision against Leonard Garcia in the now-defunct WEC. The fight remains a classic, as he showed in defeat his will to take punishment in order to dish it out, always walking forward in the face of danger.
Like a zombie, of course.
After he lost his second bout before the WEC merged into the UFC, adding his featherweight class along with it, Jung caught fire. He avenged the loss to Garcia by securing the first submission finish via the first twister (a spinal lock) in UFC history, a move he swears he taught himself by watching YouTube the night before the fight. The next time out, he starched the most recent featherweight title challenger, Mark Hominick, with a seven-second knockout.
An impressive technical submission finish of Dustin Poirier — the man who knocked out Conor McGregor earlier this year and is scheduled to face him again next month — in his main event debut in the UFC vaulted him into his first championship fight. He lost the one-sided bout to featherweight legend Jose Aldo, then opted to fulfill his mandatory service in the South Korean military.
But both before and after the two-and-a-half year pause of his MMA career, Jung has remained must-see TV whenever he fights.
That was, at least, until Brian Ortega opened plenty of eyes with a surprising performance against Jung in their October headliner at UFC Fight Island in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Conventional wisdom had Jung as the superior technical striker — one who also doesn’t mind a good brawl — while Ortega was thought to be the submission specialist who also packs some punching power. Instead, Jung found himself on the wrong end of Ortega’s striking revelation, getting shutout on the scorecards that might not have even been as close as the three 50-45 scorecards would indicate.
And while Jung stressed that he did not want to take away from Ortega’s revelatory performance, he obliged in answering what might have gone wrong.
“I think I lacked a certain type of conditioning, mental preparation, certain things about how to handle the pressure,” Jung said. “I’ve learned a lot from it.”
It won’t get much easier for The Korean Zombie this weekend as he appears in his eighth consecutive main event against Hawaii’s Ige (15-3, nine finishes). Like Jung, Ige lost a lopsided, striking-heavy headlining bout last year, with Calvin Kattar getting the job done. But he bounced back with perhaps his strongest performance to date by knocking out Gavin Tucker in just 22 seconds in March.
While Jung has a reputation as a finisher, the durable Ige has yet to be stopped as a pro and possess a wide range of skills.
“He’s a very well-rounded fighter,” Jung said of his opponent. “He’s a very aggressive fighter. He’s good all around. As far as preparation, I’m prepared for anything: striking, stand-up, wrestling, jiu-jitsu.”
While neither would be considered a favorite to earn a title shot off a win this weekend — against the winner of Ortega and champion Alexander Volkanovski later this year on a date to be announced — a loss for Jung could make his path to a second title shot quite complicated. He’s now 34 years old and turned pro almost exactly 14 years ago. Granted, he was away from competition during his military service, but he’s taken a lot of damage over the course of his career.
Still, Jung points to the UFC’s promotional rankings that a second crack at UFC gold and the chance to become the UFC’s first Korean champion is still attainable.
“It’s just a step-by-step process,” Jung says of working his way toward a title shot. “I think I have a good chance. I’m ranked No. 4 [on the list of contenders].” he said.
Because of his lofty status in the 145-pound division, a win could get him another fight with a top contender. One such possibility would be against Yair Rodriguez, who victimized Jung with a stunning standing elbow knockout with one second left in their five-round November 2018 clash. The strike robbed Jung of what was almost definitely going to be a decision victory.
Incidentally, Rodriguez’s scheduled summer clash against former champion Max Holloway reportedly is off after the latter suffered an injury. Indications appear to be that the fight will be rebooked later on, but Jung said before the reported cancellation that he would relish the chance to avenge that heartbreaking defeat — even if it’s not at the forefront of his mind.
“I’ve always wanted to definitely fight Yair again, but it’s not that big of a priority,” Jung said. “He’s only fought [twice] since our fight, with Jeremy Stephens [both times in 2019]. I don’t think he’s in a rush to fight [me] as well.
“But after this fight [against Ige], I’m definitely looking closely [toward] the winner of Holloway-Yair.”