Chan Sung Jung has drawn a cult following in the UFC. | Photo: Daniel Herbertson
SEOUL, South Korea -- At only 24 years of age, Chan Sung Jung has already accomplished much in his five-year professional mixed martial arts career, progressing steadily from Pancrase and Deep to Sengoku Raiden Championship, the WEC and the UFC. He has garnered WEC “Fight of the Night” and UFC “Submission of the Night” honors, refined one of the most exciting styles in MMA and sold more than a few black-and-blue t-shirts along the way.
Outside the cage, it is difficult to reconcile the aggressive fighting style with the quiet, smiley guy who was once passed up for the Korean equivalent of “The Ultimate Fighter” because he was not outgoing enough during the interview process.
In this exclusive interview with Sherdog.com, “The Korean Zombie” discusses his fight strategy, his MMA roots and who he would most like to punch in the face as he prepares for his matchup with Mark Hominick at UFC 140 this Saturday at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
Sherdog.com: Tell me about your beginnings as a fighter in Korea. How did you get started and who were your heroes?
Jung: When I was in middle school, I used to get beaten up all the time because I was weak. Eventually, my aunt felt sorry for me and she took me to a martial arts gym. In the beginning, I didn’t want to be a fighter, but after several years of training, things got easier and fighting began to feel natural to me. I consider every Korean professional fighter I’ve ever watched since I began fighting as an amateur as a hero.
Sherdog.com: Your first big win, the one that really put you on the map, was against Michihiro Omigawa following his first stint in the UFC. Having only fought in small shows in Korea prior to that fight, how did you feel about what might have been perceived as a giant step up in competition?
Jung: That was a pretty big opportunity for me. In fact, I was invited to that event so that Michihiro Omigawa could have a triumphant homecoming after he left the UFC. Now, I am in the UFC and I think that it is because I’ve been dedicated to my training ever since that fight.
Sherdog.com: Your fights with Leonard Garcia earned you “Fight of the Night” and “Submission of the Night” bonuses, but most hardcore Zombie fans would argue that the Pajonsuk knockout is your most exciting highlight. Take me through that fight. What prompted you to take a professional kickboxing match against an experienced muay Thai fighter in the Czech Republic?
Jung: I got the chance to compete in the WEC because of that fight with Pajonsuk. Actually, at the time, I wasn’t getting any calls from Sengoku. It was hard for me to get fights, and I figured that, even though I would probably lose to a great kick boxer like Pajonsuk, it would be a good chance to gain experience. Though the result is recorded as a loss [due to an illegal strike], and even though I could lose if I fought him again, I would gladly do it. I’m in the UFC now, so no matter what’s on paper, I feel like I won just by fighting him.
Sherdog.com: Historically, you have fought in the kind of go-for-broke style that does not exactly make for career longevity, but after the loss to George Roop at WEC 51, you stated in interviews that you would alter your fight plan to concentrate more on defense. How is the more conservative approach working out?
Jung: Yes, I will continue to concentrate more on defense. I’m afraid of getting knocked out in front of a big crowd like that again. But even if I work more on defense, I don’t think I will lose my style. People seemed to like it when I broke out the twister [against Garcia at UFC Fight Night 24].
Sherdog.com: Korean Top Team in Seoul is your home gym, but you have also trained in the United States. Tell me about your time at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, Calif. How do the training styles and workouts compare?
Jung: There isn’t that big a difference between training in Korea and training in the United States. Korean Top Team is the best team in Korea. The submission wrestling there is excellent, and KTT has quite a few fighters who are prepared to move on to bigger shows. As for Team Alpha Male, I won’t forget the kindness that I received from Urijah Faber and my other friends there. I’ll train there again for sure. Right now, I am training MMA in the morning and cross-training in the afternoons. I’m preparing a special attack for Mark Hominick. I know that fans want to see awesome attacks.
Sherdog.com: How do you see your styles matching up?
Jung: Honestly, I don’t know how to evaluate myself; I just like my style because everybody else seems to like it. Like I said, I am preparing a special attack designed to knock out Mark Hominick.
Sherdog.com: How is the English studying going and what is your favorite English phrase?
Jung: “Captain Save-a-Hoe!” Actually, when I was in Sacramento, I just sang along with the [E-40] song without really knowing the words. It wasn’t until I got back to Korea that I figured out what it meant. Man, I laughed my head off.
Sherdog.com: You have also stated in interviews that you did not have much money for food when you were fighting as an amateur. How is your lifestyle different today, two large bonus checks later?
Jung: I had a tough time as an amateur. Without the help of my friends and coaches at Korean Top Team, it would have been difficult to get by. But now I can buy and eat whatever I want. It’s because of the bonuses. Many people think that I’ve made a lot of money from the “Korean Zombie” T-shirts, but that’s not the case. That’s created a pretty stressful situation. I’ve heard from a few people associated with the UFC that they think I get more publicity because of the T-shirts. I don’t know what the reason is; all I know is that any publicity is good for an Asian guy like me fighting in the United States. Business is difficult. I don’t want to talk about it anymore (smiles).
Sherdog.com: Where are you recognized most often, in the U.S. or Korea?
Jung: In the U.S., for sure; the support I get from American fans is surprising and I really appreciate it. I’m not well-known in Korea. That’s a little sad, but it makes things easier on me.
Sherdog.com: Do you have a favorite Zombie movie?
Jung: I’m already a master of most zombie movies, but, nowadays, I’m really hooked on “The Walking Dead” Season 2.
Sherdog.com: If you could punch anyone in the world in the face one time, who would it be?
Jung: I would like to punch George Roop. It doesn’t matter how. I think you know the reason, don’t you? It will come true in the near future.
Noeul Park provided translation assistance for this report.