Shedding Skin

By Jason Burgos Feb 3, 2020

The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-views has changed: UFC 247 is only available on ESPN+ in the U.S.

Chan Sung Jung found himself in a difficult situation in December. His opponent was switched two weeks before UFC Fight Night 165 in his native South Korea, and an eye injury was causing him to experience double vision. If he elected not to accept a bout opposite Frankie Edgar on short notice, the Ultimate Fighting Championship would weigh the possibility of cancelling the event outright.

“I heard that if I turned Frankie down, the event that took four years to come back to Korea was going to be called off,” Jung told, “so I thought it was right for me to accept the change.”

Jung was originally booked to face the No. 2-ranked Brian Ortega in a main event that represented perhaps his toughest test since he challenged Jose Aldo for the 145-pound championship in 2013. However, two weeks prior to the event, Ortega was forced to withdraw with a knee injury. Although matchmakers settled on a suitable replacement, Edgar posed different kinds of challenges.

“Although Brian Ortega is higher up in the rankings,” Jung said, “to compare who is better in terms of MMA history, Frankie Edgar is way up there.”

Jung’s reverence for “The Answer” extends well beyond what the New Jersey native has accomplished during his career. He still views Ortega as a dangerous opponent but believes that Edgar, even at 38 years of age, was a far more difficult puzzle to solve.

“There’s a lot more to prepare for in Frankie than Brian,” Jung said. “While Brian doesn’t have much foot movement and his takedowns aren’t as great, he has strong striking power; and the way he goes for submissions involving the neck is great. However, that’s all I’d have to prepare for, because other than that, I’m convinced that I had an advantage over him in everything else. Frankie, on the other hand, has fast footwork, takedown skills, stamina and so on that I needed to prepare for. It was quite disappointing and upsetting to hear of the [rescheduling], because all those weeks of training I did in the United States was going to be of no use.”

Having to face a future UFC hall of famer who just competed for a divisional championship on a little over two weeks’ notice was a daunting task. It was especially true for Jung, who had to do so in a hometown headliner and at less than 100 percent. His eye was causing more trouble than most realized.

“Objects would overlap vertically, and it was really difficult to spar at first,” Jung said, “but I realized that my brain was slowly adjusting to how my eyes were perceiving things. It’s very rare for an athlete to go into a fight without any injuries or problems after camp. For this particular camp, the problem just happened to be my eyes. I was connected to a doctor approved by the UFC, because I had to know whether this was going to affect me in the long run. I was told it wasn’t going to get worse from being hit, so I continued adapting to seeing with the double vision for the sake of taking the opportunity that lay before me.”

Neither the late switch nor the eye injury could hold back Jung, as he blew away Edgar in less than two minutes and recorded one of the most meaningful victories of his career.

“Thinking back, I now think it was even more helpful for myself and my career to defeat Frankie than Brian Ortega,” he said, “and because it took place in South Korea, it has also become my pride. There’s a lot of new MMA athletes in South Korea. It was good to be able to fight before their eyes, because from doing so, it has given them the motivation to set me as their goal and work towards achieving it. I did the same thing growing up. I’d watch someone’s fight and train or set a goal thinking, ‘I want to be like him,’ or ‘I’m going to go beyond whatever that person has done.’ I want to be that kind of presence or figure to people, too.”

Jung, 32, put down roots at the Fight Ready camp in Scottsdale, Arizona, after his stunning last-second loss to Yair Rodriguez in November 2018. He realized a change was in order and has since worked under the watchful eyes of respected coaches like Eddie Cha.

“When preparing for my fight against Yair, I was both the fighter and coach for myself,” said Jung, who missed several prime years due to mandatory military service and a series of injuries. “I held my fight camp with the fighters that I train. There wasn’t anyone who could give me advice or enhance my style of fighting. I had felt a lot of things after losing that fight with just one second before the buzzer went off. I never thought Yair got the win because he got lucky, which is why I went to Eddie Cha and Fight Ready to get these missing puzzle pieces filled in. It was mind-blowing to witness the coaching skills Eddie and the other coaches at Fight Ready embodied. The level of training was completely different from the Korean MMA scene. It’s difficult to put into words, but I think the team at Fight Ready is the best in the world.”

Going forward, Jung has much to consider. He is still in the process of having his eye injury evaluated and hopes minor surgery can clear the way for his return to the Octagon. In Jung’s perfect world, he would next challenge Alexander Volkanovski for the featherweight championship. Volkanovski dethroned longtime titleholder Max Holloway a week before Jung’s appearance in South Korea.

“I was taken aback,” Jung said. “I used to think Alexander Volkanovski didn’t have the skills to become a champion of this division. The thought that came to my mind after watching [the fight] was, ‘The game plan was spot on.’ Holloway was going to do his usual thing, but Volkanovski had a game plan that could counter Holloway’s moves. I think it has now come to the point where the results [of a fight] depend on how well you have prepared for your opponent.”

Jung understands the thinking of those who have called for an immediate Holloway-Volkanovski rematch. However, he disagrees with the sentiment.

“I think the next person [in line] for the title shot is me,” he said. “Otherwise, it should be a rematch, although when considering Holloway, the reality is that he lost that fight. Therefore, I think it should be my turn next.”

The timing could prove problematic for “The Korean Zombie,” as Volkanovski indicated that once he recovers from a broken hand, he wants to return towards the middle of the year. Assuming his vision issues are resolved, Jung prefers not to remain on the sidelines for such an extended period of time. While the featherweight division is populated by a number of top-flight contenders, a rematch with Rodriguez is not yet on Jung’s radar.

“It would be very interesting to face Yair Rodriguez again,” he said, “but if the title fight against Volkanovski doesn’t work out, my goal is to fight one of three men: Holloway, Ortega or Zabit [Magomedsharipov]. I don’t have any desire to avenge the Yair fight. That fight we had in Denver played a huge part in creating the person I am today. Plus, I have a feeling that I’ll be facing him again sometime in the future.” Advertisement
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