When we last saw the "Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung, it was in a bout that many sites -- this one included -- and observers called 2012's Fight of the Year. In a master blending of power and technique, Jung and Dustin Poirier traded punches, submissions and momentum on a spring night in Fairfax, Virginia.
For the third straight time, Jung had walked into a match as an underdog and bucked the odds. This time, he left with victory by upsetting Poirier with a fourth-round D'arce choke submission. It was a victory that bolstered his fast-growing popularity, but more importantly, his candidacy as a featherweight championship contender. He soon began to lobby for the slot as title challenger, and support grew behind him. But then, a lingering shoulder injury proved too much for him to work through, and after examination, surgery was decided upon as the best course of action.
Since then, Jung has been sidelined and quiet, with rarely a word escaping from his camp. But on Monday, Jung's manager Brian "Shug" Rhee told MMA Fighting that the Zombie is on the mend, and that he plans to be ready to resume his fight career sometime around Memorial Day.
"Originally we were shooting for March as an ideal time to fight, but realistically, it's going to be more like May/June-ish," he said. "His rehab is going OK, but not as quickly as we were hoping. But he's on track to make a May/June return to the octagon."
As it turns out, that date might work out perfectly for him to line up with the winner of the Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar title match. Those two are going to battle at UFC 156 on Feb. 2, so Jung's time frame would give the winner about four months between bouts.
Of course, there are others who'd like to stake a claim to the spot as well. In Jung's absence, the UFC's featherweight division has been reshuffled. Dennis Siver is a contender, Ricardo Lamas and Erik Koch will battle in a high-profile fight at this weekend's UFC on FOX 6 event, and even Jung's old buddy Poirier is back in the mix, scheduled for a key bout with the surging Cub Swanson in February.
But with no clear road map in the division, Jung and his team see little downside in volunteering for the same role he wanted when he left. Even after a year away, the target remains the same.
"If the timing works out, we'd love to get a title shot," Rhee said. "Fortunately, KZ doesn't seem to suffer from ring rust too badly, so [that's] not a big concern for us."