Chan Sung Jung started the decade with a fight chosen by many as 2010’s best of the year. He finished it in a dominant show of force against one of the most durable fighters the sport has ever seen. In between, he was the first man to hit a Twister submission, turned in some of the most memorable performances of the decade, and won a nightly award in all but one of his bouts.
Minute for minute, there may not have been a more entertaining fighter over the last 10 years than the “Korean Zombie.” Remember his war with Leonard Garcia? His Fight of the Year against Dustin Poirier? His seven-second KO of Mark Hominick? Even when he lost — like in the incredible back elbow knockout by Yair Rodriguez — it came in memorable fashion, and largely generated by his unflinching aggression.
On Saturday in his home country, Jung got the opportunity to face one of the toughest men to ever take the cage. Frankie Edgar is now 38 years old. His ability to absorb impact may not be what it once was, but if it has deteriorated, it is not by much. Just five months ago, he fought machine-gun featherweight Max Holloway and made it to the final bell. In his entire career before last night — 30 fights — Edgar had only been finished a single time.
Yet Jung did it barely breaking a sweat. Within 50 seconds, he wobbled Edgar with a sharp left hook. Of course Edgar withstood it, but Jung stayed patient and moments later, cracked him again with another hook. This one put him down, setting off a hail of Jung ground strikes. For a moment, it was worth wondering if Edgar was going to recreate his infamous comebacks against Gray Maynard, but after 38 hard, unanswered shots, referee Marc Goddard mercifully determined that another Edgar miracle was not in the cards.
In Jung’s long and decorated history, it was another noteworthy moment, yet it was also a historic one, marking the first time he has ever beaten a former UFC champion. That he did it in front of his South Korean countrymen made it more special, and that it was the first time his father had watched him compete live in the UFC was the cherry on top.
Jung is everything the UFC says it wants in its athletes. He is an electrifying presence in the cage, he presses the action throughout every minute of every bout, and he comes with the support of a nation along with swarms of global fans who have been magnetized by his edge-of-your-seat fighting style. For many UFC events, he is a human adrenaline shot.
Now, the UFC needs to reward him for his decade of excellence and excitement with a featherweight title opportunity against new champion Alexander Volkanovski. After the fight, Jung immediately asked for the bout — no translator necessary — and he’s earned it.
“Volkanovski is a super smart fighter, an intelligent fighter,” Jung told the UFC on ESPN crew after the win through his coach and interpreter Eddie Cha. “But Frankie is too. He might have a little bit higher fight IQ, so I’m pretty confident I can beat him.”
Ranked No. 6 in the most recent UFC rankings, Jung will certainly move up at least a slot or two after topping No. 4 Edgar. While there are others ahead of him, Jung has as good a case as any of getting that Volkanovski fight.
- While many believe Holloway deserves an immediate rematch, that sentiment largely comes due to his lengthy reign rather than his competitiveness in their title fight. Holloway lost convincingly.
- Zabit Magomedsharipov may be ahead of Jung on the rankings, but his winning streak only includes one top 10 fighter, with the biggest name being Jeremy Stephens.
- Brian Ortega is currently shelved by a knee injury with an unknown recovery time
Only Yair Rodriguez has a comparable argument for the Volkanovski fight. He defeated Jung about a year ago and has wins in seven of his eight UFC bouts. If Rodriguez were to get a title shot over Jung, that would be reasonable. If we’re doling out by-the-book fairness, the pendulum would lean more toward him.
But there is something to be said for the Zombie’s longevity. This is a sport of flashes and blips. May fighters come and go, blaze in and flame out. Yet even after all this time, after 10 years on the clock, a military service layoff and several major injuries, Jung is still out here making magic. He closed out the decade the same way he opened it, by delivering a rush and a buzz. Throughout all this time, he’s made UFC better. He’s made MMA better. And now, he deserves his just reward.