When Chan Sung Jung first showed up on the North American scene nearly a decade ago, few fighters made such an immediate impact, let alone while losing.
He arrived in the WEC with the “Korean Zombie” nickname for his ability to walk through punches and move forward. His debut fight on April 24, 2010, was somewhat historic in nature.
The WEC was promoting its first and only pay-per-view show, headlined by Jose Aldo vs. Urijah Faber from the Arco Arena in Sacramento, Calif. A deal was made by UFC, which owned WEC, to give the show maximum promotional push. So the prelims aired on Spike TV instead of Versus (now NBC Sports Network), which had been WEC’s home.
Jung and Leonard Garcia were booked in the last match before the pay-per-view started, and they had one of the greatest brawls in MMA history. It won a number of “Fight of the Year” awards, should be in the running for fight of the decade, and was widely compared to the ultimate in brawling standard of Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama.
The belief is that it sold a number of pay-per-view buys at the last minute with people figuring the event was worth seeing if the fight was an example of the WEC product. The success of that show led to the decision to move featherweights and bantamweights to the UFC, ending the WEC era.
Garcia won a split decision, although most felt Jung had come out ahead. Jung left no questions the second time they fought, beating Garcia with a twister submission.
Over the past decade, “Zombie” likely was the most popular Asian fighter to the U.S. audience. His crowd-pleasing style led to a record eight performance bonuses in the featherweight division. A win over Dustin Poirier in 2012 and 2018 loss to Yair Rodriguez in one of the most memorable finishes in UFC history were contenders for “Fight of the Year” awards; the former bout won several. Jung was one of the better television ratings draws as a headliner.
After a fourth-round loss to then-champ Aldo at UFC 163 in 2013, Jung had nearly four years taken out of his prime due to injuries and military service. But this past Saturday at UFC Busan, he went from cult favorite to genuine national hero.
Jung (17-5) fought for the first time on native soil in South Korea in more than 11 years. He faced a probable future Hall of Famer in Frankie Edgar. When it was over, he scored the biggest win of his career before 10,651 fans in one of those unique combat sports moments where an already rabid crowd sees the local hero beat the big name opponent.
Edgar has fought nothing but major names – the best the lightweight and featherweight divisions have to offer – since 2010. He’s been known for his durability, coming back from as bad a first-round beating as you will ever see to earn a draw. He’s only been stopped once in a bout against Brian Ortega. But Jung rocked him early, and he never recovered; the bout was waved off at the 3:18 mark of round one.
The result leaves questions on both sides.
Jung could get a featherweight title shot at new champion Alexander Volkanovski next, though Dana White seems to indicate a rematch with Max Holloway could be in his future. Almost surely, he has to be one fight away.
Edgar had already planned a move to bantamweight. He took the fight on late notice while cutting weight for the new class and a scheduled Jan. 25 debut, and that is now off the books due to the beating he suffered.
Edgar comes in with a clean slate and all new opponents at bantamweight, which would really be the first time in his career he’ll face opponents of his own real size. But bantamweight is a speed division, a young man’s world, and Edgar is 38 years old. He’s also lost three of his last four. Granted, those losses were to Jung, Ortega and Holloway, the best the featherweight division has to offer. And at a different point in his career, Edgar would have been a major force if he’d made the move to bantamweight. Perhaps he even would have dominated that world. But today, given his age and this knockout, it’s far less certain.
Let’s look at how fortunes changed for the five stars of Saturday’s show.
CHAN SUNG JUNG - Jung’s win over Edgar, and the impressive nature of it, makes him a very viable featherweight title contender right now. But if Holloway gets the call, Jung should next face either Ortega (14-1) or Zabit Magomedsharipov (18-1). Ortega, Jung’s originally scheduled opponent, is recovering from a partially torn ACL. Magomedsharipov has 14 wins in a row despite looking vulnerable in round three of his Nov. 9 win over Calvin Kattar. Either bout should be a five-round television main event and promoted as a title eliminator.
FRANKIE EDGAR - Known as “The Answer,” Edgar (23-8-1) is now more the subject of questions. He’s going to bantamweight. At his age, he is probably looking for a quick road to a title shot. His name value is such he’d be he biggest name opponent for anyone other than champ Henry Cejudo.
Cory Sandhagen (12-1), whom Edgar was to face in his debut, would be a great test right away. The other would be Petr Yan (14-1), who just decimated Faber and looked like a potential next champion.
The Yan fight has its promotional upside. If Edgar wins, there will be no disputing him being rushed into a title fight next. If he loses, it’s the kind of a win that will build Yan up as an even more serious contender, provided Yan isn’t picked next as Cejudo’s opponent. Marlon Moraes (23-6-1) is another potential Edgar opponent – if the promotion can get the longtime training partners to fight. The matchup could work well if the winner gets a title shot.
VOLKAN OEZDEMIR - Oezdemir (17-4) took a split decision over Aleksander Rakic (12-2) in a battle of top-ten ranked light heavyweights on Saturday. The fight was close, but Oezdemir was lucky, since 88 percent of media scores went to Rakic. The consensus was round one for Rakic, three for Oezdemir and the middle frame was split between judges.
Oezdemir talked of Anthony Smith (32-14) next, which is a fight that makes sense for both men.
ALEKSANDER RAKIC - Rakic (12-2) was hurt by the judges going against him. But even a close win over Oezdemir wasn’t going to get him moved to the top tier of title contenders. He should next be booked with Glover Teixeira (30-7) or Ovince Saint Preux (24-13).
ALEXANDRE PANTOJA - On a show with six ranked fighters, Pantoja (22-4), coming in at No. 4 in the flyweight division, defeated No. 9 ranked Matt Schnell (14-5). But the match went fourth in the prelims.
I guess we can be thankful there even is a flyweight division, since it was on the verge of being dropped last year. Pantoja should next face Jussier Formiga (23-6), with the winner then facing the Joseph Benavidez vs. Deiveson Figuierdo championship bout.