The "Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung is the talk of the MMA world on Wednesday morning. Pound-for-pound, he might be the most exciting fighter alive. He certainly has a legitimate argument for it, as he's yet to have even a remotely uninteresting match while competing under the Zuffa banner.
Even if there's someone you would personally place ahead of him on this mythical list, Jung is all we can ask for in a fighter. He is fearless, aggressive and constantly searching for a finish, yet he is also continually adding technical refinements to his game that allow him to succeed against an increasing level of competition. But is he ready for a featherweight championship opportunity? To tackle that question and several others in the news, I invited colleague Dave Doyle for this week's edition of The MMA Roundtable.
1. With his win over Dustin Poirier at UFC on FUEL 3, did Chan Sung Jung prove that he's ready for a title shot?
Mike Chiappetta: I would say yes. With his win, he proved that he's capable of competing with anyone, Aldo included.
I very wrongly picked Poirier to win, and to be honest, I thought he would do so in quite dominant fashion. As I saw it after watching tape on both, Poirier was sharper in all the important phases of the game. But Jung has made several slight but key alterations to his approach that now complement his aggression to add an extra element of danger to the proceedings. His best attribute though, might be his ability to turn the fight into one that favors his style. Would he be able to force Aldo into that kind of fight? Maybe, maybe not, but I think we'll get to find out.
Why? Just as importantly as his fight skills, he is immensely popular. There aren't many featherweights that can claim that, and let's face it, the UFC often considers box-office value when making these decisions.
Because of all these factors, don't be surprised if the Zombie gets plugged into a title shot in his next match.
Dave Doyle: We've known Jung has plenty of heart since his first fight on these shores, the 2010 Fight of the Year loss to Leonard Garcia in Sacramento. Since then, though, we've watched "The Korean Zombie" blossom into the complete package of a fighter right before our eyes. We've seen him exhibit knockout power against Mark Hominick. We've seen him demonstrate outstanding technique in his submissions. We see a fighter who gets better all around with each fight. In short, we've seen the birth of a contender. I'm not going to go off the deep end here and call him the favorite in a potential bout against Jose Aldo Jr. or anything, but, let me put it this way: Assuming Jung goes on to meet Aldo, this will be the first time in a long time that I don't go into an Aldo fight automatically assuming the featherweight champ will steamroll his opponent.
2. The Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix concludes this weekend. Was it a success or failure?
Doyle: Mostly a failure, but there’s still a potential silver lining. Go back to the Grand Prix’s beginning and consider what the company’s goals were in putting the tournament together. It was designed to show that Strikeforce, then an independent company, had a superior heavyweight division to the UFC, and, realistically, it was designed as a showcase for Fedor Emelianenko coming off his loss to Fabricio Werdum.
Well, how did that work out? There was the disastrous opening night, in which Fedor got pummeled by Antonio Silva and Andrei Arlovski was brutally KO'd. The company was sold to the UFC. Josh Barnett’s licensing issues caused a holdup. Alistair Overeem left the company. On and on the list goes.
Now for the potential redemption: After all this, there’s still the ability to build a new star. Daniel Cormier’s on a roll. He looks better with every fight. His knockout of Antonio Silva was impressive. If he looks good Saturday and can defeat a former UFC champion in Josh Barnett, then we’ve got ourselves a new heavyweight headliner. So there’s still hope for the Grand Prix.
Chiappetta: This is a question that won't be answered until Saturday night. Despite all of the negatives Dave pointed out, a tournament's ultimate importance is in building buzz for the winner. If Cormier or Barnett walk out of the HP Pavilion with a growing chorus of believers, it will have ultimately served its (admittedly altered) purpose.
This only works because the winner is eventually going to move over to the UFC, where presumably, he can make a solid case for the No. 1 contender slot. If the Strikeforce heavyweights hadn't moved over and the winner was forced to stay there, thereby depriving us of any fun speculation, it would have been fair to call the whole thing an unmitigated disaster. As it stands now, it is whatever Cormier or Barnett make of it.
If the winner moves to the UFC and builds buzz into a title match, then it's a success. If nobody cares, it will have been mostly for naught.
3. Can King Mo Muhammed Lawal excel at mixed martial arts while busy working in pro wrestling simultaneously?
Chiappetta: What King Mo is going to be attempting is no easy task. First of all, full disclosure: though I've been a sports reporter for the majority of my career, I worked for the WWE for a years in the early 2000s, so I have a pretty good understanding of the pro wrestling industry.
Pro wrestling is awfully demanding. Most good athletes require a few years to learn the craft of "story-telling" a match, and even if you're good at it, injuries are quite common. Even if Impact Wrestling tries to work an abbreviated schedule with Lawal and minimizes his risk by having him concentrate on basic moves and his verbal gifts, he's still going to have to apply himself to excel, thereby minimizing his MMA time by some degree.
It's not impossible that he can be good at both, but my concern for him is his health. He's had multiple knee issues in the last few years, and at 31 years old, he's not old, but he doesn't have youth on his side, either. The one thing that can help him? Bellator's light-heavyweight division is arguably its weakest. Champ Christian M'Pumbu recently lost a non-title fight with Travis Wiuff, and no one in the weight class comes close to sniffing the top 20. If Lawal stays healthy, he should be OK. But that's a big "if."
Doyle: "King Mo" has an astounding ability to mesmerize the mixed martial arts media. His last fight sold precisely 927 tickets, yet his every move gets tracked as if he's got the combined star power of Brock Lesnar and Jon Jones. And it's for precisely that reason that I think he's going to become a huge star in the world of pro wrestling. Rasslin' success is based in large part on the ability to hype yourself, with, of course, a dose of legitimate athleticism thrown in.
Lawal has already proven with his outsized ability to draw attention in MMA that he's blessed with the sort of charisma that translates well to wrestling, and he has the athletic talent needed to make the package complete. Now, does that mean it will translate to MMA success? Unlikely. As Mike astutely notes, pro wrestling is a physical grind, and Lawal already is coping with injuries and ailments. Pulling off both is going to be one tough feat. In wrestling, a hurt performer can go on for years with a style that works around their injuries. MMA offers no such luxury.
4. Was Nick Diaz's submission grappling match no-show unfairly scrutinized?
Doyle: You can make a general case that Nick Diaz’s life is overly scrutinized. If word gets out on the Internet that Diaz went to Whole Foods, within hours there would be a half-dozen blog posts psychoanalyzing his choice of vegetables. If Diaz wants to smoke weed in his free time? Not my problem, or anyone else’s. Does he have social anxiety disorder? That’s between him and his shrink.
In the specific case of last weekend’s planned grappling match with Braulio Estima in Long Beach, though, yes, he deserves every bit of scrutiny which comes his way. This is for a simple reason: He stiffed the fans, the very people who have made mixed martial arts as big as it is. Diaz might have valid reasons for being upset with how the World Jiu-Jitsu Expo was being run. If he pulled out of the event beforehand and had Cesar Gracie explain to the fans his reasoning before the event went live, instead of two days after the fact, then they would have at least had a case. But when you leave both a full house live and people who were watching online stranded -- people who are your hardest-core fans -- then you’ve crossed a line and you deserve whatever scrutiny follows.
Chiappetta: I may be in the vast minority here, but I think this Diaz-Estima situation was the most overblown drama I've seen in ages. You know why? Diaz is a mixed martial artist. That's his job. That's how he makes his living. He planned to do a jiu-jitsu match on the side, and that's fine, but let's be honest, it was a temporary diversion from him, and as it turns out, he got diverted from his own diversion.
Let's put this into a bigger context. Imagine if eccentric Los Angeles Laker Metta World Peace blew off a free throw shooting contest. Do you think that would draw major headlines? Nope, it wouldn't measure a blip on the radar screen. This is a parallel situation.
Let's get one thing clear: I'm not excusing Diaz of wrongdoing. Obviously we would like our professional athletes to act, you know, professionally. But Diaz has shown time and time again that that's not always going to happen. While I do feel sympathy for the fans who paid to see him, and also for Estima, who traveled from abroad for the match, this is kind of like the parable of the boy and the snake. The snake promises not to bite the boy if he saves him from freezing cold, but after the boy saves him, the snake bites him anyway. Why? Because he's a snake, that's why. We know who Diaz is; we should no longer be surprised when he does these things.