These are boom times for the writers and readers of zombie-related puns, because Chan Sung Jung—the Korean Zombie, a name that's both a nom de guerre and an Anglicized substitution for his birth name—has returned to the UFC in his usual style. The headlines write themselves. "The Korean Zombie Is Back From the Dead." "The Korean Zombie Is Ready to Feast." But easy turns of phrase look past the timeless appeal to how Jung fights.
Headlining a low-key Super Bowl weekend card in Houston against top-ranked 145-pounder Dennis Bermudez, the narrative-in-progress following Jung into the cage was that he’d been on the shelf for three and a half years due to compulsory military service in his home country, and that no one knew what that might mean on Saturday night. Maybe the Jung of 2013—who emerged as another vanquished challenger for Jose Aldo off the merits of three straight wins, each ending with a finish and each earning Jung some “-of the night” award—was the pinnacle, and the Jung of 2017 would be a ghost. Nearly four years scooped out of his athletic prime, a return against a top-ten opponent and a wrestler the likes of which he'd never faced, plus the uncertain longevity of a style based around fighting with your hands by your waist—this was a set-up for disaster.
For the two and a half minutes his chin absorbed Bermudez's right hand again and again, it was like in the last 42 months Jung had fully committed to the idea that punches couldn’t hurt him. But even as those right hands knocked him unsteady, Jung stuffed Bermudez's takedown attempts. And then, slipping to the right off of Bermudez's jab, Jung returned an uppercut that put Bermudez on the mat at 2:49 of the first round. A few follow-up punches, and the next thing you know Jung was hugging Brian Stann and holding taut his country's flag, and the camera panned to get a shot of a tearful Mrs. Zombie watching her husband put someone unconscious for the first time.
Like Arturo Gatti and all the great artists in the medium of taking two (or more) to give one, Jung is a contradiction: he merges grace and mastery with audacity and recklessness. He'll look perilously close to danger—too eager to let his chin do the work that hands held up by his eyebrows might do better—before he pulls off a Twister or a D'arce or an emphatic knockout. With an unassuming and easygoing disposition outside the cage, he lives chaos and hell inside of it. And even if we can't put such a fine point on it, we know we'll still carve out the time or pay a fee to watch him do what he's done since he got robbed against Leonard Garcia. "He pumped some excitement into UFC Korea," UFC president Dana White said of Jung's performance. "[Ari Emanuel] and I have been talking about going to Korea, so I think tonight he sealed the deal."
With his return, Jung now has to find a place in the pure turbulence at featherweight, where Jose Aldo, Max Holloway, and Conor McGregor all claim some version of the division’s championship, and predators round out the top ten. Having just beaten one of them Saturday night, Jung needs a fight with Cub Swanson, a fellow WEC transplant who fights like the loser is bound for a penal colony on an island made of garbage in the middle of the ocean. I had to double-check to make sure they hadn’t fought before. Now that I know that it hasn’t already happened, I can't not think about it. Jung-Swanson must happen. Before we are engulfed in flames, a zombie apocalypse awaits.
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