In late 2014, UFC featherweight Chan Sung Jung, who is better known as the Korean Zombie, was forced to take a break from competition to fulfill the two years of mandatory military service required of all South Korean men. Given that the Zombie is one of the most exciting fighters in the game, news of this hiatus went down as a fairly substantial bummer.
But, here’s the good news: as of this coming October, Jung’s military term will have drawn to a close, and according to his team, who recently spoke with MMAFighting.com, he doesn’t plan to spend any more time riding the pine. In fact, the Korean superstar has hopes to return to the Octagon before the year is out—which is undoubtedly a cause for celebration.
Of course, this news also raises a fairly intriguing question: Who might the Korean Zombie fight when he finally makes his long-awaited return to the bright lights of the UFC? Well, given Jung’s status as one of the game’s most consistent action fighters, it should come as no surprise that he has no shortage of exciting options. So, let’s play matchmaker.
At a glance, the most logical step for a returning Zombie would be somebody like Ricardo Lamas. Though Lamas remains one of the featherweight division’s premier players, memories of his April 2015 knockout loss to Chad Mendes are still fresh, and his subsequent defeat of a war-worn Diego Sanchez did little to erase these memories. In Jung, Lamas would have the chance to re-enter the title conversation with a win over a long-time contender. Lamas, in contrast, would provide Jung with a tough, but not insurmountable return to the Octagon. Better still, the two featherweights were scheduled to no avail in 2013, so their pairing would mark the fruition of a long-discussed, and highly compelling featherweight matchup.
If Lamas isn’t available, hard-nosed veterans Clay Guida and Darren Elkins would also make logical welcome committees for a reanimated Korean Zombie. Then again, in the case of a fighter as exciting as Jung, what’s logical is not necessarily what’s right. While Guida, Elkins, and even Lamas would make sound opponents for his return, they are certainly not the most exciting options at his fingertips. And given that it’s been so long since we’ve seen the Korean Zombie fight, matching him with any fighter who wouldn’t bring out the absolute best in him seems like a waste. Yes, it’d be far better to pair him with a fighter that will oblige him in the kind of frenzied battle for which he’s become so adored.
To this end, the Korean Zombie might return to a matchup with Dennis Bermudez who, despite a hot-and-cold run over the last few years, remains not only one of the division’s top competitors, but also one of it’s most exciting. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a collision of Jung and Bermudez being anything short of spectacular, and the possibility of the pair’s earning Fight of the Night honors seems quite high.
The same could be said of a bout between Jung and Charles Oliveira. Like Bermudez, Oliveira stands out as one of the most exciting fighters in the UFC—his 9 post-fight bonuses are all the proof of this claim that you need. Despite his obvious talent however, the Brazilian is yet to earn himself a shot at a UFC title. A scrap with Jung would give him the opportunity to change this.
A third excitement-first matchup possibility for Jung would be Renan Barão, whose long-awaited jump from bantamweight to featherweight was recently announced. Whether Barão wins or loses his planned featherweight debut against Jeremy Stephens this spring, his status as a former UFC champion makes him a sound choice for the Korean Zombie’s return. Better still, Barão’s fights are almost always thrillers, and against a fighter like the Korean Zombie, the chance of an unforgettable fight is almost certain.
And then, finally, there is arguably the most compelling of all Jung’s options; a fight that is both sensible from a rankings standpoint, and exciting in the way it seems to guarantee excitement: a scrap with three-time featherweight title challenger Chad Mendes.
Though Mendes remains an irrefutable member of the featherweight top-5, he’s currently neck deep in the first two-fight losing streak of his long career, having lost to Conor McGregor and Frankie Edgar in 2015. The Team Alpha Male rep is undoubtedly eager to rebound from this skid, and there are few options more intriguing in this regard than Jung, whose status as a long-time contender makes him a legitimate test, but whose long layoff also renders him a step down in competition from the McGregor-Edgar gauntlet that Mendes ran in the latter half of 2015. Yes, the two featherweights match up phenomenally on paper, and at this stage, make a good deal of sense for one another. So why not let them close out the year together as a feature on the main card of a pay-per-view, or the headliner of a UFC Fight Night—perhaps even the UFC’s next trip to South Korea?
Indeed, the Korean Zombie’s status as one of MMA’s most consistently-entertaining fighters means that he matches up well with many of the featherweight division’s top players. And given that the division is currently more stacked than it’s ever been, the Korean superstar’s return could not come at a better time. Until that return, we’ll be counting down the days.
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