George Roop's shin bone touched something in Chan Sung Jung’s brain that made him want to change. Something about being knocked stiff for the first time made the notion of taking two to give on a little less attractive.
Jung had arrived in America as a novelty act: The Korean Zombie, a man who walked forward through the heaviest blows and never stopped, yet over just three years he would become a legitimate contender for Jose Aldo’s world featherweight title.
After suffering an injury in his unsuccessful title challenge, Jung resigned himself to the two years of military service which is mandatory for South Korean men. The word was that Jung was in a fairly flexible role and able to train to his heart’s content, but when he finally returned to the cage he had been gone for the best part of four years.
Weirdly enough, Jung had never been tasked with a serious wrestler in his MMA career, so Dennis Bermudez—one of the most active takedown artists in the division—seemed a rough match up to return to. No one told Jung that though because looked marvelous. There was some ring rust there, he got clipped with hard right hands off his lazy jab on a couple of occasions, but Jung was never even close to being taken off his feet and he landed good counter blows when Bermudez tried to close in on him. A short counter uppercut put Bermudez down for the knockout at 2:49 of the first round and Jung was back.
Or at least, in February of last year he was back. Jung was signed into a follow up match against Ricardo Lamas but a knee injury took Jung out for another year. But this Saturday night, The Korean Zombie finally re-returns against the enormously talented up-and-comer, Yair Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is trying to rebound from being manhandled by Frankie Edgar back in May. He has some work to do to win over fans who are accusing him of ducking the even more untested Zabit Magomedsharipov. When he initially refused that match, Rodriguez insisted he wanted a higher ranked opponent to prove himself against. One injury and withdrawal later and he has been granted that in the number ten ranked Chan Sung Jung.
The story on Rodriguez is that he’s athletic, creative, and exciting but lacks science and ring smarts. On the one hand, it was impressive to watch him throw almost exclusively jumping and spinning techniques for twenty-five minutes against Alex Caceres, but it has become fairly obvious that he struggles with the rudiments of boxing, ringcraft, and actually getting up from underneath his opponents.
Rodriguez will throw up wild triangle attempts or attempt to roll through on Roleta sweeps, but the moment he is pushed against the fence—where he should be wall walking or at the very least encouraging the pass and coming up on the single leg—he is stuck.
It is very hard to threaten a triangle or armbar effectively when stacked up against the fence like this.
In some ways Yair Rodriguez could be a nightmare opponent for Chan Sung Jung. The Korean Zombie has always been a fan of long right uppercuts and lean-back left hook counters. Rodriguez—an upright fighter and tall for the weightclass—isn’t often susceptible to the uppercut and as a guy who is constantly throwing up high kicks, the lean back left hook is a dangerous prospect for Jung. The long stance that Jung uses to jab and lean back for check hooks also makes him susceptible to low kicks, even Dennis Bermudez was able to annoy him in this way.
Rodriguez also has the advantage of being comfortable striking out of both stances. It would be good to see him use both equally to frustrate Jung. From orthodox stance, Rodriguez will be able to land powerful right low kicks into Jung’s lead leg. Switching to southpaw, Rodriguez can throw powerful left high kicks to keep Jung’s right hand—which is famously undisciplined in its position—tucked in tight. A good smattering of left high kicks will threaten to knock Jung out if he gets lazy or commits to his leaning left hooks, force him to shell up a little, and will also allow Rodriguez to step in with punches afterwards. Rodriguez is not a good boxer, in fact he is about as far from a good boxer as you can be and still be considered a good striker in this sport, but many of his best punches have landed in flurries as he steps in off his kicks.
For Chan Sung Jung, the pressure that he showed against Dennis Bermudez might be a great start. When Frankie Edgar humbled Rodriguez last year, he did it by moving forward, applying pressure, and immediately springing back or ducking under Rodriguez’s blows when he panicked and threw hard. Against a good kicker, keeping them on the back foot is a great strategy because it significantly cuts down their options. Stop retreating long enough to kick, and if the opponent is still moving forward, you have a great chance of him stepping up the center and catching you on one leg. It is just so difficult to kick well while constantly giving ground or worrying about the fence.
Frankie Edgar pressured Rodriguez, withdrew from kicks, and closed in again while Rodriguez was on one leg. When Rodriguez panicked and started punching, Edgar got inside and the two would hit the fence.
Along the fence, Jung traditionally goes for two things, the flying knee or the uppercut, and flowing into grappling exchanges from those could both be very useful.
While Rodriguez is an upright fighter, the uppercut could still be of good use to Jung. A long right uppercut will often stand an opponent up and allow a fighter to get to his opponent’s body with strikes, or get in on his hips for a takedown attempt. Flowing up and down with strikes, foot sweeps, level changes, and trips from the clinch is where Jung can make the best use of his rounded, flowing skill set in this bout.
Jung goes to the body far less than you would like but he has still been pretty good at it. Getting to the body early against Rodriguez would sap his gas tank and Rodriguez’s fighting style is so labor intensive anyway that this could be disastrous for him in a five round fight.
The other big fight on this card is something a little less nuanced but likely to be just as much fun. Donald Cerrone is an open book—we have written a dozen articles on him here over the years because he fights so often and changes so little. His skills are tremendous, but his weaknesses are established and only vaguely hidden. Mike Perry is a little less of an easy read—despite being regarded as a one-note banger who memed his way into relevance, he has been capable of some surprisingly slick looks. Against Jake Ellenberger he used a beautiful step-up left kick to the legs, the body, and the head like he had just come from a top notch karate competition. He finished that fight with an elbow on the break from the clinch and had everyone excited for his future, then looked plodding and predictable against Santiago Ponzinibbio.
Oddly enough, this is a fight where Perry’s predictable side is what is called for. If he can storm his way in on Cerrone and crowd the gangly ex-lightweight, he can probably rattle him with punches. If he can get to the body, he stands a much better chance as Donald has something of a "glass gut," and Cerrone is at his most vulnerable early because he takes some time to warm up into the bout.
For Cerrone the long clinch—the single collar tie and the elbows off it—along with his brilliant intercepting knee might work well to keep Perry out of the kitchen. But Cerrone will also need to use his feet to get away from the early rushes, something that he has been slightly worse at in the past. Where the match becomes interesting is in the wrestling, as Cerrone has fallen back on it more and more in his welterweight career, but Cerrone doesn’t have all the strength advantages he might have as a giant lightweight.
UFC Fight Night: Korean Zombie vs Rodriguez goes down in Denver, Colorado on Saturday night. Make sure to get back here on Monday to review anything interesting that went down.