Weighing the Options of the Korean Zombie's Return

The Korean Zombie is back, and he matches up beautifully with pretty much every featherweight on the UFC roster. So who does he fight next?

by Tom Taylor
Feb 7 2017, 8:56pm

Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

In October of 2014, we published an article called Why We'll Miss the Korean Zombie. That was back when the Korean Zombie—whose real name is Chan Sung Jung—was just embarking on the two years of military service required of South Korean men between the ages of 18 and 34 per Chapter II, Article 39 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea. It was a dark time for MMA, as Jung stood out as not only one of the best featherweights on earth, but one of the most consistently exciting fighters in the game.

Thankfully, Jung's hiatus is finally in the rear-view. On Saturday night, he made his long-awaited return to the Octagon, taking on the UFC's ninth ranked featherweight Dennis Bermudez in the main event of UFC Fight Night 104 in Houston, Texas. And though his long break from competition had many fans believing he could be in for a rough night, he ended up looking as good as ever—arguably better than ever—knocking his foe out with a beautifully timed, first-round uppercut.

Just like that, every member of the UFC featherweight division began looking over their shoulder, as the groans of the undead once again filled the air.

As impressive as Jung's first-round clubbing of Bermudez was, however, it is not likely to earn him a rematch with featherweight champ Jose Aldo, who he came up short against in 2013. If he wants a do-over with the divisional king—which we know to be true—he'll likely have to produce another win or two. This, of course, brings us to an extremely exciting question. Who does the Korean Zombie fight next?

Well, thanks to his fan-friendly fighting style, and the fact that he's fought very few members of today's featherweight top-15, it's possible that he has more options than any other fighter in the lengthy history of option-weighing. Seriously, print out the UFC's official featherweight rankings, tape it to your wall, throw a dart at it, and no matter where that dart lands, you'll have discovered a fantastic matchup possibility for the Korean Zombie. Yet neglecting to pick his ideal next fight just because he matchups up well with goddamn everybody wouldn't be much fun. So, let's see if we can't identify the best of the potential opponents available to him.

One obvious option is Jeremy Stephens, who is the only other man to stop Bermudez with strikes. The reason Stephens is such an obvious option for the resurgent Korean is that, just yesterday, he took to Twitter to ask for the opportunity to fight him. As exciting as this collision of finishers would be however, it seems like a bit of an unlikely choice, as Stephens is currently riding a decision loss to Frankie Edgar, and the UFC, as we know, prefers to match winning fighters with other winning fighters. But again, The Korean Zombie has plenty of other choices.

Another exciting next step for the undead star might be former bantamweight champion Renan Barão, who was chased up to featherweight by TJ Dillashaw. Though it's hard for me to say exactly why, there is something about a Jung-Barão pairing that just to scream Fight of the Night honors. The reasons not to make this fight, of course, are pretty obvious. Barão currently holds the number-14 spot in the UFC featherweight rankings. Given that the Korean Zombie just knocked out the division's ninth ranked fighter in the first round, this would be a clear backward step for him, and so it's unlikely this is the matchup the UFC lands on. So let's keep looking.

One choice that seems to be extremely popular when considering potential next opponents for the Korean Zombie is Cub Swanson. Swanson, much like the Korean Zombie, is a veteran of both the WEC and UFC featherweight divisions, and another fighter who is pretty damn reliable when it comes to excitement. There is no better example of the American's propensity for thrill-generating than his December slobberknocker with Doo Ho Choi, a countryman of the Korean Zombie and one who shares his gift for producing highlight-reel finishes. Furthermore, because Swanson and the Zombie are both ranked featherweights riding wins, this fight seems to satisfy the UFC's typical matchmaking requirements. In fact, I can't really think of any reason not to make this fight, except for the fact there might be an even better one out there: Yair Rodriguez.

We last saw Rodriguez in action when he thumped MMA legend BJ Penn to a first-round TKO back in January. With this stoppage win, the rising Mexican star reaffirmed his reputation as one of the most exciting contenders in the talent-rich featherweight division. It also pushed him into the number-eight spot in the UFC featherweight rankings, which makes him a logical next step for the Korean Zombie, who just knocked out the number-nine fighter. Yet the appeal of this potential showdown is not that it's logical. The appeal is that the two fighters seem to match up beautifully on paper. Imagine a collision of the Korean Zombie's crafty counterstriking and Rodriguez's leaping, spinning kicks. Imagine a battle between the Korean Zombie's veteran slyness and ring-craft, and Rodriguez's complete unpredictability.

Whoever the UFC chooses to match the Korean Zombie with next, however, the important thing is that he is back. Though the promotion's featherweight division certainly isn't hurting for elite talent, that is an undeniably good thing.