Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC
While that first crack at gold may not have gone his way, after nearly a decade “The Korean Zombie” is finally getting his shot at redemption. Jung is once again slated to vie for the UFC featherweight strap as a replacement opponent when he meets Alexander Volkanovski on April 9 at UFC 273 — an opportunity that fell into his lap once Volkanovski’s original challenger, Max Holloway, withdrew with an injury. And with the grind it took to work his way back to this point, Jung is determined to make the most of his second chance.
“When he fought Aldo, he wasn’t actually ready at that time,” Jung’s head coach Eddie Cha said while translating for the featherweight on Monday’s episode of The MMA Hour.
“He said nine years ago, nobody could beat Jose Aldo. Nobody even thought about beating him, nobody entertained that [idea]. And he’s so happy he was fortunate enough to fight him, because he has the experience now to actually step up and win a title shot.
“He’s always believed that someday he’d get another title shot,” the duo added. “It’s always been his dream to get another title shot and become a champion. And so he just stayed persistent. He wasn’t sure if he was ever going to get this opportunity again, but he worked his butt off, and the persistence and the hard work — and here we are today, April 9th.”
MMA is ultimately a sport about timing, and for Jung (17-6), the timing of UFC 273 couldn’t have been more perfect. As soon as Holloway withdrew his name from the title picture, seemingly every featherweight in the UFC’s top 10 rushed to volunteer their services, with some doing so more more aggressively than others. Jung, however, stayed reserved in his approach. He was coming off a big win over Dan Ige from June 2021, his third victory over his past four fights, and was confident he’d get the call from UFC officials.
“He didn’t campaign because he just thought that he should be next in line,” Cha said in translating Jung. “Out of the top five guys, he’s the only one coming off a win, and so he was somewhat expecting it, but he was also surprised when he did get it.
“He wasn’t too worried about [how other featherweights felt about the decision]. He’s saying he’s prepared for so many five-round fights — I think he had eight main events in a row or something like that. Like he said earlier, he was the only guy coming off a win, he didn’t really worry too much about who got the fight, but he just felt like he was next in line.”
Nine years is a long time for any athlete, but Jung, in particular, called it a “night and day difference” between where his career stood in 2013 and where it stands today.
Though he was once known primarily as a brawler, Jung has reshaped his approach in recent years under the tutelage of Cha and the team at Arizona’s Fight Ready gym, evolving the technical side of his skill set and learning the importance of patience and a good game plan. It’s a difference that Jung expects to pay dividends in his second shot at a UFC belt.
“I think the hardest thing for him in any camp is always missing his kids, but the training difference from [South] Korea to Fight Ready is such a difference, there’s no way he can’t come here, he said. Especially in order to be a champion, he has to come here and train and make that sacrifice,” Cha said in translating Jung.
“If he thinks of it as just like a fight, like a brawl, and just scrapping in there, then he can actually train in Korea. But now he looks at this as a sport, where he’s actually competing, looking to win rounds. We always talk about him as, we’re trying to win seconds, sequences. We’re trying to win minutes — minutes will win rounds, rounds wins fights. So his perspective on competing, fighting, is totally, totally different [now at Fight Ready].”
One voice in Jung’s ears for this camp even surprised “The Korean Zombie.” Former two-division UFC champion Henry Cejudo is also a coach at Fight Ready, and has been heavily involved in Jung’s preparation for Volkanovski, even despite the fact that Cejudo was one of the loudest fighters calling for the opportunity to step into UFC 273 on short notice.
It’s a gesture that Jung has greatly appreciated.
“Henry really surprised him a lot, because we’ve seen him a lot in camp and stuff like that, but Zombie got the title shot and he’s been helping out so much,” Cha said in translating Jung. “He’s been at every practice, every team meeting that we have for Zombie. He’s actually doing sparring rounds, playing around with him, so he’s super grateful. He didn’t realize he was so intelligent, fight-IQ-wise and everything else. Like when you see him on TV, he’s cringey and all that, but off camera he’s telling [Jung] what to do, he’s wrestling, coaching him as he play spars and stuff like that. So he’s a huge part of this camp.”