The One and Only, Korean Zombie
How many fighters could appear in the UFC just a dozen times over as many years, put together a 7-5 record and then retire as one of the most beloved figures in the sport? Chan Sung Jung, better known as The Korean Zombie will retire from the sport of mixed martial arts with the respect and admiration of fans and peers that most fighters will never know. How did he do it, why did fans fall in love with him, and could it ever happen again?
What’s in a name?
Most fighters have a nickname and most are forgettable. But sometimes their fighting name perfectly encapsulates the person they are in the cage and they become a kind of mythical figure like Cher or Madonna: Cro Cop, Shogun, Rampage. You hear the name and know their intentions. We’re drawn to these people because their performances are not limited to wins and losses but a kind of core sensibility.
These mythical fighters rarely harbour animosity towards their opponent. What we want is to see them do their thing, be themselves in way we wish we could, relentlessly and unapologetically. That’s why the Korean Zombie was such a captivating fighter: he made us wonder ‘what if we could absorb the slings and arrows of the world and just keep coming forward?‘
Stats that Quantify Excitement
UFC fandom has a roughly five-year shelf life. I know that a good portion of you aren’t among the faint hearted and fair weathers, and some of you have been with the sport longer than myself, but for the uninitiated here’s a fascinating number I uncovered.
While 24 fighters have earned more post-fight bonuses, The Korean Zombie has earned more bonuses per fight than all but two of them. TKZ fought in the UFC twelve times and won a post fight bonus in eight of them, meaning he won a bonus 66% of the time he stepped into the octagon.
For the inquiring minds out there, only Conor McGregor at 71% and Justin Gaethje with an inhuman 12 fights and 12 total bonuses, have a higher percentage. For the pedantic fans out there, Gaethje did not win a bonus in his two losses, but won both Performance and Fight of the Night versus Michael Johnson and Tony Ferguson. Charles Oliveira, the all time leader in post-fight bonuses is sitting at 43%.
With all those numbers out of the way I’ll opine that The Korean Zombie’s three fights worth revisiting (should you be feeling sentimental) are his rematch with Leonard Garcia in which he hit the first ever twister submission in the UFC, his battle with Yair Rodriguez in which he was tragically immortalized at the last possible second, and the pinnacle of his MMA career: a fight of the year performance versus Dustin Poirier. Go back and watch any of these, I may do so myself now that I’m feeling a little misty.
There may never be another fighter like The Korean Zombie, the times are changing and there’s not as much room for mystery when social media is as much a factor in your pay scale as in-cage performances.
I recently wrote for the bloody elbow substack about how I became a fan of both Karine Silva and Natalia Silva last year, but didn’t realise that they were two different people because the quantity of fights makes it hard to keep track of new names and faces. Khamzat Chimaev had that mystique for a moment, during the pandemic his personality and performances were captivating but it does seem his relationship with the UFC as well as fans has cooled off considerably.
More than a few fighters on the roster possess a similar kill-or-be-killed flair to the Korean Zombie, and their records over the past three years are littered in bonuses and finishes. Joaquin Buckley and Terrence McKinney are two fine examples, but something is missing. Is it a connection with the fan base, a personality quirk that shows up not on the mic but only in the cage? I may not have all the answers but first we’ve got to ask the right questions.
I’d like to give a little history lesson for everyone who loves to invoke the warrior spirit and particularly the Spartans, after hearing Max Holloway’s post-fight praise of The Korean Zombie. At the post-fight press conference, Holloway said “He never wants to die on his shield, he wants to die on his sword,” and having studied a fair bit of Greek sculpture let me clarify the two sayings.
To “fall on your sword” or to die on one’s sword means to commit suicide. To die on your shield means that a soldier died in battle and their body would be carried home by their comrades using the shield as a stretcher. The legend goes that when Spartan sons went off to war, their mother’s would say “come back with your shield, or on it,” because in battle a soldier could throw down their shield to surrender and beg their adversary for mercy. By relinquishing their shield they might return home but everyone would know they’d been a coward. #TheMoreYouKnow
I’ll be back at the bloodyelbow substack on Thursday with The Fine Art of Violence column, a new art gallery of Saturday’s finest moments. Keep an eye out for the women’s flyweight division, it’s heating up. Take care of yourself and I’ll be back here next Monday. Chris
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