We were fortunate enough to catch-up with rising Korean Top Team star Chan Sung Jung to ask him a few questions about his MMA fight career, the Sengoku featherweight tournament, and his thoughts on signing with the WEC.
Chan Sung Jung also reveals how he earned the colorful epithet "The Korean Zombie", and what the fans should expect in his first stateside fight versus scrapper Cub Swanson at WEC 48 on April 24th.
We've compiled a collection of some of Chan Sung Jung's fights here if you care to watch them.
Of course, I have to ask the obvious question first--how did you get the unique nickname "The Korean Zombie"?
CSJ: "First of all, thanks for asking! I really appreciate you guys taking interest in me! As for the nickname, the guys at Korean Top Team gave me that nickname because I don’t get knocked down easily and I keep moving forward, just like a zombie!"
Tell me how you became a martial artist: do I understand correctly that you began with Hapkido, and then transitioned to kickboxing and sambo? How, and more importantly, why did you get started in combat sports?
CSJ: "At first I started with hapkido, then in high school I started to learn kickboxing. When I went to college, we had an MMA department. I was in the department and I started learning BJJ and that got me interested in MMA overall. I never really did any sambo, though. Not sure where there rumor got started."
Early in your career, you had an amazing fight against Hyung Geol Lee in the Pancrase Neo-Blood tournament in Korea. He secured an armbar that was very tight, and it looked like he was wrenching it badly and that you were in serious pain and on the verge of tapping. Somehow, you patiently fought through it, escaped back to your feet, and unleashed a flurry of knees and punches to finish him and win the tournament. How were you able to escape, and how did it feel to completely turn the fight around like that?
CSJ: "When I fight, I don’t really consciously think about things a lot. I wasn’t really feeling the pain. I was just fighting and wanting to win. After the fight, it was the best feeling, of course."
So you went into the Pancrase tournament having only one professional fight, and beat two foes in the same night to become the tournament champion; then you entered into another tournament at Korea FC for your next outing, and fought three opponents in one night, finishing the first two with first-round submissions, and winning the last by decision. This left you undefeated at 6-0, finishing all of your opponents save one.
First of all, how exhausting was it to fight three times in the same night? Also, explain what it was like to start out so strong, and how this success affected your confidence?
CSJ: "No matter how you look at it, the tournaments are hard. Pancrase and Korea FC were really tough, but the positive aspect was that after fighting tournament style, going to Japan for single bouts was much easier.
Of course, starting my professional career out with a lot of wins has boosted my confidence. Since I have a strong sense of pride, my will to win… to not lose, has always been dominant."
Next, you took your biggest step up in competition against the very tough Michihiro Omigawa, who didn't have the best record at the time after losing three straight in the UFC, but had fought some stellar 155-pound competition. Now, he's ranked as a top 10 featherweight in the world.
What were your thoughts before the fight on facing such a fierce adversary, and did you have a strategy laid-out that you were able to follow?
CSJ: "Originally, one of the Korean Top Team fighters named Kim Tae Kyun was supposed to fight Omigawa, and I was supposed to fight someone else. However, about a year earlier, in DEEP, a Korean fighter named Uh Won Jin had fought Omigawa and lost due to an illegal soccer kick that wasn’t called against Omigawa. Because of that, I wanted to get revenge for Uh Won Jin (whom I really respected and later went on to fight in Pride). So, I asked Coach Ha to let me fight Omigawa. I guess it was one of those defining moments in a fighter’s career.
My only strategy was to implement the flying knee kick. I had just learned the flying knee kick at that point and since it works well against certain kinds of fighters, we decided to go with that. Since then, it has become one of my staple moves, but for that fight, that was the main thought outside of just fighting my normal style."
How did it feel to come away victorious from your first big test, and the biggest fight of your career?
CSJ: "It always feels good to win. But, to be honest with you, after the fight, I didn’t feel like he was that tough of an opponent. I knew (and know) that there are much tougher fighters out there that I have to face in the future."
It was in the Omigawa fight that I noticed two things: first, that you are very comfortable throwing flying knees and leading with a looping uppercut (we also saw the spinning back-fist that you would later knock Pajonsuk out with); and also that you might fit the label of the term "brawler". Do you intentionally try to fight at a frenetic pace and overwhelm your opponent using a lot of different creative striking (as a strategy), or is that just the way you fight?
CSJ: "That’s just my fighting style. It is more like a 'brawling' style. People make note of the fact that I don’t always have my guard up… that’s because I look to stay aggressive and take the fight to my opponent.
When I think about it, fighting like this is exciting for me and I like the fans to be able to always expect an exciting bout when I’m on the card. I want to go out and fight hard and exciting every time."
After your fight with Omigawa, you had one more quick TKO win in DEEP before moving on to the Sengoku Featherweight Gran Prix. Once you knew you would be fighting in a huge show like Sengoku, what were your emotions? Was this the highest level you thought you would achieve?
CSJ: "At that time, my dream was to fight in Pride, but Pride had just folded, so I did think that Sengoku might be the biggest organization I would be able to get to. However, now that I’m going to be fighting in the WEC, it’s like a dream. More than a dream, because it’s something I couldn’t even imagine before! The WEC is the organization right now for the lighter weights, and I’m honored to be a part of it."
For your first fight in the FW Gran Prix, you dominated your opponent with a choke in the 1st round, and you were also able to get a feel for what it was like fighting in front of so many people and how good the other featherweight competitors were. At this point, how well did you think you were going to do in the tournament, and who did you feel was the best fighter that would probably end up being the champion?
CSJ: "After the first fight, I was starting to think about the champion belt. I thought that Hioki was the toughest fighter in the tournament. But, unfortunately, I lost. I wanted to fight Hioki and get the championship, but that didn’t happen."
Of course, as we're tracing your career in chronological order, we now arrive at your only loss to Kanehara. I've observed that many of the fans and I are in agreement that the decision for Kanehara was very controversial. Regardless of what the judges thought, who do you think won that fight, and for what reasons?
CSJ: (BIG sigh… and a pause) "I lost that fight. I spent too much time on the bottom. Visually, it wasn’t good. So, yes, it was a loss on my part. I do think that I imparted more damage on him in the fight, but still, I lost.
At that time, I didn’t really understand the 'fun' in wrestling. I didn’t really see the need to wrestle in a bout. Thanks to that fight, I learned to appreciate wrestling more. It helped me become more of a complete fighter."
You went on to finish Matt Jaggers, again by submission, in your last MMA fight. Did you want to make a statement after the disappointing loss to Kanehara?
CSJ: "Actually, I wanted to make a statement with a KO-- with my style--but it didn’t work out exactly the way that I wanted! I was happy, but not as happy as I would have been with a KO."
Tell me your thoughts on the KO of Pajonsuk in "It's Showtime"? Since you often throw the spinning backfist, did the technique just come naturally in the heat of battle?
CSJ: "It is something that I’ve practiced. Actually, I was talking to my friend Jeffrey, who had come to Prague for the fight, the night before the fight and I was telling him that the spinning backfist might be my only chance to win. I didn’t realize that it was illegal at the time. Pajonsuk, is a full on stand-up guy, so I knew I had my hands full in a stand-up bout.
I think a lot of people realized, including myself, that this wasn’t my forte. 'It’s Showtime!' were for the strongest fighters from Korea at 70kg., but the K-1 tournament in Korea was scheduled for the next month, so most of the stronger stand-up guys were already slated to fight in K-1. I thought it might be a good experience for me, so Coach and I decided to go for it. I do have confidence in my stand-up and want to continue to refine it, so we thought it might be fun."
How did the deal with the WEC come about? Did you and your team seek them out, or vice-versa?
CSJ: "We wanted to fight, but we weren’t getting any bouts in Sengoku. They had a few cards, including the Dynamite event, but they didn’t call me, so I was really disappointed. If I hadn’t fought well, or hadn’t fought hard when I was there, I would have understood, but I don’t think that was the case.
Things with WEC worked out really well and the timing was great. They’ve been really awesome with everything so far. For a long time, we talked about going to the WEC like a pipe dream, and now that it’s happening, we’re thrilled. We want to make sure that the WEC doesn’t regret taking a chance on me."
Your first opponent is Cub Swanson. Have you had a chance to watch any of his fights, and if so, how do you think your styles match-up?
CSJ: "Of course, I’ve seen some of his fights on video. He’s got kind of the 'zombie' style, too, so I think it’s going to be a really exciting fight. It should be a really good fight! The fans are going to be in for a treat."
According to the popular world rankings, the best featherweights in the world are in the WEC; the best three being Jose Aldo, Mike Brown, and Urijah Faber. Are you familiar with most of the WEC 145-pound fighters, and if so, is there anyone whom you respect or enjoy watching in particular? Are there any fighters that you would like to fight?
CSJ: "Yeah, there’s a lot of great talent in the WEC. I like Faber, Brown, all those guys. I also like Jose Aldo and I’d like to fight him. He’s the top of the division, so he’s the guy I want to fight. If you’re a man, you want to be the best and go against the toughest."
I'm curious about how MMA in America is viewed by those from other countries. MMA has become "big business" here, which has many positive qualities: there are more people watching, which allows for more exposure and more sponsorship opportunities, and the potential for more money for the fighters, which in turn attracts the best fighters in the world.
I can only speak for myself, but back when Pride and the UFC were dominating the market, I felt that one of the differences with Pride was that there was also a big focus on the "honor" of fighting, and not just if you walked away with the win. It seems that when more of the "business side" of MMA enters the equation, that there is less focus on "honor" and rewarding fighters for showing the true fighting spirit.
From your point of view, and maybe from the other fighters you've encountered, what do you feel are some of the differences about fighting in the U.S. versus overseas? Both good and bad?
CSJ: "Back when Pride was around, I thought that Japanese MMA was the best. Especially when you looked at the overall quality of the events. The production quality was second to none and the showmanship. In America, it was based more on a fighter’s skill, with less attention on the quality of the show, or the event.
But now, American MMA is by far dominant. They have the biggest organizations and the best fighters. The UFC and WEC are the major leagues of world MMA."
Another new adjustment for you will be transitioning from fighting in a ring to fighting in a cage for the first time. Have you had any training experience in a cage? And do you feel the difference in setting will cause a change in your training or strategy, or that you won't have to make many adjustments?
CSJ: "They had a cage at my college, but honestly, we didn’t really use it much when I was there. At the KTT gym, we don’t have a cage (any cage manufacturers are welcome to donate one!), so we’ve been practicing 'old-school', against the wall.
Obviously, there are going to be differences. At this point, I don’t know how much difference the cage will make with my fighting style. The WEC fights are in a cage, so I’ll fight in the cage the best that I can. We’ve contacted Urijah Faber’s Ultimate Fitness and we’re planning to work out there for several days before WEC 48. They have a partial cage setup, so that should help as well. We may be stopping in LA for a few days before we head up to Sacramento, so we’re looking into hooking up with a gym that has a cage down there as well."
What kind of impression do you hope to make on the American fans? What would you like for them to remember from your fights?
CSJ: "Well, just like the nickname, a zombie—straight forward, no stopping. I want to show them exciting fights. I want to entertain them. If they come to see a good fight, I don’t ever want the fans to walk away disappointed from one of my fights."
That's all I have for you today, Chan Sung. Would you like to make any closing comments, or send a message to the American fans?
CSJ: "Thanks for all of the interest that the American fans have been showing to me. Honestly, whenever I hear about people in the US, or other parts of the world being interested in me, it’s a huge thrill and a great honor.
Of course, I want to thank all the guys at Korean Top Team, especially Coach Ha and Coach Jeon.
For all MMA fans out there, I’d like to put on a great show that you won’t forget. I want to represent Korea and Korean MMA and make sure that everyone remembers The Korean Zombie!
We really want to thank Tri-Coasta, our first US sponsor, who’ve been awesome in dealing with us and really helpful throughout. Also, we at Korean Top Team wanted to thank you guys over at TheGarv.com. Especially Dallas Winston, for showing so much interest in me!"
We at The Garv.com would like to once again congratulate you on your success and thank you for your time, and also wish you the best for your American MMA debut!