To call this weekend’s UFC Vegas 29 headliner between featherweights, Chan Sung Jung and Dan Ige, a crossroads fight for the former isn’t necessarily pushing the boat on in my opinion whatsoever. Since his return from conscription, ‘The Korean Zombie’ has failed to recapture the form which seen him challenge for 145lbs spoils, and without an eye-catching, reinvigorated performance against Ige, he can likely close the door on any future title challenge plans at featherweight.
The UFC Apex facility event will mark the eighth consecutive occasion Jung has headlined in his Octagon walk — quite a feat it has to be said. And with the emergence of former strawweight champion, Zhang Weili as a prominent star in her native China, the promotion was once keen to push Jung throughout the Asian market, particularly in his native South Korea, however, recent form and his above-mentioned period of conscription with the military, led to a period of prolonged inactivity, four years, in fact.
The 34-year-old has made no secret regarding his future in professional mixed martial arts, revealing his downward spiral following his October loss to incoming featherweight title chaser, Brian Ortega — explaining how he had gained quite a significant amount of weight, 20kg, in fact, following the quite comprehensive decision defeat. As Jung put it, he hit the lowest of lows professionally. “The thought that my career had crashed brought me down to rock bottom,” Jung said
He’s in a certain limbo-esque scenario at the moment. Since his return to the UFC back in February of 2017, he’s established a 3-2 record, which very easily could have been 4-1. Blasting his way back to the masses, Jung stopped the impressive, Dennis Bermudez with a first round knockout in his comeback.
In November the following year, Jung met with the #3 ranked, Yair Rodriguez in a high-profile, UFC Fight Night Denver headliner in the organization’s anniversary event, and despite taking all five rounds on each of the three judge’s scorecards, the Pohang native was clipped with a hugely innovative, upward elbow from Rodriguez with a single second remaining in the fight, stealing Jung’s victory and lodging his own Knockout of the Year.
It was another devastating defeat for Jung, given the simple fact that he was a mere second away from a massive win over the highly-touted Rodriguez.
Forced to rebound for the first time since a 2013 title challenge loss to Jose Aldo, Jung met the then-surging Renato Moicano and rather comfortably dispatched the Brazilian within the opening minute with an impressive finish on the feet.
Headlining once more, this time in a South Korea homecoming, Jung eventually stood opposite short-notice replacement, former lightweight champion, Frankie Edgar at UFC Fight Night Busan in December of 2019 — and with a win, would prime himself for a title-eliminator opposite originally slated opponent, Ortega. Within three minutes and change, Jung had stopped Toms River favourite, Edgar, quite emphatically again — showing off some of his overlooked grappling ability as well.
With UFC 251 hosting Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway II last July — October, and Abu Dhabi, UAE again, would host another high-stakes featherweight matchup; Brian Ortega vs. Chan Sung Jung.
Transparently billed as a title-eliminator between the two, Ortega made his first Octagon trip since a devastating doctor’s stoppage loss to then-champion, Holloway back in December 2018 — and sporting a new team, and a braid-less do, swept aside Jung over the course of five gruelling rounds, the final two of which Jung openly admitted he couldn’t remember, off the back of a thunderous spinning back elbow Ortega in the third — dropping him.
Against Ige, Jung is faced with an all too similar scenario. Should he have bested Rodriguez in November of 2018, you can bet your bottom dollar the UFC would have attempted to insert him into the title picture. Faltering, quite spectacularly in regards to the method, Jung was in limbo.
Faltering against Ortega last Autumn, Jung was once more in limbo as a result. A two-fight rise over Moicano and Edgar had been halted, as had his title aspirations.
Last July, Haleiwa native, Ige was tasked with solving the immense striking puzzle presented by New England Cartel technician, Calvin Kattar — one in which he failed to inside the sanctioned five round limit. Ige would go on to rebound in quite breathtaking fashion with a staggering 22-second KO over Gavin Tucker in March, while Kattar would suffer a bludgeoning at the hands of Holloway in Janaury of this year. Difficult viewing.
The victory over Canadian standout, Tucker would see Ige occupy the #8 rank at featherweight, having laid prior foundations with wins over Mike Santiago, Jordan Griffin, Danny Henry, Kevin Aguilar, Mirsad Bektic, and in April of last year, took home a razor-thin, highly-contentious split judging win over Edson Barboza in Jacksonville, Florida.
Undoubtedly, apart from Barboza, who managed to drop Ige in quite timely fashion with his hands back in the ‘Sunshine State’ last year, Ige faces the most dangerous striking puzzle to solve so far, in terms of consequences. Jung has notched eight submission wins, but his striking prowess, which has served him to six other knockouts has really emerged in his later years. However, the durability on show in his tight win over Barboza will serve Ige against Jung nonetheless, but heavy reliance on that grit can’t result in a wayward approach from the Eric Nicksick product.
Maybe foolishly, but I myself didn’t envision Ortega taking the upper hand in the striking exchanges against Jung last October, never mind the fact that he didn’t even attempt to utilise his feared grappling prowess. Jung looked like a deer in the headlights on occasion against Ortega, and against Hawaii striker, Ige, who is someone who can load up traps and feints on cue, freezing Jung for as long as this fight lasts is a real possibility.
Switching off the ‘Zombie’ is much easier said than done. Against Rodriguez, it was the perfectly-placed strike. Against George Roop, it was a brisk high-kick. And against, Aldo, it was a flurry of ground strikes after Jung suffered a shoulder injury. That’s it. Across a 22-fight career, that’s the list of fighters who’ve managed to finish him.
Ige’s ability to set up these quite elusive and telling traps against Jung makes me lean toward him in his these striking scenarios — which are likely to come thick and fast. It’s quite the interesting stylistic matchup on paper, and with the seemingly downward trajectory of Jung compared to the oncoming Ige, I’m picking the latter to win a striking duel between the two over the course of five rounds.
Prediction: Dan Ige def. Chan Sung Jung via decision
Senior writer for FightBook MMA. An aspiring mixed martial arts reporter based in Ireland. Producer of news articles, interviews, opinion features, and exclusive features such as, ‘The Fallout’, ‘The Breakdown, and, ‘This Week In MMA’.
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