“The Korean Zombie” looked less like he popped out of a zombie film and more like an unstoppable fighter from a martial arts movie on Tuesday night. The UFC entrusted Chan Sung Jung, a long-time fan favorite, with a main event slot against Dustin Poirier on the third UFC on Fuel event, and the Korean fighter delivered.
Jung provided plenty of entertainment (as did Poirier, to be fair), but what was less expected is that Jung would have shown the evolution that the displayed earlier this week while dominating a legitimate top ten opponent.
Jung has clearly improved in the last couple of years since he first came to prominence through the carefree, brawling style he displayed in two entertaining WEC losses. Since then, he seemed to turn a corner, first submitting Leonard Garcia with the first Twister ever successfully used in UFC competition, then knocking out Mark Hominick in under seven seconds later in 2011.
The problem with those two victories (I’m using the term “problem” loosely) is that you didn’t quite know how to assess The Korean Zombie. Surely, he wouldn’t be pulling off Twisters every other fight, and Garcia, while a quality opponent, leaves gaps in his defense large enough for the entire cast of “The Walking Dead” to walk through.
Hominick was known as a top-level featherweight very recently, even giving champion Jose Aldo a good go of it in their title showdown at UFC 129. However, part of participating in or following MMA is the understanding that we all have of the fact that any fighter could end any fight at any time with a perfectly-landed shot. While you never want to question the legitimacy of anyone’s KO win, there is an asterisk always ready to be placed next to a win like Jung’s over Hominick, with the footnote reading, “Anyone can get caught. P.S. Look at those tiny gloves!”
So while we learned that Jung had some power in his hands from that fight, it wasn’t the confidence-inducing experience that we would have seen if Jung had dominated Hominick for two or three rounds before pulling off the finish. That’s not to say that Jung couldn’t do that; I’m only saying that we didn’t find out for sure from that fight. Such a short victory effectively concealed all of the improvements that Jung had been making in training, away from our prying eyes.
Fast forward to Tuesday night, and Jung showed just how much he has changed since 2010. We knew he had grappling prowess along with the kind of creativity that allows him to see moves (working with the well-worn “chess” analogy) that others would not make, but brilliant sequences like when Jung rolled with the momentum on a powerful double leg takedown by Poirier to reverse the technique beautifully into a mounted position, followed by multiple branching submission attempts that led to what appeared to be a near finish due to a triangle choke. Then, of course, there was the perfectly opportunistic brabo choke that finished it all, which Jung quickly hooked up off of a failed takedown attempt by Poirier.
To me, Jung’s standup technique also seemed much more technical than in past fights, though he still does show a tendency toward brawling at times. Who knows, though? This tendency could work in his favor in a fight against someone like Jose Aldo. We don’t know the exact blueprint yet for defeating Aldo, but we do know that standing around and letting Aldo pick his shots is not the answer. Jung certainly won’t do that.
–Donald Cerrone was mysteriously back to form against a surprisingly gun-shy Jeremy Stephens, though it would have been nice to see what would have happened if Stephens had put up some more resistance. Still, you have to credit Cerrone, as it was his liberal distribution of leg kicks that took Stephens out of his game, kept him from ever feeling comfortable, and ultimately wore him down. I, for one, hope to see Cerrone take on Nate Diaz again sometime in the not-too-distant future.
–It’s good to see Tom Lawlor, one of the most entertaining personalities in the sport, enjoy some success on his birthday. Less so to see a classy veteran like Jason MacDonald get knocked out cold in less than a minute, but that’s the nature of the sport.
Adventures in Judging
Yves Jabouin put a brutal beatdown on Jeff Hougland on Tuesday night, though to Hougland’s credit, he somehow survived even when Jabouin dropped him multiple times and appeared to be just a few solid strikes from a stoppage more than once. The judges, however, can’t be given a lot of credit for their performances. Of the three judges, only one Jeff Blatnick scored a 10-8 round at all, with Blatnick seeing the third as a dominant round for Jabouin. Both Brian Costello and Cardo Urso failed to score either the first or the third round as a 10-8. This, despite the fact that Jabouin nearly finished Hougland in both rounds and outstruck Hougland 34 to 8 in the first round and 40 to 12 in the third. What more do you need?
Then, in the Fabio Maldonado-Igor Pokrajac fight, neither Jeff Blatnick, Eric Colon, or Sal D’Amato scored the second round for Maldonado, which is nothing short of awful judging. Maldonado won that round in every respect. He out-grappled and out-struck Pokrajac, stopping all three of Pokrajac’s takedown attempts, taking his own dominant position on the mat, and landing many more strikes (60 to 18). Maldonado’s strikes weren’t pitter-patter strikes, either, as he doubled Pokrajac in significant strikes landed in round two. How does that round ever get scored for Pokrajac, let alone by all three judges? Sal D’Amato also gave round one to Pokrajac, despite the fact that he was outstruck 47-16 with a staggering edge of 36 significant strikes to 6 in favor of Maldonado.
It bums me out that there wasn’t more immediate uproar regarding the judging of these two particular fights. Just because (in Jabouin’s case) the right fighter won the fight doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be a serious discussion about some judges’ inability to see a 10-8 round when it is right in front of them. On a different night, that could cost a fighter a well-earned win. Similarly, I think that the judging of Maldonado-Pokrajac will be forgotten within a day or two since it wasn’t a big-name bout and we have both Bellator and Strikeforce coming up. These judges should be held accountable, period.
Beautiful Loser Award
Can someone who really won take this award? They can if the judges are watching the fight with their eyes closed, as Fabio Maldonado put on a great performance while clearly winning two round against Igor Pokrajac, only to be on the wrong end of some head-scratching scorecards, including a 30-27 from Sal D’Amato in an early contender for Worst Scorecard of the Year. Do you remember any fight in which a fighter failed to be given a round when he was taken down just once all fight and had a 98-36 advantage in significant strikes? Unbelievable.
Movin’ On Up Award
Coming in to this bout, Chan Sung Jung was a couple of good wins away from title contention but ultimately not expected to get there. Now, Jung is not only in title contention but seems to be one of the best possible matchups left for Jose Aldo at this point. Is there anyone who doesn’t want to see that fight? If I’m the UFC, I make that fight happen before the momentum dies down.
Holy $#!% Award
Pretty much the entire Jung-Poirier fight wins this award. Lots of other writers have doubtlessly written columns about how this fight reminded them of why they love the sport, so I won’t belabor the point here. Suffice it to say that every now and then, it’s nice to have a fight like that revitalize your interest after watching countless fights day in and day out.