MMA: Chan Sung Jung
With a number of former WEC fighters competing Saturday at UFC 164 and one of its most infamous fights set to headline the card in Milwaukee, we took a look back at the best fights from the WEC's 10-year history through the eyes of founder and current UFC vice president of community relations Reed Harris.
So where exactly does the "Showtime kick" from Anthony Pettis rank among his favorite moments? Let's take a look back at Harris' top 10, including his personal memories of each one:
10. WEC 9: Olaf Alfonso SD John Polakowski, Jan. 16, 2004
Harris: Both guys broke their noses in the first 45 seconds of the fight. It was a war. In fact, [UFC president] Dana White was at the fight and HDNet was at the fight. And HDNet reported back to [channel owner] Mark Cuban, "We have to get this on our network." Polakowski took the fight on like two days. Really good striker but not very good on the ground. But Olaf was such a stud back then, he was like, "You know what? I'll stand with him." He just stood there for three rounds and they threw bombs.
9. WEC 29: Carlos Condit SUB1 Brock Larson, Aug. 5, 2007
Harris: It wasn't a fantastic fight, but what happened was Brock Larson was one of the strongest dudes I have ever seen. Like when that guy shook your hand, you were like, "Holy s---." He threw a punch at Condit, and Condit armbarred him, and it was so fast that I've never forgotten that moment. Larson was throwing bombs at him, he timed it perfectly and put that armbar on him and it was just, "Wow."
Harris: A lot of my memories about "Cowboy" are tied to Charles ["Mask" Lewis, Tapout co-founder]. Charles had gone and seen Donald, and he came to me and begged me to sign him -- and Charles was a guy who if he asked you to do something, he would call you every day until you did it. I remember how proud Charles was of [Cerrone]. He loved him.
7. WEC 44: Jose Aldo TKO2 Mike Brown, Nov. 18, 2009
Harris: It was the kind of moment where I really knew how good [Aldo] was. I remember the first time he jumped out of the cage [after knocking out Rolando Perez at WEC 38], I ran him back and I had never yelled at a fighter before. Poor Andre [Pederneiras] was interpreting it and it was basically, "If you ever do that again, I'll cut you." His next fight he won, I walked into the cage and he was running towards the door. He looked at me and smiled, then sat down.
6. WEC 38 and WEC 51: Donald Cerrone vs. Jamie Varner, Jan. 25, 2009 and Sept. 30, 2010
Harris: The fights between Varner and Cowboy [a technical-decision win for Varner followed by a unanimous-decision win for Cerrone] were epic. Those guys hated each other. There was so much going on behind the scenes. Biggest rivalry the WEC saw, by far. When Varner was fighting a year ago [in the UFC], he got sick, and I got a text from Donald saying something like, "You tell Varner to pull up his bootstraps and fight." I thought, "This is still going on and they haven't fought in [almost] two years."
5. WEC 53: Anthony Pettis UD Ben Henderson, Dec. 16, 2010
Harris: The fight itself was great, even without the kick. I'll tell you, when Pettis did that, I literally said, "What the hell just happened?" I didn't process it. I was watching live, and the angle I had wasn't good. I saw what happened, but I didn't know what he had done -- how he had gotten from where he was standing to all of a sudden, Ben was down. It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen someone do in MMA.
4. WEC 34: Urijah Faber UD Jens Pulver, June 1, 2008
Harris: I think we did about 1.5 million viewers, which for a company like WEC -- it's hard to be in that UFC space and command viewers. It was kind of a passing of the torch for Jens. I saw a lot of respect between the two but also a determination with Faber, like he was going to get through this. And I remember him dominating.
Harris: I remember [afterward] Faber being hurt. I gave him a hug and asked how he was. His leg was a mess. Aldo cried in the back. He was so emotional. It was like all the work he had done in his life -- that moment was life-changing to him. I remember when he was standing in that cage before the fight and "California Love" came on, Jose's look was like, "Wow. This guy's got a lot of fans."
2. WEC 40: Miguel Torres UD Takeya Mizugaki, April 5, 2009
Harris: It was such a war. I just remember how excited the crowd was and how brutal the fight was. There's nothing like seeing two guys in the dressing room who have given it everything they got. They had gone to battle. And when Miguel Torres was on, he really was like Anderson Silva. He had this aura about him.
1. WEC 48: Leonard Garcia SD Chan Sung Jung, April 24, 2010
Harris: To have those two guys step up and fight the way they did leading into our pay-per-view -- I know it completely bumped our numbers. Part of the story people don't know is after the fight, I went to the dressing rooms and "Korean Zombie" was crying because he really thought he had won the fight. I was able to tell him he won the fight of the night bonus, which was $65,000, and just the elation on his face was something I'll never forget.
The manner in which Jose Aldo successfully defended his featherweight title on Aug. 3 at UFC 163 against Chan Sung Jung wasn’t memorable. There were a few slightly tense moments, but Aldo was never in any serious danger.
Folks were expecting an action-packed bout, but that never materialized. The usually aggressive Jung was passive for much of the night, while Aldo’s fight plan was altered when he injured his right foot in the opening round. It was later learned that Aldo broke the foot, and is likely to be sidelined for the remainder of this year.
Aldo is a devastating kicker, but with that option unavailable he was forced to rely almost exclusively on his boxing skills. Using straight left jabs, superior hand speed and advanced standup skills, Aldo was able to limit Jung’s offensive options. Aldo’s textbook boxing wasn’t fun to watch, but it was effective -- leading to a fourth-round TKO after Jung suffered a dislocated right shoulder.
This brings us to featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas. The former lightweight has been dominant since dropping to 145 pounds in 2011. He’s 4-0 in his new fighting home and is ranked fifth among featherweights by ESPN.com.
When Aldo is healthy enough to return to action Lamas wants to face him -- and he deserves the fight. It's his turn. Actually, Lamas should have gotten the nod over Jung. He was ranked higher and Jung hadn’t fought in more than a year due to injury.
But UFC officials went with Jung, who was originally slated to face Lamas on July 6 in Las Vegas. It was the second time in a row that Lamas had been passed over -- in February, lightweight contender Anthony Pettis asked for and received a shot at Aldo. But an injury forced Pettis to pull out of the fight, opening the door for Jung.
Despite it all Lamas never complained. It’s not his nature to do so. But that is changing; he is no longer sitting quietly on the sideline waiting for UFC officials to do right by him. Lamas is now speaking publicly -- he wants a title shot. And he won't accept anything less than being the next featherweight contender to face Aldo.
“The people in UFC told me the reason Jung was picked over me was because they had promised him a title shot a year ago before he got hurt,” Lamas told ESPN.com.
“That's a once in a lifetime opportunity, you never know when you will get it again. So if they offer me the [title shot] I’m going to jump all over it. That’s actually what I am hoping for.”
That's a once in a lifetime opportunity, you never know when you will get it again. So if they offer me the [title shot] I'm going to jump all over it. That's actually what I am hoping for.” -- featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas, on his ongoing quest for a title shot
There isn’t a featherweight contender more deserving of a title shot at this moment than Lamas. But being most-deserving isn’t enough to guarantee he will get his wish.
If there is a knock on Lamas it’s that he lacks the name recognition of several other contenders. When talk of who will likely get the call to fight Aldo next, Frankie Edgar and Chad Mendes immediately get mentioned. And lately Cub Swanson has been tossed in the mix.
But Lamas has a strong counter-argument. Edgar and Mendes, who ESPN.com ranks third and fourth, respectively, among featherweights, have each lost to Aldo not too long ago. And Lamas’ second-round submission of Swanson in November 2011 still gives him the edge in the pecking order.
Lamas told ESPN.com, before Aldo-Jung, that he’d be willing to fight Edgar or the Mendes-Clay Guida winner -- those two are set to meet Aug. 31 at UFC 164 in Milwaukee. But that would be Lamas' Plan B, in the event Aldo isn’t able to return to action by early 2014.
Another factor that could work against Lamas is inactivity. Lamas hasn’t fought since Jan. 26 when he knocked out Erik Koch in the second round. That’s a long time be outside the cage, especially when trying to make a convincing case for a fight with Aldo.
It’s possible that Lamas might have to turn to Plan B. He might agree to implement it, but only if UFC officials guarantee him a title shot with a victory. Lamas deserves that much; he’s earned it. And he won't sit quietly while another fighter cuts in front of him.
It’s his turn; UFC needs to do right by Lamas and give him the next shot at Aldo.
ESPN Stats & Information
Here are the numbers you need to know for the fights:
92: The percentage of takedowns Aldo has defended in his WEC and UFC career. In 12 career fights spanning the two organizations, opponents are 5-for-66 in takedown attempts against the featherweight champion. Aldo defended 9 of 11 takedown attempts in his last fight against Frankie Edgar. In three UFC fights, Jung is 5-for-6 in takedown attempts (83 percent).
1: Both Aldo and Jung have finished a UFC fight with one second remaining in a round. Aldo ended his UFC 142 fight with Chad Mendes in the final second of Round 1, one of just 10 times that has happened in UFC history. Jung submitted Leonard Garcia with arguably the most unusual hold in UFC history, the twister, at 4:59 of the second round at UFC Fight Night 24. It was the only ending at exactly 9 minutes, 59 seconds of a UFC fight until Saturday when Jorge Masvidal accomplished the same feat with a D’Arce choke against Michael Chiesa at UFC on Fox 8.
8: Jung has eight submission victories in his career, including five by choke. The twister victory against Garcia won multiple awards for submission of the year in 2011. Jung won his last fight against Dustin Poirier at UFC on Fuel TV 3 by D’Arce choke, which was a candidate for 2012 submission of the year. Aldo has never faced a submission attempt in 12 WEC/UFC fights.
7: Aldo is one of seven undisputed titleholders from Brazil in UFC history, along with Vitor Belfort, Murilo Bustamante, Junior dos Santos, Machida, Mauricio Rua and Anderson Silva. Aldo is the only Brazilian to currently hold undisputed gold after Silva's loss to Chris Weidman at UFC 162. (Renan Barao holds the UFC interim bantamweight title.)
4.6: Significant strikes landed per minute by Jung. "The Korean Zombie" landed 89 significant strikes in his WEC debut against Garcia, a fight nominated for 2010 fight of the year. That total is just above the 74 he landed in four rounds against Poirier. Jung is known to get hit as well, absorbing 3.8 significant strikes per minute, including a head-kick loss to George Roop in 2010. Aldo lands 3.5 significant strikes per minute.
7: Seconds needed for Jung to knock out Mark Hominick at UFC 140, tied for the fastest official knockout in UFC history. Jung needed just six strikes to finish Hominick. Aldo's fastest win is eight seconds, a knockout against Cub Swanson at WEC 41 in 2009.
3: Consecutive wins for Jung in the UFC after two losses in the WEC. Those losses were both on WEC cards where Aldo was defending his featherweight title. Aldo has won 15 consecutive fights, with his lone defeat coming in 2005. Four of Aldo's wins since becoming WEC/UFC champion have been by decision. In 16 fights before winning the WEC/UFC title, Aldo had three decision wins.
6: Jung is the sixth fighter from Asia to fight for a UFC title belt. The previous fighters (Yuki Kondo, Yushin Okami, Hayato Sakurai, Caol Uno and Kenichi Yamamoto) went 0-5-1. Yamamoto (UFC 23) and Kazushi Sakuraba (UFC Ultimate Japan) are the only fighters from Asia to win a UFC tournament championship. Jung is the first Korean fighter to challenge for a UFC title.
11: Knockdowns landed for Machida in his UFC career, tied for fourth most all-time. In the light heavyweight division, Machida is second to UFC Hall of Famer Chuck Liddell, who has 14. Davis has not been knocked down in nine UFC fights.
74: Davis' significant strike defense percentage, fourth highest in UFC history. "Mr. Wonderful" is one of the most difficult fighters to hit, absorbing just 53 significant strikes in his seven UFC wins. In his loss against Rashad Evans, Davis was hit with just 38 percent of significant strikes. Machida is one of the best strikers in UFC history, landing 57 percent of his significant strikes, which is seventh best all-time.
When Anthony Pettis went down with a knee injury in June -- an injury that forced him out of his UFC 163 featherweight title bout with champion Jose Aldo -- the promotion turned to Chan Sung Jung, rather than the consensus “next best thing,” Ricardo Lamas. That decision raised quite a few eyebrows.
The decision to go with him over Lamas even caught “The Korean Zombie” by surprise.
“To be honest with you, I thought that Lamas would have been the first choice as well,” Jung told ESPN.com during a recent media call to promote his title fight, which takes place Saturday in Rio de Janeiro. “But I’m happy to have been chosen.”
Lamas and Chan were slated to fight July 6 at UFC 162, but that bout was scrapped when Jung got the call to fight Aldo; Lamas is still awaiting notice from UFC officials when he will fight next.
It’s easy to make the case that Lamas should have gotten the nod to fight Aldo: He’s unbeaten at featherweight (4-0) since making his debut in the division on June 26, 2011. And Lamas is ranked higher than Jung at 145 pounds by both ESPN.com (fifth; Jung is sixth) and UFC.com (second and fifth, respectively).
Lamas is 13-2 overall and has impressive victories over two current featherweight contenders -- Cub Swanson and Erik Koch. He was among the favorites to land a title shot after Frankie Edgar came up short in his bid to unseat Aldo at UFC 156 in February. But Pettis, a lightweight contender, shook things up by tossing his name in the featherweight title mix.
A strong argument also can be made favoring Jung. After an exciting fourth-round submission victory over Dustin Poirier in May 2012, Jung seemed primed to face Aldo, before suffering a shoulder injury that has kept him out of action for more than 12 months.
While Jung concedes that Lamas is arguably the more deserving contender at this time to fight for the title, he is comfortable with being chosen. And there is a key reason, he believes, UFC officials made the correct choice in giving him the fight with Aldo.
“Maybe what made the difference were the stylistic differences. I think that this fight is guaranteed to be exciting fight,” Jung said. “That’s probably one of the big reasons why they chose me to go over Lamas.”
It’s an excellent point of view. Jung is the type of fighter who always comes forward and he’s very active inside the cage. He will definitely attempt to put pressure on Aldo.
During his current three-fight win streak, Jung (13-3) has finished each opponent. His second-round twister submission of Leonard Garcia on March 26, 2011, still remains fresh in the minds of MMA fans.
Aldo is favored to retain his belt, but Jung has the skills to make things interesting. Even Lamas expects there to be fireworks Saturday night.
“I see [the fight] going one of two ways,” Lamas told ESPN.com. “It’s either going to be a slaughter for Aldo, or one thing that we haven’t seen a lot of is guys backing Aldo down by continuously coming forward, which is what the Korean Zombie does; he closes the gap. When you close the gap, one of Aldo’s biggest weapons are leg kicks, those kicks are kind of eliminated.
“If Korean Zombie can continue going forward like he usually does, close the gap and turn it into a messy brawl, I can see him with a chance. I never count anyone out of a fight.”
Aldo is considered one of the most dominant champions in UFC history -- as far as the featherweights are concerned. Being the guy to beat Aldo would be way better than just being the featherweight champion by beating somebody else in the division.” -- Ricardo Lamas, on why he relishes a title challenge against Jose Aldo
Lamas doesn’t take issue with Jung being labeled an exciting fighter, but he has difficulty accepting that the Korean Zombie’s fighting style makes for a better matchup with Aldo. As far as Lamas is concerned he too presses the action -- and cites his featherweight performances as proof.
UFC would not have gone wrong with Lamas in the cage Saturday night standing across from Aldo.
“If you look at my last four fights, I finished three of my four fights,” Lamas said. “The only one I didn’t finish, I went into it with an injury. And the fights I did finish were exciting -- a first-round TKO, a second-round submission of the night and a second-round TKO that was one of the bloodiest in UFC in a long time.”
Lamas will watch Saturday night’s main event very closely. He wants the winner, hoping it will be Aldo. The champion has hinted at possibly moving to lightweight after his fight with Jung.
Being passed over in favor of Jung still stings, but if Aldo exits the featherweight division with the title belt it will leave in hole in Lamas that he won’t be able to fill in the foreseeable future.
“Let’s say Aldo moves up; I fight somebody else for the featherweight championship and I win,” Lamas said. “There will still be those people out there saying, ‘Oh, he’s not the real featherweight champion because he didn’t beat Aldo.’ I don’t think it will be as valid as being the champion who beat Aldo.
“That would be the best. Aldo is considered one of the most dominant champions in UFC history -- as far as the featherweights are concerned. Being the guy to beat Aldo would be way better than just being the featherweight champion by beating somebody else in the division.”
Lamas hasn’t made a fuss over not being in the cage Saturday night with Aldo, but he doesn’t want to be pushed aside again. He wants to be the next guy to face Aldo. But for now, all Lamas can do is hope that Korean Zombie doesn’t get the job done first.
Poirier's success in the Octagon encouraged some talk that he might be ready to take on champion Jose Aldo. Even a May 15 loss to Chan Sung Jung hasn't completely erased Poirier from title-shot discussions.
To his credit, Poirier never bought into the title-shot talk. Whenever his name was raised as a potential next opponent for Aldo, the Louisiana native always shot down such suggestions.
Despite all the talent and promise that Poirier displayed inside the cage, he knew he was several fights away from fighting for the 145-pound belt. There were still a few hurdles he needed to get over.
Poirier's unwillingness to openly campaign for a title shot might have been viewed as lacking confidence. But lack of confidence isn't, and likely will never be, part of his DNA.
He's just always been honest with himself.
It's one thing to believe a title shot is in order, another to know when the time is right to become champion. Poirier isn't in the mixed-martial-arts business to fight for titles -- his goal is to become champion. So Poirier, then riding a four-fight win streak, went into the bout against Chan determined to gauge how far he actually was from becoming a titleholder.
It was his first five-round bout and first appearance in a main event. And that moment got the better of Poirier -- mentally and emotionally.
Keep in mind that Poirier turned 23 less than four months earlier, was facing arguably his stiffest test and doing so under the brightest spotlight of his young career. So the young man buckled.
"That threw me off a little bit," Poirier told ESPN.com. "I felt some pressure. I was a little nervous about a five-round fight. There was just a lot of pressure on me. While I was there fighting, I was hesitating and thinking too much."
Poirier performed admirably in the back-and-forth battle. After three rounds of hard fighting, he showed no sign of wearing down physically.
At the start of Round 4, Poirier was still fresh. He overcame a key hurdle that every champ, or potential champ, must confront -- the ability to go five hard rounds. But Poirier didn't overcome every hurdle -- he made some mental mistakes in the fight and eventually got himself caught in a D'Arce choke at 1:07 of the fourth.
No fighter wants to lose. But in Poirier's case the loss to Chan serves as a steppingstone to better days ahead. Poirier is more title-ready as a result of that fight than at any time in his career.
"I learned a lot from that fight," said Poirier, who is now 12-2. "I got pushed to the limit. I got off the stool in the fourth ready to fight two more rounds. That was a big step in my career. It was the first time I'd ever been in the fourth round. I should have attacked more when I had him hurt. I should have been more aggressive and stuck to the game plan on the feet. I learned a lot of things from that fight.
"That was a battle that I'll keep with me forever. It'll just help me improve."
And he is expected to be a much-better fighter on Dec. 15 when he faces 2010 winner of the "The Ultimate Fighter" Jonathan Brookins in Las Vegas.
Unlike any of his previous fights, Poirier views this battle with Brookins as a showcase event.
Poirier's standup skills have always been sharp, but they will be better in this fight. His jujitsu is above-average, but Poirier is excited to display improvements he's made wrestling.
"He's a good fighter," Poirier said, of Brookins (13-5). "He's good at turning exciting fighters -- by grinding them down -- into slow [fighters]. His pace is just constant pressure, kind of dragging the guy down into deep water. That's the mentality he has. He can face explosive fighters, put them against the fence and wear them down.
"But I'm going to be in there looking to shine and looking to prove a point against him. I really like this matchup."
The point is, Poirier wants to prove that he is now worthy of serious title-contender status. He believes he's ready to become the UFC featherweight champion.
To make that point clear, he intends to put Brookins away early.
"I'm going to go out there and finish Jonathan Brookins," Poirier said. "It's not going to be a decision; it's going to be me getting my hand raised in the first or second round and showing the division that I'm here. In the [Jung] fight I didn't get run over. He was just on that night and I was just off. Sometimes that happens in fighting, and I learned a lot from it.
"I'm going to prove to myself and everyone [on Dec. 15] that I deserve to be at the top of the 145-pound division."
If your glass is half-full, you saw the emergence of two exciting 145-pound title threats in Ricardo Lamas and Cub Swanson. If it’s half-empty, you saw the official fall from grace of Hatsu Hioki and a nice effort by Swanson, but nothing near what it would take to instill confidence he could beat Jose Aldo.
Consider me a bit of both. The UFC featherweight division isn’t terrible -- but it’s not as if Aldo has been run through the gauntlet, either. Chad Mendes is talented, but still raw. Kenny Florian nearly killed himself to make weight in what ultimately amounted to his last appearance in the Octagon. Mark Hominick is technical, but relatively one-dimensional.
Will Aldo continue making an easy go of it, or are there potentially scary fights ahead? Let’s break down which feathers have a shot at UFC gold by the end of 2013 and which, well, probably don’t.
The probably nots: Jim Hettes, Diego Nunes, Ross Pearson, Dennis Siver
Hettes showed plenty of evolution in just two fights in the UFC, notching two 10-8 rounds in a unanimous decision against Nam Phan in December. At 25, he might have the most upside on this list, but his skillset doesn’t match up well currently against an athlete with takedown defense like Aldo. Siver is dangerous, but seems destined to be that guy who’s always Top 10 but never quite Top 5. Nunes has flashes of title-contender stuff, but rarely are flashes enough to win it all. Pearson is a solid talent and very fun to watch, but against a technical speed kind of guy, he’ll struggle.
The guy who didn’t want it: Hatsu Hioki
I’m not going to rake Hioki over the coals because he passed on a title shot. Was it a smart decision? Probably not. Is it a sign of no confidence? Not so sure about that. Couldn’t it also be seen as a sign of confidence in the sense Hioki believed in himself so much he accepted another fight, knowing he would win but just wanting more Octagon experience?
Either way, this isn’t the guy we expected to see in the cage. He’s never looked at home in the UFC, even when they had him fight at home (at UFC 144 in Japan). He hasn’t showcased what makes him, -- him and even if he reverted to old Hioki, old Hioki kind of got hit a lot.
The streaker: Ricardo Lamas
Lamas has been on a tear since dropping to 145 pounds for his UFC debut last year. There’s a lot to like right now about this guy. At 30, he seems to be peaking mentally and physically, he’s adapted to this weight and his confidence is up. He’s got heart and he’s well-rounded.
Will be interesting to see though, if he becomes slightly overrated due to these last two wins. Thing is, he was losing that fight to Cub Swanson before Swanson got too comfortable on the ground and Lamas caught him. Then he edged Hioki, who hasn’t been who we thought he’d be. Lamas is good, but he’s not in Aldo’s league yet.
The banana peel-prone: Charles Oliveira, Dustin Poirier, Cub Swanson
All three are capable of looking like world-beaters, but all three have identifiable examples -- recently -- of flat performances.
As a lightweight, Oliveira got blasted by Donald Cerrone. He recovered and won his next two matches, but he was a deer in the headlights against the confident, aggressive Cerrone. Similar situation with Poirier when he fought Chan Sung Jung. It was a big spot for Poirier, headlining his first card, and he froze a bit. He came out stiff, pumping his jab in the beginning of rounds and the Zombie went for blood and put him on his heels every time. Swanson has shown moments like he did against Pearson before, but he’ll also fall into some serious mental lapses. He basically stopped fighting in the second round against Lamas and it quickly led to a loss.
The unfavorable styles: Chan Sung Jung, Chad Mendes
In an Aldo-less division, I’d like both these guys to hold the featherweight belt at some point in their careers. As long as Aldo is there, though, it’s going to be tough.
If there’s one thing we’ve realized about Aldo, it’s that a one-dimensional approach won’t work. Florian actually had arguably the most success against him and it’s because he switched things up. He forced Aldo to think. Aldo’s athleticism ultimately was far too much, but Florian had him guessing at times in that fight. Mendes’ standup is coming along but it needs more elements. When he’s able to threaten Aldo on the feet, the takedown will open up.
The Zombie is a tough competitor and you’d have to give him a shot against Aldo, but think about this matchup: Jung is a pressure fighter. He’s in your face, he’s accurate and he’s got enough tools that he can be hard to predict. He’s not really a speedster though. Aldo is a phenomenal counter puncher and frankly, he’s twice the athlete Zombie is. Jung could win it on the floor, but it would be hard to get the fight there.
The athlete: Erik Koch
Koch hasn’t proved it against the best in the world yet, but if there’s anyone who passes the eye test in this sport, it’s him. He’s maybe the one guy that can keep up with Aldo’s speed and explosiveness. A good analogy is that Koch is the 145-pound version of his teammate, Anthony Pettis. He uses speed and footwork to dictate range, he’s got knockout power and he’s surprisingly good off his back and in the scramble. The biggest concern is: has the UFC rushed him into this spot too fast?
The answer: Frankie Edgar
If Edgar fails in his attempt to reclaim the lightweight belt from Ben Henderson in September, there’s got to be a high chance he drops to his natural weight. And who knows? Maybe he gets an immediate title fight if he does.
If that were to happen, this is the only fighter I see dethroning Aldo in the next 18 months. He’s got the style to beat him. Edgar is fast, dangerous in different areas, and his takedowns are highly underrated. This guy took down big lightweights like Henderson and Gray Maynard. He’d take Aldo down, too. He sets a high pace, maintains that high pace and we know he can take a punch.
Far be it from me to doubt Edgar in the lightweight rematch. Clearly, you can never count this guy out. If he loses and drops to featherweight, I think he’ll be the 145-champ come December 2013. If not, Aldo will continue to roll.
Today, both are being speculated in title talks. That was April.
May has not been so kind for prospects and buzz names in the UFC. First it was featherweight Dustin Poirier, who was made a centerpiece for his UFC on Fuel fight with Chan Sung Jung. He was being groomed as the next in line for the Erik Koch/Jose Aldo winner, and was riding the wave of intrigue when the “Korean Zombie” happened. Who was this Jung, and where did he spring from? This version was light years removed from the stumblebum who traded with Leonard Garcia for three rounds back in the WEC.
The fight game is full of surprises. Suddenly, it’s Jung closing in on a title crack instead of Poirier, who is forced to treat the whole thing as a set back.
And he wasn’t the only fresh batch to be thrown out. At UFC 146 in Las Vegas, two more prospects went down.
There was 24-year old Diego Brandao, whom many people were talking about the first big talent to come off the “Ultimate Fighter” series in years, who lost to a resilient Darren Elkins. Extract the Brandao of the first round and spread it over three, and there’s the star in wonder. But, as everybody knows, fights have moods. Elkins came roaring back. Brandao succumbed.
And then there was Edson Barboza, who scored what might be the knockout of the year against Terry Etim at UFC 142 with that spinning wheel kick. He lost to an opportunistic replacement in Jamie Varner in his follow-up.
Of all of the upsets to occur in May, this one stands out as the true thud. With Poirier, you knew Jung would be tough, and Brandao is still green enough to trip. But Barboza? He was undefeated and fierce and fighting a guy who was largely thought to be washed up and recycled out of necessity. He was fighting the replacement. Nobody saw Varner coming. Not many believed in Varner’s second coming the first time through.
But Varner became to Barboza what Charlie Brenneman was to Rick Story a year ago, back when Brenneman took the fight on late notice when Nate Marquardt was plucked for high testosterone levels. He became a monkey wrench. Story was on pace for a title shot in the welterweight division and was calling out guys like Jon Fitch after dominating Thiago Alves. When Brenneman was dealt in just 24 hours before the fight, it felt like he was nothing more than a warm body being stuck in there to salvage the card.
On Saturday, Varner was thrown in there for the injured Evan Dunham -- and Varner made the most of it. Dunham has seen this stuff before. Remember when Kenny Florian got hurt, and Melvin Guillard stepped in to face Dunham? Same thing. Guillard heard the buzz coming off of Dunham’s name, and muted it. It happened to Guillard later against Joe Lauzon. Lauzon did it to Jens Pulver back in the day.
Fighters have been linked by travesty forever.
If these outcomes tell us anything it’s that A.) there’s no such thing as a warm body in the UFC, and B.) the greatest motivation heading into a fight is to be counted out of it. It’s what makes MMA fun. You can’t pencil people into the title picture without using your eraser.
Now Varner is back. Elkins is mean. Jung is a contender. And those other guys, the ones they beat? It’s back to their relative obscurities and rededications.
This is a sport where gimmies are hard to come by.
This little engine that could, surviving, thriving, making it to the top of mountain and all that.
There are days -- unfortunately more and more frequent -- when feel-good memories seem so distant. The impact of a rolling and rife drug culture. Power plays at the top. Lawsuits. Money matters. Twitter gaffes. Politics, union battles, media squabbles and, recently, high-pitched nonsense over television ratings. All part of the makeup of today’s not-so-innocent mixed martial arts. Life in the big city, I guess.
But you know what's never changed, what drew me in like, I imagine, many of you?
The ballast that steadied MMA through the rough patches. The fuel that helped cast aside a perception that almost killed it. The reason so many people are willing to spend so much money each month to watch mixed martial artists from across the globe do their thing.
Such are the wars of attrition, stunning moments, incredible acts of courage and fortitude.
They’re too many to count. Well, whatever the number is, go ahead and another add another because on Tuesday, Chan Sung Jung and Dustin Poirier offered a wonderful account of all the sport can offer.
From the opening bell, intrigue. Jung started strong, working over Poirier, the 23-year-old once-beaten favorite, from top position. "The Diamond" glimmered with a technical, beautiful reversal. They stood and traded shots at the end of the first.
You sensed it then, right? That this one was going somewhere special.
Round 2 confirmed what we thought we knew, as Poirier somehow surveyed an onslaught of submissions.
The third forced a deep breath -- perhaps Poirier had a late-round comeback in him?
Jung slammed the door on Poirier in Round 4, finishing an excellent fight with an awesome flowing sequence that showcased MMA’s dynamism: uppercut, left hook, flying knee, D’Arce choke.
There was just enough brilliance in there for the 25-year-old Korean to receive $80,000 in submission- and fight-of-the-night bonuses. And apparently he’ll skip to the front of the line, earning a UFC featherweight title shot against either Jose Aldo or Erik Koch.
There is -- or was -- an inherent parity to MMA. Dominance, such as the kind displayed by Anderson Silva or Georges St. Pierre, has been fleeting and rare. Eras have lasted mere months. Though the sport may be entering a time when great champions stand tall above the rest, you can’t count out a guy like Jung. He’s aggressive. Undeterred. Unafraid. And, it turns out, damn skilled. There will always be room for a fighter of his disposition in the UFC, as there should be.
I don’t mean for this to come off like Jung-Poirier was the best fight I’ve ever seen. But it might be the best fight I’ve seen on a Tuesday night, and as prolific as MMA is in 2012, with all the troubles it seems to bring upon itself lately, that’s something to seriously sit back and consider.
For all the out-of-competition drama that follows MMA (sports in general, really) and therefore occupies headlines, isn’t it fun when all that’s forgotten? Even if it’s for a few minutes?
The headliner on a card many might have been tempted to ignore, it turned out, produced a smell-the-roses moment. Just remember that the next time someone or something associated with MMA makes you want to slam your head against a wall.
Oh, and if this read like a portrait of saints, so be it. After what Jung and Poirier managed to pull off, it probably should.
Before his walkout at Arco Arena, the promotion played a video package in which Jung basically stated he wanted a brawl. He said he always wants a brawl, but few opponents would give him one once they got in the cage.
Typically, prefight video packages aren’t all that meaningful -- but this one was. Here was a fighter basically unknown in the U.S., begging for a brawl against one of the most notorious brawlers the sport had to offer in Garcia.
The fight, as you probably recall, turned out to be a consensus fight of the year candidate. Garcia would win a controversial split decision in a fight in which, according to fightmetric.com, the two combined to throw 273 “power” strikes.
As great a moment as that was in the story of the “Korean Zombie,” Tuesday’s win over Dustin Poirier at the UFC on Fuel TV 3 card in Fairfax, Va., might be better.
Jung (13-3) is such a better fighter today than he was two years ago against Garcia. He sparked a "Zombie" fever in the U.S. with his style, but mostly for entertainment value. When the WEC merged with the UFC in 2011, few expected him to rise to a title shot within three fights.
That’s exactly where he is, though, after a dramatic fourth-round stoppage over Poirier (12-2). It had every element we’ve come to expect from a Jung fight, but the biggest thing to focus on here might be the Zombie’s growing bag of tools.
His demeanor has changed, for starters. In an interview with ESPN.com before the fight, Jung said he had taken a more serious approach to a fight of this importance.
He didn’t grin widely during his walkout, which he typically does, and he was dialed in early. While Poirier tensely pumped his jab at the beginning of rounds to break the ice, Jung seized control with aggressive, purposeful offense.
“I don’t think I had a bad night,” Poirier said. “He came ready.”
Count the different ways Jung did damage in the fight. A beautiful trip from the clinch put Poirier down in the first round, where Jung opened a cut on his opponent's head with an elbow.
In the second frame, Jung caught a kick from Poirier and dumped him with a straight right hand. He’d work to mount, transition to an armbar attempt, to a triangle, back to an armbar.
Leading up to the finish, a visibly tiring but still aggressive Jung landed an uppercut flush to Poirier’s chin before following with a flying knee attempt. Poirier was simply overwhelmed at that point, leading to a D’Arce choke finish, of all things.
“In the beginning of the third round I looked into Dustin’s eyes and felt, ‘I can do this,’” Jung said. “Honestly, I didn’t know the D’Arce was going to come out. I hadn’t prepared for that.”
Was it enough of a performance to give fans a sense of confidence that Jung can win a potential fight against Brazilian star and current featherweight champion Jose Aldo? Probably not. Aldo (21-1) would still likely be a heavy, heavy favorite in that fight.
What it was, however, was proof that the 25-year-old Jung is more than a brawler with a good chin. He’s become a far more technical martial artist than the one who simply promised a good show during that first impression in California.
Featherweight contender Chan Sung Jung looks to keep the momentum going Tuesday night, when he meets the highly touted Dustin Poirier in the main event of the UFC on Fuel TV 3 card.
Following a disappointing 0-2 showing in the WEC in 2010, Jung was one of the more memorable figures of the sport in 2011. After avenging a previous loss to Leonard Garcia in March, Jung made quick work of Mark Hominick in December, shocking the Canadian fan base with an early knockout at UFC 140.
While Poirier (12-1) is the one attracting attention as a future dance partner to current champion Jose Aldo,
Jung (12-3) would have a case of his own for that opportunity with a win Tuesday. ESPN.com spoke with the man they call the Korean Zombie in the buildup to the fight.
ESPN.com: Is there any difference to your approach for this fight, considering you’re on a two-fight win streak and have the makings of a run at the title?
Jung: This is my dream. Winning the title is my dream. As I get closer to that, it definitely makes me want to concentrate more on obtaining that dream. Especially as far as preparing for this fight and making strategies, it was easier for me to be serious. I don’t really consider myself a “young” fighter. If I was given the opportunity to fight for the title tomorrow, I would do it. It’s the sort of thing I have a desire to do, but I’m also very confident I’m able to do it right now.
ESPN.com: Have you been told at all by the UFC where a win on Tuesday would place you?
Jung: I haven’t really heard anything directly as far as if I get the win, I’ll be in title contention. I think it really depends on how the fight goes. If I win convincingly, that would probably put me in a good position to get a title match.
ESPN.com: What are your thoughts on Poirier and had you had an eye on him before now?
Jung: I think he’s a really good fighter. He’s a physical guy, very strong, doesn’t have any real weak points in his game. I think very highly of him. I really got to know about him after his last fight against Max Holloway. Before that, I had heard his name but didn’t know much about him. After that fight though, he got my attention.
Jung: It definitely is important to me. It’s another thing I had as a goal. I’m very honored to be in this position. This is something along with winning a title I always wanted to do. When it comes to MMA fans in America, they don’t seem to have any discrimination as far as nationality or anything. They just really like exciting fighters. I’ve been surprised and I appreciate the reaction I get from fans. In the past year and in the past few months, my popularity and my visibility has gone up quite a bit.
ESPN.com: How difficult were those two losses for you in the WEC?
Jung: Those two losses were really hard for me. I pretty much suffered as much as a person can suffer from that. I put a lot of pressure on myself, so it was disappointing for me to lose like that in my first two fights. That’s one of the reasons I decided to go and do a little bit of training with Team Alpha Male, with Urijah Faber, because I felt like I needed to change something. I feel I learned a lot from those losses and it paved the way for me to come into the UFC and do well now.
ESPN.com: What is the biggest difference in you now as opposed to two years ago?
Jung: I’ve changed a lot both mentally and physically as a fighter. Two years ago, I was immature. I was stubborn about the way I fought and about my striking. It’s like I wasn’t fighting an MMA fight. I just wanted to [do] everything on my feet. That’s something I was stubborn about, but since then, I’ve changed that.
ESPN.com: Have you given any thought to fighting Jose Aldo, or do you try not to?
Jung: Fighting Jose Aldo is something I thought about even before I came to the WEC and the UFC. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot. If I were to fight Jose Aldo, I really don’t have a strategy. I haven’t really thought about that part of it at this point. But it is something I would like to do. Right now though, my focus is 100 percent on Dustin Poirier.
At least some of them are clearing up a little bit.
Having spoken to Koch, a couple of things stand out. One, he is feeling 100 percent after his strictly confidential injury and is ready to accept a bout. The Duke Roufus pupil was set to stake his four-fight win streak against fellow upstart Dustin Poirier in November before the injury forced him off the card. And two, Koch has a sorted order of preference of the guys he’d like to see.
“If nobody fights Aldo, I’ll fight Aldo,” he says. “If not, I want the second guy; I want [Hatsu] Hioki. He’s definitely in the mix. So that’s how I want my plan to be. Aldo first, and if not, Hioki as the back-up plan.”
Koch’s management is still waiting to find out what’s next for the man with the premonitory nickname of “New Breed.” Aldo needs an opponent for the UFC’s maiden trip to Calgary. Koch is willing. Couple that information with the fact that Poirier is scheduled to fight Chan Sung Jung on May 15 -- just two months before UFC 149, making for a short turnaround -- and Koch looks like a fun possibility. Koch’s training partner, Anthony Pettis, was just last week rumored to be contemplating the bout, but was quick to dispel those rumors (in part, maybe, to avoid stepping on Koch’s feet). Besides, Pettis himself is now sidelined with an injury.
And then there’s also Hioki, who might be in front of Koch on some people’s polls, but the Japanese fighter didn’t exactly assert himself after beating Bart Palaszewski at UFC 144. Everybody knows this is an industry that sneers at modesty.
Koch, on the other hand, brings a stampede wherever he goes.
Before decisioning the “Ultimate Fighter 12” winner Jonathan Brookins, Koch had won back-to-back knockout of the night honors against Raphael Assuncao and Francisco Rivera in what was Koch's final WEC match. His last (and only) loss was a decision to Chad Mendes back in March 2010. Since then, he’s been electrifying.
“Chad Mendes did beat me, but you know, I was a completely different fighter then,” Koch says. “And Aldo has a good track record against wrestlers. To beat him, you got to beat him at his own game. You’ve got to stand with him. You’ve got to know how to do it right. [Fighting Aldo] would be a blast, I can tell you that. You’d definitely get some stand-up war going.”
That’s the selling point. The very thing that gives some fighters pause when contemplating Aldo gives Koch confidence.
I think just having good footwork, good striking and good fundamentals, and just using my size as a featherweight, would give him big problems.” -- Erik Koch, on why he matches favorably against Jose Aldo
“It’s the match-up,” he says. “I think -- nothing against Aldo because he’s a beast, he’s one of the best in the world for a reason -- but out of anybody in the division, if anybody matches up with him, it’s me. I think just having good footwork, good striking and good fundamentals, and just using my size as a featherweight, would give him big problems.”
Will it be Koch that the UFC sticks opposite Aldo? We may know very soon. But of all the alternatives, he at least packs some wallop. And he wants to stand and trade with Aldo, which is the right kind of roulette for a featherweight main event.
“For me, now it’s about trying to finish fights and making exciting fights,” he says. “I definitely want to be the best fighter in the world, but at the same time I want to be exciting. I want to bring something to the table that everybody wants to watch. People don’t realize, we’re in the entertainment business. I definitely want to give people what they want to see.”
Now Koch will sit tight and hope that the UFC wants to see things similarly.
That’s why company brand names found themselves shoulder-to-shoulder in the sauna. Kenny Florian, Tyson Griffin, Ross Pearson, Manny Gamburyan ... even skinny Darren Elkins wrung his muscles of moisture to make it. As for the accordion-thick kickboxer, Dennis Siver? Just know that the threat is still there.
Yet for the most part, these days a drop to featherweight feels more like a demotion than an exodus. Either that, or the more people became familiar with Jose Aldo, the more the alternative path to glory presents itself as an unhealthy one. However you cut it up, the 145-pound division isn't salvation anymore. And that’s why Dustin Poirier had better be ready for the title gig if he beats Chan Sung Jung in May (and vice-versa), and Hatsu Hioki had better start smiting his chest after wins. None of the big guns in the lightweight division want anything to do with the featherweight strap right now.
In the past couple of weeks we’ve seen it. First the chants of Frankie Edgar to drop to 145 pounds became loud when Dana White got to nudging things along. When Edgar refused to budge and was reluctantly granted a rematch against Benson Henderson, the focus switched to the odd man out of the lightweight title picture, Anthony Pettis. Here is a lean, dynamic striker that suddenly could be thrust into a default title shot against a lean, dynamic striker who surfs (both crowds and waves).
Not really. Though there was some mild flirtation from Pettis’s camp that he’d be open to the idea, upon reflection the final word was “no.” Pettis tweeted that he was staying at 155 pounds where there was a lot of unfinished business.
Of course, in the two aforementioned scenarios the common link is Henderson. Edgar lost a close decision and was asking for some return love for his open-mindedness toward rematches throughout his time as champion. His case was so strong that the UFC relented. Pettis is the last guy to defeat Henderson, and he didn’t just beat him -- he posterized him with that Matrix kick at the WEC finale. Though his chance at a title shot at 155 pounds could be a couple of fights off and a year down the road, he wants to pursue what he started. Good for him.
But you do have to wonder why one belt looks that much more desirable than the other. Yes, the lightweight division is deeper, has bigger fights and is uber-competitive -- but there’s no waiting line to Aldo. Pettis, who has a very stylish fashion sense, is a very select shopper when it comes to accessories, too. Winning just any belt won’t do for somebody -- the reigning WEC lightweight champion, no less -- who’s had his heart set on a specific one for so long. People have been quick to understand his decision. Don’t rush to conclusions. You don’t just jump around divisions. That sort of thing.
There are, however, guys who have and who’ve done it well. B.J. Penn has held gold in two weight classes, and Dan Henderson stands at the ready to fight in any of three weight divisions. Nothing they did was irreversible, nothing was ever deemed permanent. They just happened to be at cusp weights that could go either way, much like Edgar and Pettis. Greatness is rarely so specific, anyway -- why not pursue a collection of hardware? Isn’t this what Jon Jones is talking about when talking of an eventual move to heavyweight?
Pettis likely has his reasons (having Henderson’s number is chief among them), but a lightweight title shot might be a dangling carrot forever just out of his reach. Right now the UFC is saying that the winner of Nate Diaz/Jim Miller will fight the winner of Edgar/Henderson, the latter of which is being discussed for August. That makes his road to a title a very long, detouring one with no guarantee of an end.
And that he’s willing to take it instead of clashing with Aldo tells you that the featherweight division isn't as enticing. Either that, or Aldo has gained a little invincibility.
The 2011 Submission of the year award should end up being the exclusive property of Chan Sung Jung.
Unless we miss our guess, Jung will get a near unanimous nod for SOTY after he essentially discovered the Loch Ness Monster of MMA concession holds by hooking up a twister -- a twister! -- on Leonard Garcia at a UFC Fight Night event in March. The 24-year-old “Korean Zombie” deserves the honor, too, after snapping his own two-fight losing streak and becoming the first fighter ever to use the spine-bending submission to finish a bout inside the Octagon.
Garcia tapped one second before the end of the second round, pigs flew and, somewhere, Eddie Bravo’s physical being dissolved into pure energy and advanced to a higher plane of existence.
So, yeah, pretty mind-blowing.
Not that there weren’t a lot of other great submissions this year as well. Here’s our picks for a couple “alternative” tap outs that could fly under the radar during this year’s MMA awards.
Chuck Mindenhall's pick: Tito Ortiz guillotines Ryan Bader at UFC 132, July 2, 2011 in Las Vegas.
Heading into his fight with Bader, Ortiz hadn’t beaten anybody since Frank Shamrock back in 2006. This is known as a drought. In that way, he was an heirloom that sat funny on the UFC’s mantle. And that night at UFC 132, Ortiz walked into the cage as a 5-to-1 underdog who had wiggled into one last fight through uncommon pleading.
So imagine the surprise when he dropped the younger, faster Bader with a right hand. Just like that, a resurgence of everything Ortiz “was” came flooding back. Next thing Bader (and everybody) knew, Ortiz was transitioning into a guillotine choke. And in another incredulous moment he rocked his head back and winced with the choke on so tight that Bader’s neck was striated red and white. The list of improbables grew. It couldn’t be happening. Yet it was. Everybody waited for the tap. Chuck Liddell -- Ortiz’s rival for so many years -- was squirming on his front row seat swinging his arms around like a DJ on invisible decks. Bader strained against becoming “that guy.” Too bad. He was, he tapped, and Ortiz held on a brief moment longer -- to savor it, maybe -- before jumping up and doing his gravedigger dance. It was a flash of nostalgia that fell over the scene. Ortiz was back. All his haters felt their hearts thawing out for a moment. All his apologists smited their chests.
How can that not stand out as one of the best submissions of 2011?
Chad Dundas’ pick: Joe Lauzon chokes Melvin Guillard at UFC 136, Oct. 8, 2011, in Houston.
No, Lauzon didn’t bust out some kind of previously unseen Argentinean Cravat hold to tap Guillard, but the moxie and nose for the upset he showed at UFC 136 will make his one of the first submissions of 2011 that I tell my grandkids about. Because I assume one of my grandkids’ primary interests will be obscure MMA submissions of the past.
Guillard rolled into their bout as a significant favorite after winning five straight fights in the Octagon. He also came to Houston with a ton of confidence, telling reporters prefight that Lauzon wasn’t big enough to compete at 155 pounds and that the 27-year-old Massachusetts native could only be dangerous if Guillard “let him.”
To all of this, Lauzon just sort of shrugged and said he felt like “The Young Assassin” was underestimating him, especially after Guillard turned up at the UFC fan expo to sign autographs and meet fans the day before their fight. Submissions, Lauzon noted, were his biggest strength and traditionally Guillard’s primary weakness, so he figured if he could get the fight to the mat, he’d have a chance.
He figured right.
Guillard came out blasting from the opening bell, fighting as though it never occurred to him that Lauzon could hurt him. He landed some solid shots, but left himself open for a counter left that sent him skidding to the canvas. When Lauzon pounced on the prone Guillard, it was as if the air sucked out of the Toyota Center in a collective “uh-oh.”
From there, it was academic. Lauzon transitioned to the back and applied a rear-naked choke that forced Guillard to tap just 47 seconds into the first. With it, Lauzon ended any hope of Guillard claiming an immediate lightweight title shot and instead launched himself into contention, as he’ll likely take on Anthony Pettis at UFC 144 in February.
Previously: Our picks for alternative Fight of the year.
Up next: Alternative KO of the year.