The UFC’s year-long 25th Anniversary celebration will culminate with a featherweight clash between the Korean Zombie and late replacement Yair Rodriguez at UFC Denver.
This Saturday, the UFC celebrates their 25th anniversary with a featherweight clash between “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung and Yair Rodriguez. Jung returns after more than a year away to a featherweight division that could use his presence. Rodriguez, after a tumultuous summer with the organization, steps into the UFC Denver main event on two weeks’ notice to face one of his greatest tests to date.
Chan Sung Jung has only fought once since 2013, although the majority of that time has been by choice. Per the standard in his native South Korea, Jung served two years of mandatory military service immediately after having faced José Aldo for the featherweight championship five years ago. Then only 26 years old, “The Korean Zombie” was unable to fight but continued to train and never wavered on his intent to resume his UFC career upon completing his service.
Last February, he made his return to take on then top-ten ranked Dennis Bermudez and impressed with a first-round knockout after showing he was as durable as ever in taking several direct hits in the fight. Injuries have unfortunately kept him sidelined since then, but the fight in Denver has been scheduled since mid-July which means he has had a full-camp going into his anticipated return on Saturday.
The same can’t be said for Yair Rodriguez who replaces the injured Frankie Edgar on two weeks’ notice. Rodriguez enters the bout with questions about his motivation and his relationship with the UFC after being on the sideline since last May where he suffered his first loss in five years. Earlier this summer, talk intensified about a fight between Rodriguez and surging contender Zabit Magomedsharipov. After the bout fell through, there was an awkward situation in which the UFC released Yair Rodriguez and Dana White claimed the Mexican contender was done with the company.
Talks resumed and Rodriguez’s contract was re-instated and the UFC booked the fight with Magomedsharipov for UFC 228 this past September. Unfortunately, injury pulled Rodriguez from the fight and there was question if he would even be entering the cage in 2018.
Speaking about his layoff, Rodriguez stated he’s occupied the time with recovery, training, and other ventures. Going into 2017, Rodriguez was a rising star whose crossover appeal and ability to break into the Mexican market led to the UFC pushing him on major cards following the sale to WME. “Pantera” admitted that the attention was all too much too soon, but his continued absence has left many wondering about his motivation to be an active competitor in the UFC. Should he be able to turn away Jung under the circumstances, it could exactly what he needs to re-inject him into the featherweight picture and another run at the top ten.
Stylistically, Rodriguez’s return on two weeks’ notice raises several questions about how his cardio and timing will be for a scheduled 25 minute fight. The Korean Zombie has a multi-faceted attack, one he beautifully demonstrated in his submission victory over Dustin Poirier. It stands to reason that Jung will look to walk-down Rodriguez with the dual purpose of testing his chin and taking away the space he needs to throw his vaunted kicks. Should Jung choose, he has an incredible submission game and could look to take down Rodriguez and overwhelm him on the mat.
For Rodriguez, the key to victory will be to maintain mid-range and overwhelm him with a diverse attack of punches and kicks. To his advantage, Jung often leaves himself open to counter-attack when he looks to close the distance. While the Zombie’s prolific durability has let him get away with the strategy, Rodriguez should not be deterred from looking to pierce the guard often every time Jung comes forward. One of the biggest criticisms of Rodriguez is that he has does not set up his unorthodox kicks with punches. If he has improved that part of his game while he’s been away, it will make his offensive attack even more effective.
A victory for either man will re-inject them into the top ten and likely a marquee match-up in their next outing. While a title shot is a way’s off for both of them, it is possible that they could break into the top-five by the end of 2019 should they put together two more key victories in the next 12 months.